It’s Diversity that drives Innovation!

Saturday 28 March 2015

Cordoba, these days a sleepy city in Southern Spain used to be largest city in the world. Around the turn of the first millennia Córdoba, which had fallen under Muslim rule became the capital of the caliphate Al-Andalus. Doctors, Engineers, Intellectuals from all over Europe streamed into the city, which grew to 1 million people (three times todays size) and erecting more than 3000 mosques, splendid palaces and the largest library in the world, housing more than 1,000,000 volumes. People were attracted by the open and tolerant society that was endorsed by its rulers. As I was roaming the magnificent compounds of the Great Mosque of Cordoba last week – an amazing building that has withstood several changes of rulers and religions – I couldn’t help myself but be truly fascinated by the outstanding engineering ability that stood behind these walls and brought to life these amazing artwork. 2015-03-14 18.05.232015-03-14 17.05.46 My visit to Spain wasn’t a coincidence – last summer I experienced the most mind-blowing ten weeks of my life: I attended Singularity University (SU). Over the course of the summer I joined a diversified group of highly motivated, inspired and super smart individuals in order to think BIG – to create solutions that will positively impact a billion people within ten years. Just as the mix of backgrounds, of religions, of cultures as well as tolerant policies created the stunning architecture of Cordoba – it was the similar diversified mix at SU that opened the doors to totally new, big ideas. “Diversity drives innovation!” In more than ten years in investment banking I was told about that principle – witnessing countless trainings etc.. (“Can you hear me?”) but I was never really seeing the fruits of it. Too similar were the backgrounds (Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, etc…) , too much silo-ed was the organisation. But at SU I witnessed diversity innovation in action – and I was lucky enough to be in the midst of it. I wrote in my blog post last fall about some of the companies and experiences. In Spain, part of my class at SU celebrated last week its first reunion – and what an event it was! A fantastic exchange of ideas, updates on projects and lots of high level trivia (and yes, charade & werewolf til the early morning hours). IMG_66812015-03-16 07.54.14 What was amazing to see, that several of the great ideas of last summer are actually turning into real companies – let me give you a little snapshot: Exponential Motor Company: Retrofitting traditional fossil fuelled cars to become hybrids Arcturus Bio Cloud: A cloud based service that allow researchers and DIY biologists to focus on solving problems rather than worry about the instruments. They are part of the first batch of innovative BioTech companies supported by Indibio. BibakCreates a new way to detect landmines with sensors in a jerrycan. Bibak recently successfully completed the Startup Bootcamp in Eindhoven and presented the idea in front of the King of Netherland. Hoope:  An affordable and easy to use medical device for rapid multiple STD diagnostic in one test.  They won the Google World Startup Competition and got recently accepted into Start-up Chile. Mendelian: A cost efficient DNA based test for Mendelian diseases that recently completed the Imperial College Incubator program. Tridom: Constructing efficient low cost houses through 3D printing. They have struck a range of very impressive partnership with industry leaders – looking forward to see the first building! …and even my own project – Peared, the next generation hearing aid is making progress. But its not just the idea’s generated over the summer – also several new ideas that got born, like Kukua – a great project by Lu and fellow Peared founder Alex, which aims to eradicate illiteracy (truly no small goal!!) With so many ideas moving from idea stage to execution stage I see real hope that we can reach our goal: Positively impact a billion people!!

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