Start-ups: it’s the implementation stupid

Having a great idea is only the very first small step on a journey leading to successful implementation and the creation of real value for both entrepreneur and society. All too often the path to implementation is broken for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the idea or its value to society.  Often we see that people are not prepared to pay for what reason says they should value. Roughly one in three start-ups fail within the first three years of their existence.

A sound proposition that fails to elicit action is almost always at odds with some decision maker’s intuition. This can be explained along multiple dimensions (in addition to communication skills, path dependence, and practical availability of resource). And they are interrelated.

Reasons for slow adoption can include: technical issues with the technology itself; incomplete understanding of how the technology can fit within a wider ecosystem – what is competing, what is potentially supportive; inability to develop the market in the best manner; struggle to find the financing options which are most supportive for the particular business model which is desired; lack of appreciation that, for a new business to be suitable as an acquisition target or partner for a multinational, much more than a marketable idea is required – appropriate business controls, HSE systems and HR policies must all be demonstrably robust and actively promoted by management.

Apart from having the right values to attract graduates to work in a happy environment, the optimal financing structure, the optimal strategy, the most Unique Sales Proposition, the most impressive Business Model Canvas, the slickest TED-talk using a PREZI, here’s another checklist of skills for new clean tech enterprises to identify any gaps that may exist in existing competence sets:

  1. Fundamental innovation. Although you may already have a technology, it can always be improved, for example to overcome patent barriers, unexpected technical limitations; new competition or simply for the fun of it!
  2. Eco-system analysis. Build up a supportive network which can help the technology find its appropriate place in the world. For example, potential partners with relevant technology gaps; complementary technology partnerships; novel and perhaps unanticipated markets and….
  3. Business Polishing: ensure that your start up is run with absolutely fit for purpose systems and is optimally out-sourced so that it presents its best face to partners and/or ensures trouble free business development.
  4. Cross Boundary Opportunity Creation: bring the benefits of an international corporation to the start up. It may be hard for a small company to understand and exploit distant markets, manufacturing options, available technologies and available financing options.
  5. Social Context Analysis: Investment often requires personal risk taking. How do successes and failures affect bonuses and career progression or re-election of key decision makers? Is there timing misalignment with results only becoming apparent after and incumbent’s time in office? Who exactly are the key decision influencing parties within the scope of a particular clean tech innovation?