Innovation: What Does it Mean and Why Do We Need it, Anyway?By Guillermo Pepe | Mon, 06/13/2022 - 16:00
Innovation arguably has been the most used — and abused — term in business since, at least, the boom of the personal computer. The word has been so overused to the point that I myself have heard some company CEOs say things like, “to be innovative, we have to encourage innovation.”
This exploitation and generalization of the concept has led to a loss of its true power — at least, when it comes to talking about it. However, when we look at how whole areas of our civilization are being challenged today, there is no question that the human pursuit of innovation is still strong and, if properly applied, a key to our future.
And yet, we need to rethink what we understand by innovation. As a changemaker who has been on the road for almost 15 years — and on the quest to reinvent healthcare, one of the most challenging, massive, and impactful industries worldwide — I now see that the very same process and dynamics of innovation have transformed and evolved into something quite unique:
- Innovation is starting to be regarded — and assessed — through a double lens that integrates economic growth and positive impact. In 2020, Harvard University Prof. Rebecca Henderson published “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire,” which became an instant wake-up call. In her book, Henderson debunks the deeply-rooted notion that the only purpose of business is to make money and maximize shareholder value and proposes a big question: What if business could help solve the greatest problems of our time? To me, it is crystal clear why Reimagining Capitalism has become an indispensable guide for modern innovators, since I myself profoundly resonated with her restorative view of business. However, I admit these ideas were not at all popular — less so widespread — when I founded Mamotest over a decade ago.
Back then, even when I encountered Latin America’s most forward-thinking entrepreneurs and investors, Mamotest’s purpose — to provide a solution that could democratize access to healthcare and save millions of women’s lives, while creating a successful company with high revenues at the same time — sounded like gibberish to them. “Is Mamotest a foundation or a real company?” they would ask me. By 2014, when a famous entrepreneurship guru told me it was just impossible to save lives and make money at the same time, I really did start to hesitate about Mamotest’s viability for a moment. It did not last long, though. Yes, I did feel alone and misunderstood and frustrated but my vision was stronger. It took almost everyone quite a couple of years but I am not alone anymore. Now there are dozens, hundreds of us: successful changemakers who can have both factors in mind, positive impact and high revenues, and actually reinforce one with the other, and vice versa.
Still skeptical? Don’t take it from me, hear it from Betterfly. Last February, the Chilean insurtech became the first Latin American B Corporation to achieve unicorn status. Founder and Chief Executive Officer Eduardo della Maggiora said: “When we made the decision to structure ourselves in this way, I was frequently told that this would prevent us from growing and raising capital in the future. In reality, the opposite has been true. I would go as far as saying that the fact that we put social purpose at the center of everything we do is the reason we have been able to grow as we have.” This is a perfect example of what I personally call “the New Capitalism.” Sooner, rather than later, all companies will have to understand: profitability and purpose need each other to thrive.
- Innovation can no longer occur behind closed doors. During the 20th century, companies would spend millions of dollars to protect their I+R processes. Some still do. However, if we take a look at genuinely disruptive organizations, it seems like the more they share about their inner workings — and listen to other organizations’ experiences, too — the more innovation keeps flowing and thriving. What do Airbnb, Google, Kickstarter, Spotify, and Twitter all have in common, besides changing their respective industries forever? They are all former members of the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneer community. Launched in 2000, this community is composed of early to growth-stage companies from around the world that are involved in the design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations and are poised to have a significant impact on business and society. The Forum recognizes a limited number of companies each year as Technology Pioneers (Mamotest being one of the proudly selected in 2022), which bring cutting-edge insights to world-critical discussions and contribute new solutions to overcome the current crisis and build future resilience. Initiatives like this one by the World Economic Forum reminds us that, to be — and stay — innovative, we need to be part of a greater ecosystem.
- Innovation will be customer-centric or it will not be innovation at all. Mamotest’s own metamorphosis into a data-driven healthtech has provided me with the personal conviction that no innovation process can succeed if we innovators do not hear it from the real people we are trying to reach and impact with our creations. Over its lifetime, Mamotest has received crucial validations from the United Nations, Harvard University, Singularity University, Ashoka, New Ventures, the Swiss Development & Cooperation Agency, and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), among many others. However, the key to our present success and potentially exponential future is Bolder, our AI-driven platform that allows us to get the data, experience and insights of breast cancer patients as they go through their treatments — in real-time and in a continuous improvement flow. Our vision: healthcare could become the most innovative and impactful industry worldwide if we help create an outright patient-centered, precision medicine. With Bolder, we do not just shine a light on breast cancer treatment and women’s health — incredible as it might sound, women have been one of the most disregarded groups by medicine of all time — but we also aim to drive innovation that can give health professionals absolute clarity and certainty about the best treatment option for each and every patient, improving the chance to save their lives. I am convinced that the future of humanity’s health really does depend on how much we are able to listen and understand each singular patient’s journey. And I hope this also rings true for every changemaker out there, no matter the industry they are trying to reinvent: in our journey toward innovation, we must invite our customers to come with us or we will definitely get lost on the long, winding road.