Author

Alena Eager

July 29, 2021 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It seems nearly everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. According to Babson College’s 2018/2019 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, United States Report, almost two-thirds of Americans believe that vocational choice to be a good one. What is surprising, however, is that 45.3% of the population think it’s easy to start a business. One wonders if any of these would-be entrepreneurs are familiar with the experiences of Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group (and recently shot into the upper atmosphere in Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo). In a 2012 interview with Rod Kurz for Entrepreneur magazine, he observed that, “Building a business from scratch is 24 hours, 7 days a week, divorces, it’s difficult to hold your family life together, it’s bloody hard work and only one word really matters – and that’s surviving.”

All too often, dreamers strive to create successful companies, but are met with failure. Research published in 2012 by Shikhar Ghosh—then a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, now a Professor of Management Practice in that School’s Entrepreneurial Management Unit—indicated that three-quarters of venture capital-backed firms don’t recover their investment. At the end of 2020, the research and policy advisory organization Startup Genome reported that a quarter of VC-funded startups had revenue drops from 20% to 60%. An additional quarter had revenue declines of more than 60%. More alarming still was the reveal that 40% of those startups had less than three months of working capital, a harbinger of future failures.

Traits of successful entrepreneurs

The founders of “unicorns” (a VC term used for startups valued at $1 billion or more) are nearly always as unique as the companies they found, each able to integrate the imagination of a dreamer, the curiosity of an explorer, and the fortitude of a pioneer. 

Some of these traits are innate, while others result from education and experience. Whatever their source, each is essential to overcoming obstacles facing a new business.

1. An explorer’s curiosity

Exploration of the unknown captures the admiration of young and old alike. Explorers inspire people to think beyond what is possible, hopefully expanding ambitions in the process. Hardships, obstacles, or failures simply do not deter them. In fact, setbacks rekindle their determination to discover “why,” to learn from mistakes, and plow ahead. Thomas Edison, while working on developing the nickel-iron battery, responded to a friend’s consoling remark about his poor results with, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

Curiosity requires ignoring the skeptics and challenging the status quo—forsaking conventional wisdom to venture into the unfamiliar. Entrepreneurs need an abundance of this trait to push through barriers. In a 2020 story in Entrepreneur magazine, author and podcaster Sarah Austin includes a quote from Ben Lamm, a serial entrepreneur then working on his fifth startup. The founder and CEO of Hypergiant offers that, “Every time I create my career anew, I’m doing it as someone who is peering out to the world as a beginner and again asking how I want to see the world. I am fine with saying I don’t know or don’t understand something, with the goal to be open and continue to learn.”

Related: 9 Lessons Explorers Can Teach You From Their Impossible Expeditions

2. A dreamer’s imagination

Everybody dreams, according to psychologists, though approximately 95% of them are forgotten within minutes of waking. This kaleidoscope of events, images and thoughts—and occasionally smells or tastes—pass through the mind when sleeping, but there’s also a state of being otherwise mentally apart from the world—what we call “daydreaming” or “wool gathering”. In both states, dreams can be tinged with fantasy, creating scenarios that seem impossible or improbable when examined in reality. Nevertheless, these visions have for tens of thousands of years been powerful motivators for art, and action. The simple truth is that a single thought can change one’s future, and the world’s as well — the product of nothing more than a fleeting pattern of neural activity.

Numerous renowned scientists and thinkers credited dreams as the impetus for breakthroughs: Otto Loewi’s discovery of chemical transmission in the nervous system followed a dream, and led to a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1936; Albert Einstein had a dream that helped lead him to the principle of relativity; and math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan developed complex mathematical formulas (including the calculation of Pi) after dreaming of a red screen of flowing blood covered with elliptic integrals.

Though the true electro-chemical genesis of dreaming remains a hotbed of research controversy, most who study the field recognize its link with imagination, i.e., the forming of mental images of something not physically present. Cecily Whiteley of the London School of Economics claims, for example, that dreams are the subconscious manifestation of non-voluntary forms of imagination.

One possible fruit of that imagination is the ability to identify what can be from what is. Jeff Bezos’s vision of generating an online bookstore in an environment dominated by Barnes & Noble amd Crown and Borders brick-and-mortar retail stores birthed Amazon. Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Venture Program at Stanford University, claims imagination is the first phase of what she calls the “Invention Cycle,” followed by creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. According to Seelig, one aspect of entrepreneurship is the ability to communicate and “sell the dream to others,” including funders, customers, employers and the public.

Related: Dream Big: 3 Ways to Fight Off Doubt and Build the Business You’ve Always Wanted

3. A pioneer’s fortitude

Entrepreneurship stretches a person’s resources and skills to their fullest, and beyond, filling nearly every one of them with anxiety and doubt at some point(s). The temptation to give up and admit defeat can be overwhelming. While business bootstrappers of today might not be required to struggle with the elements, nor forced to risk their lives to gain objectives, their task is very much like the journey of early pioneers who left the comforts of civilization and traveled through dangerous lands to make new lives in the American West. A pioneer’s dream was earned by fortitude, defined as, “the mental and emotional strength to face difficulty, adversity, danger and temptation courageously.” To fuel this state, pioneers and entrepreneurs alike necessarily practice positive thinking. Barbara Fredrickson, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory, has observed that positivity is central to a person’s persistence, innovation and success. Fortitude, perhaps best distilled as the mental stamina to fall and get back up, is also marked by a willingness to set one’s own standards rather than follow the crowd, despite pressure to conform. 

Related: How Positive Thinking Can Make You a Better Problem Solver

Final thoughts

Birthing a new company often requires its founder(s) to be iconoclasts — outsiders who challenge popular beliefs and traditions. Theirs is the living legacy of explorers, dreamers and pioneers who changed the world, and hopefully made it a better place. The best entrepreneurs, whether their enterprises are large or small, are solving questions of climate change, hunger, and disease as well as providing new entertainment and innovation. Without their curiosity, imagination and fortitude, humankind is diminished in every respect.

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Innovation has driven entrepreneurs throughout history, ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci to Elon Musk.

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July 25, 2021 4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Reaching our maximum creative potential in our jobs or occupations is paramount to success and living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Several companies, including IBM and Adobe, have conducted extensive surveys of companies across dozens of international industries and found that creativity is the number one skill most sought after and the hardest to find.

There has never been a more crucial time to develop our creativity and our ability to innovate than there is now, regardless of who we are and what we do. Each one of us has the potential to become creative and innovative. These two concepts have been hijacked by some in the world of technology, science and business for the past 30 years, but it is time to reclaim them for anyone who wants to benefit and turn their lives and businesses around.

In 2019 and 2020, LinkedIn analyzed the information in their network, searching for the most in-demand skills. The skill that was in highest demand was creativity. Around that same time, the World Economic Forum called creativity “the one skill that will future-proof you for the job market.”  But when employees and freelancers were asked if they are living up to their creative potential, only 25 percent believed they were, and 40 percent affirmed they didn’t have the tools or access to the tools they need to become creative.

Related: Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein Applied the Concept of ‘No Time’ to Boost Their Creativity. What Does It Entail?

The root of entrepreneurship

Creativity is the root of entrepreneurship. It’s not only how I came up with the ideas that allowed me to build my business from scratch, but also how I continue to find and implement ideas to adjust and pivot from the constant changes that all business owners are facing. 

After having consulted for many companies, as well as teaching creativity classes to hundreds of business people, entrepreneurs, and artists, I often hear people say, “I’m stuck! I’m not creative! The ideas stopped coming! Whatever innovative or original work I produced in the past was pure luck!” In other words, they suffer from “impostor’s syndrome” and think they will never be able to bring innovative solutions or create original and compelling work ever again.

The creative process is the same regardless of what you do

A recent study published in the journal Thinking, Skills and Creativity, conducted by three university professors from Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the University of South Australia, finally proves a point that I’ve been making for years: creative processes are more or less the same across domains and disciplines. While it is true that CEOs, engineers, and artists create very different kinds of work with very different intentions and outcomes, the process they use to get there is very similar. David Cropley, who co-authored the study, said: “The new bit of finding is that those differences are actually pretty small and small enough that I would argue they don’t really make a heck of a lot of difference.”

Related: 5 Psychology-Backed Hacks That Train Your Brain to Be More Innovative

Creativity isn’t just one thing

One of the most important factors to foster a culture of creativity is acknowledging that it isn’t one unique concept available to a handful of chosen ones but is accessible and reachable to every one of us. It’s also an amalgamation of learnable skills, such as risk-taking and curiosity.

Creativity requires ownership of ideas and authenticity. When you retreat from expressing your “crazy” ideas because you fear judgment from your peers or higher-ups, or you are afraid of adverse market reactions, you are leaving behind a chance to let the world know your new invention, product, service, book, film or anything else that could bring so much value to society.

Most of the time, dozens of lucrative ideas are sitting right by your side, but you are unable to see them because you’ve been blinded by the impossibly high and largely fabricated standards of what being creative and innovative entails.  Don’t let that happen to you. You too can learn to be the most creative you can be.

Related:  Ways to Boost Creativity in Your Business

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Fueling innovation should be a priority among organizations. But how can leaders build a culture that does just that?

July 16, 2021 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While most leaders strive to foster a culture of innovation within their organization, there are few who actually do it right. But without this culture, and this innovative mindset woven into the fabric of an organization, success can be hard to grasp. Executing on innovation requires diverse talent, risk-taking, creativity, and space to grow. But most importantly it involves leaders who are willing to embrace a little chaos every now and then. There’s no doubt that innovation is vital for a company to maintain its competitiveness, and so it is my belief that fostering innovative ideas should be a priority.  

Related: 5 Ways to Join the Ranks of the World’s Most Innovative Companies

Here are five ways that leaders can do just that:   

1. Set unrealistic expectations

While there are leaders who may believe that setting unrealistic goals can affect company morale, I’ve found that the individuals who develop the most innovative ideas are those that refuse to be realistic. Setting unrealistic goals can actually have a very positive impact on the culture of your company. For one, unrealistic goals can help eradicate the fear of failure and allow your employees to become more familiar with thinking outside the box and finding unconventional ways to solve problems. When I challenge my team with a task, for example, I’m often approached with two different solutions. In most cases, I like to ask for a third because I find that it forces my team to innovate and to think differently. If you don’t compromise, and if you encourage that third option, then you push your team to try harder. Many times they’ll succeed. I don’t look for average, and setting goals that are easy to achieve paves the way for average. I always say I would rather have an employee make 10 mistakes a day and show they’re doing a lot than make no mistakes and achieve very little. That’s why when I make a mistake, I always ensure that everybody sees it so that the team understands that those mistakes are what eventually help break down barriers. 

2. Remove the hierarchy and avoid structure

At VAST we have no hierarchy and it’s because innovation is more often driven by a collaborative workplace in which transparency and creative freedom are celebrated. For team members to experiment with new ideas and processes, you have to give them the freedom and space to nurture those ideas. You also have to understand that to excel, many will first fail. I’ve found that a top-down approach can often hinder team members from actively participating in the innovation process for fear of being judged or reprimanded for unsuccessful ideas. More frequently, it’s the team members who are closest to the work that tend to have better and more creative ideas than I do. I believe that their voice should be stronger than mine when it comes to sharing those ideas. 

Related: 9 Ways Your Company Can Encourage Innovation

3. Collaboration is key

Innovation is very closely tied to teamwork — two people can do something that one person cannot. This is especially true if you have two very smart people, one who is experienced with a deep understanding of the subject matter, as well as one who is fresh (and may not understand anything) but who is smart. The combination of experience and fresh thinking drives innovation. Having someone to bounce ideas back and forth with can more quickly iterate towards something new and towards something that likely has a higher probability of working. 

4. Provide continuous feedback

Sharing feedback on a regular basis has many benefits and can help team members improve while also staying engaged. Team members that receive consistent feedback know that they’re supported and are more easily able to grow and challenge themselves; they also tend to be more productive. I don’t give formal annual reviews, nor do I believe in them. My team members deserve more than that. They deserve an attentive manager who is invested in their growth and one who’s not afraid to challenge them. Informal feedback, given often, establishes a more accurate representation of employee performance, in addition to ensuring that there is no disconnect between how an employee is doing and how they perceive themselves to be doing. Team members know where they stand and are constantly challenged and supported in their growth. 

5. Communicate the mission

This is paramount. Everyone, every morning, needs to understand your company’s big mission and recognize how their part fits in and advances it. It’s that love and desire to solve the important problems that no one has tried to solve before that leads to innovation. Finding the people who can align with that mission and who are excited about the challenge will dictate the probability of success more than anything else. 

So how do you find those people? I tend to look for the problem-solvers, the optimists, the intelligent yet humble ones that aren’t afraid to push boundaries. We focus on diversity of thought from the experienced to the inexperienced, those that bring a first principles approach to solving new — and old — problems by questioning every assumption you think you know. By presenting the right problems to solve, those that are big and impactful, you can develop an environment that excites your team and create a place where innovation can flourish. 

Related: 4 Steps to Cultivating an Innovation Mindset in Your Organization

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Unicorn Hunters Presents MechanicalTrees™ – Negative Emissions Technology to Mitigate Climate Change to Worldwide Investors.

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July 6, 2021 1 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Climate change has become an existential crisis of our time. The fifth episode of Unicorn Hunters, the new addictive series spotlighting emerging growth companies looking to hit the coveted one billion dollar valuation mark, features MechanicalTrees™, the disruptive technology that  plans to harness the global excess of carbon dioxide through direct air capture from the atmosphere to create a brighter future. 

Meet Carbon Collect Limited, previously known as Silicon Kingdom Holdings (SKH), the company that is commercializing and deploying this technology developed by Dr. Klaus Lackner and the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University under exclusive global license, and decide if you are ready to invest. The MechanicalTrees™ episode is now streaming on unicornhunters.com

Watch Unicorn Hunters on demand and if you are intestered in investing, click here.

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July 5, 2021 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If there’s one thing that sets a successful organization apart, it’s the ability to stay on the cusp of innovation and technology. 

Creating an innovation-friendly work environment was one of the top priorities on my entrepreneurial journey. With that realization came the understanding that I would need to face the challenges, as well as the chance that I might make some mistakes along the way. Failure is, after all, an important part of the process. 

The tactics I’ve used to create an innovation-friendly work environment have proven to be a productive ground for success. Now I’m paying it forward and sharing the lessons I have learned with you.

What is an innovation-friendly work culture?

An innovation-friendly culture is the kind of work environment that encourages its employees to embrace unorthodox thinking rather than discouraging them from it. To nurture an innovation-friendly culture means putting the status quo aside and challenging typicality to create something new. It means empowering your employees to provide value to your company in ways other than punching numbers and updating spreadsheets at a desk. 

Related: How to Manage Change In the Workplace

Your employees will look to you for and , so it’s important that you guide them on a more creative path and show them what a healthy and -centric work culture is. 

On the contrary, strict management is the death of . Many organizations have a crippling work culture where they penalize rather than reward boldness, while also failing to cultivate an environment that promotes creativity and innovation. Thus, they eliminate any chances of breakthrough ideas and promising success. 

The importance of an innovation-friendly work culture

Innovation-friendly work culture is an expression of ideas and behaviors. It’s easy for businesses to take the simplest route and repeat their business processes as it allows them to scale smoothly and predictably, but this also comes without any promise of explosive growth or the creation of groundbreaking concepts. Incorporating a culture of innovation means taking risks and being unpredictable with a chance to reap huge rewards — which is why it is not all that common in organizations today. 

To make things run smoothly, most businesses favor what they know, standardization and doing things simply. Innovation, however, takes the road less traveled. As rationality doesn’t select innovation, it can be considered risky, but following the safe low- route will not help you build a unicorn company and change the status quo. 

An innovation-friendly organization is an amalgam of culture, methodologies, infrastructure and healthy work practices. It prompts employees to think outside of their nine to five mentality, giving real value to their roles.

Leaders in an organization that encourage this kind of culture understand that innovation drives growth, and a workforce can only achieve this with a growth-positive attitude and shared passion for operating outside the norm. 

How to create a culture of innovation?

With technological advancements popping up in every sector of industry, there has never been a better time and a more urgent need to incorporate an innovation-friendly culture in your organization. 

You must develop a culture that kindles a passion for new knowledge and bold ideas, paving the way for more creativity to flow through. Make innovation culture an important part of your company’s DNA and let it act as a framework for every corporate activity.

Here are some ways you can foster an innovation-friendly work culture:

Encourage new ideas

To cultivate a culture of innovation, you must encourage action on creative ideas. Let your employees feel valued, like they have some autonomy in the idea creation process. They should be able to feel safe to share bold or crazy ideas that come to their mind. Trust your team to find new ways to solve problems.

Create a safe place to fail

If you’ve never failed, you’ve never taken chances. Taking risks is a big part of innovation. You have to remind your employees that failure is inevitable and every idea has a degree of uncertainty, and you can do this by creating a safe environment where you encourage your team to test their innovative ideas and even make mistakes that do not cost the company a huge fortune. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes to ensure that you don’t fail the same way twice. 

If you hold back on ideas because of the fear of failing, you’ll stay confined to the monotony of the status quo and your business will never make any significant leaps. The important thing to remember is to recover and try again. 

Encourage healthy competition

You can hold pitching contests for your employees and develop new ideas that they will be asked to present in front of management. This will instill a sense of confidence in them whether they win or not. Healthy competition is an interesting way to train your employees for pitch meetings. The winning idea can be rewarded as well, but the real reward would be the skills they picked up in the process along the way. 

Workshops

Through workshops, employees can be directly involved in the creative process and work in teams to develop new ideas and solutions. Not only will this cultivate team spirit, but it will also encourage employees to be on their best game and commit to delivering. 

Learning through trial and error

One of the most useful forms of learning — trial and error — allow us to analyze our failures and figure out what’s needed to make that necessary change. Then you try again with a better mindset, knowing what works and what doesn’t. In fact, one of my favorite job interview questions is a failure story and lessons learned. 

Don’t be afraid to execute your idea

Innovation is not recognized until you implement your ideas. To execute on top of these ideas, you need to empower your employees with a morale boost and the right budget and tools dedicated to bringing such innovative ideas to life. Strategize a clear action plan for execution and go for it. 

Embrace positive thinking

This is one of our fundamental principles at 3DLOOK (and one of my main personal principles as well), because as an entrepreneur, I’m always an optimist. Through trial and error, we were able to persevere by embracing a positive outlook in anticipation of making the world better and transforming the industry that we work in — that is what kept us going. Diving into innovation with a positive attitude will allow you to take on new challenges and rise above any self-limiting beliefs.

Related: Why Diversity Is Necessary For Innovation At the Workplace 

Innovation is the foundation of growth. With that said, innovation doesn’t stop with one good idea. There is a lot of hard work that goes into establishing an innovation-friendly environment. It requires the input of the leaders and employees and a clear execution plan for the successful implementation of these creative ideas. The goal should be to create a future-oriented atmosphere with employees hungry for opportunities to grow and improve within the organization. This will ultimately help the business succeed. 

Set an example for your team. Prepare them always to hit the ground running and never to shy away in the face of adversity. Encourage your team to be courageous with their ideas and tread unchartered waters. Mold their mindsets to embrace failure and use that to be bolder with their next steps. Build an appetite for better ideas and never settle for anything less than bold. 

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Difficult challenges are sometimes the secret behind the best innovations.

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July 3, 2021 4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As we begin to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, many entrepreneurs are coping with challenging business setbacks, lost profits and, in some cases, restarting completely anew after they had to shutter their doors. But entrepreneurs are used to remaining eternal optimists amid chaos and unpredictability, whether that’s emerging from Covid-19 or rebounding from personal tragedies, the loss of goods, lawsuits or even just the need to pivot in the direction of their value proposition.

That resiliency can serve as fuel and motivation to all founders and reaffirm that hard times can be a platform for the next big thing. The following examples of founders who have recently created innovative solutions to their own problems — or global challenges — might even inspire you in your own business pursuits.

Related: AI Innovations Continue to Revolutionize Healthcare

Turning illnesses into purpose

Oftentimes it’s a personal crisis during a founder’s life that can lead to new clarity and purpose. Even tragedies close to home can result in a renewed impact for communities at large, simply because their perspectives have changed and they’re ready to do more.

Many say that near-death experiences cause them to better assess what they want their mark on the world to be. Daniel Badran is no exception. As the founder of energy efficiency service company Minimise, he started his company after a battle with cancer sabotaged his ability to speak for three years. During this tragic time, he doubled-down on building a business that could help the world from a standpoint.

Other founders create businesses to immediately address the types of personal tragedies they’ve encountered, such as Johnny Crowder. Crowder created Cope Notes, a text-messaging platform that provides mental- support to subscribers. This service was born out of his own struggles, as Crowder has coped with schizophrenia, OCD and bipolar disorder all of his life.

There is no more admirable entrepreneur than someone who has overcome the very difficulties their innovation seeks to remedy. This has the potential for significant impact when that innovation has a direct influence on others’ health and happiness. Take Dr. Patricia Lawman, the CEO of Morphogenesis, a company that helps to assist bodies to fight on their own against chronic diseases. Dr. Lawman is also the division director of Cancer Molecular Biology for the Walt Disney Institute, and her groundbreaking technology and service is an homage to those she knows who are struggling with chronic illness.

Related: 5 Technological Innovations Changing Medical Practice

Rising to the challenges that the world is facing

In a time of so much mass suffering and so many challenges, entrepreneurs have lent a discerning eye to what they can do to help. Companies such as Louis Vuitton have access to factories and supplies and were able to quickly step up to the plate with PPE equipment during the height of the pandemic. 

Jon Fisher is the founder of CrowdOptic, a company he started when he noticed the medical demands rising when Covid-19 began its deadly spread. Fisher and CrowdOptic partnered with National Bioskills Laboratories to help all medical communities through AI and bioskills when it was most needed. The concept was to remove the geographical barriers and ensure that medical professionals could work together remotely, assisted by the technology, and apply their findings and new skills immediately to their work in patient care.

Covid-19 sparked significant financial fears for many as well. Justin Donald felt called to help others who were struggling financially during the pandemic and in the aftermath, and he channeled everything he’s learned about building an income through investing to help other individuals create wealth while still searching for a new job. For some, it even became a side hustle to support their families.

Each of these examples proves that hard times don’t defeat everyone. They may just provide the fertile ground for big, bold and life-changing ideas, especially when executed from a place of passion. While hard times are difficult, they fundamentally change the way that we work and live, and the entrepreneurs who rise to this occasion and contribute their talents, time and innovations to make the world a better place are dearly appreciated by all.

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Forest scientists created an ecological, bio-based material that will replace plastic.

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June 25, 2021 2 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

What are we doing to help the environment? At the University of Göttingen in Germany, forestry scientists developed an environmentally friendly bio-based material to replace plastic packaging as well as Styrofoam packaging. The novelty of the product is that it is made with popcorn.

The packaging market continues to be the most important client for the plastics industry by 40%, according to the statement from the study house. But, as we have seen in different parts of the world, some businesses began to rethink how to make their packaging more recyclable or biodegradable.

In this context, the “Chemistry and Composite Materials Process Engineering” team at the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at the University of Göttingen succeeded in developing a process that allows them to produce three-dimensional molded bodies from popcorn granules. .

Photo: Carolin Pertsch via University of Göttingen.

“With this new process, which is based on the plastics industry, a wide variety of molded parts can now be produced,” explains professor and doctor, Alireza Kharazipour, head of the research group.

He also comments that “this guarantees that the products are transported safely, especially in the packaging area. And, with a packaging material that is even biodegradable ”.

The packages developed from this popcorn material are also water repellent. The house of studies is already in the process to commercialize this process.

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June 24, 2021 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the business world, saying that a business is “commoditized” is never a good thing. According to Investopedia, when a business is commoditized its “goods or services [have] become relatively indistinguishable from the same offerings presented by a rival company. Generally speaking, commoditized products within specific categories are so similar to one another that they are only distinguished by the price tags attached to them.”

Usually, this occurs as more competitors enter a space that was once fresh and innovative. The products or services you offer may also be seen as more of an “everyday” item rather than a unique must-have.

When this happens, your profit margins are going to fall because you don’t have anything that helps you stand out. Fortunately, any business that has fallen into the commoditized rut can escape by finding new ways to add value.

Related: How to Figure Out Your Margins

1. Find a way to upgrade

Start by looking at your products or services themselves. Are they in need of an upgrade? A seemingly minor upgrade to an existing product or service can create instant differentiation that your competitors can’t match.

Apple’s iPhone is the perfect example of how incremental innovation can turn a product into a must-have. You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. Even finding a single area where you can improve your products or services will help them stand out from competitors.

2. Segment to a more targeted market

Sometimes, the best way to escape commoditization is to niche down even more. For example, rather than focus on the real-estate market as a whole, I’ve found great success in my own career by focusing on corporate real estate.

Part of niching down means determining customer groups that you do and don’t want to serve. Even if you don’t have a sub-niche in mind, identifying the types of clients you want to work with can help you determine how you can make your offering more specialized and less generic.

When you focus on the ideal set of customers, you’ll find those who best appreciate what you have to offer. A case study from the Transportation and Sales Association reveals that one truck broker grew revenue by 18 percent as the result of slashing their customer base by 75 percent. The focus on high-value clients resulted in far greater profits than serving a broad market.

Related: 2 Simple Rules to Follow When Developing a Market Segmentation

3. Bundle ancillary services to offer greater convenience

Convenience has long been top of mind for consumers — but the internet age has made this more pronounced than ever. In fact, a study from the National Retail Federation found that 97 percent of customers have actually “backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient for them.”

Convenience is about more than getting free shipping through Amazon. If you have a commoditized product or service, bundling it with an ancillary service can provide the convenience your customers crave.

For example, many travel companies allow customers to book flights, hotels, rental cars and more all from the same platform. Customers are often willing to pay a premium for the convenience of planning their entire vacation on one site. Providing similar offers for your own commoditized will provide a convenience factor that is hard to ignore.

4. Provide real expertise to your customers

For most entrepreneurs, a big part of the reason why you entered your market niche is because it’s something that you’re extremely passionate or knowledgeable about. Your customers may not share your level of enthusiasm, but chances are, they have questions that you can answer.

When you provide value-driven content — be it in the form of blogs, FAQ pages or simply responding to emails and phone calls — your brand becomes so much more than the product or service you offer. Genuinely helpful content positions you as the go-to resource for information related to your niche.

As a trusted source of industry expertise, customers become more loyal to your brand, even in an increasingly commoditized market.

Related: 7 Tips For New Entrepreneurs

5. Make it personal

While it may be hard to personalize a pack of tissues, any business has ample room for increasing personalization. After you’ve onboarded a client, however, personalization can become even more powerful. Among brands that personalize their content, 55 percent report improved customer experience and greater engagement, while 39 percent state that personalization improves their brand perception.

Personalization can go beyond including a client’s name in their email or using better targeting for ad placements. For example, grocery store brands that send custom coupons based on a shopper’s buying preferences go a long way in ensuring loyalty in what is otherwise a very commoditized industry.

Fight back against commoditization

No brand wants to have their products and services viewed as an interchangeable commodity that is no different from the competition. By leveraging these tips to add true value to your products or services, you can better appeal to your target market — and better meet their needs.

When this happens, you’ll stand out in even the most crowded niche, improving your profits and becoming a force to be reckoned with.

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June 23, 2021 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As businesses fuse AI and robotics to unlock their competitive edge, vision and strategizing are key not just to success, but also to survival. 

The term “hyperautomation,” unknown just several years ago, has now become a part of everyday tech jargon. Gartner coined the term in 2020, naming it one of the year’s top strategic trends. The research giant recently upped the ante, publishing its forecast that the hyperautomation-software market will reach nearly $600 billion by 2022.

In fact, “Hyperautomation has shifted from an option to a condition of survival,” according to Gartner’s vice president of research, Fabrizio Biscotti. There’s a growing demand for technologies that support it, but what exactly is hyperautomation? And what can companies do to maintain their competitive edge in this race? 

30% lower operational costs by 2024

The path toward hyperautomation involves employing a strategy to rapidly identify and automate as many processes as possible, utilizing a combination of today’s most innovative technologies. By applying advanced tools, such as robotic process automation (RBA),  and , organizations can operate beyond individual input and further automate previously automated processes that will have a major impact on company output. Organizations are even predicted to lower operational costs by 30 percent by 2024 by utilizing hyperautomation, Gartner suggests. 

Related: Technology Trends for 2020 That Will Affect Businesses

Covid-19 revealed organizations’ reliance on manual processes and pressured businesses to digitize everything. Customer assistance, for example, became a logistical nightmare for banks, with thousands of unanswered customer inquiries. To overcome this hurdle, South Korea’s largest bank, Shinhan, introduced AI-driven, virtual-avatar bank tellers to greet customers and answer queries. Replacing outdated technology or bankers with AI-driven virtual assistants helped streamline operations and improve customer service. Now that organizations have seen the benefit of digitizing and automating processes, the floodgates have been opened, and we will continue to see a rush toward hyperautomation.  

Complete automation of a process is complex

Companies — especially those heavily reliant on unskilled labor — need to take action now. Industries that utilize many routine, repetitive and manual processes — banking, healthcare, insurance and — all have the most to gain from creating hyperautomation strategies. Grocery shopping, for instance, made a significant transition online during the pandemic, with online sales skyrocketing by 300% in the early part of the pandemic. This increase signifies the necessity for these industries to significantly increase automation in order to keep up with competitors and the consumer demands. 

Related: 5 Ways to Be More Strategic and Successful in 2021

While automation is currently focused on the more obvious candidates, such as manufacturing lines and customer-service bots, in order to reach hyperautomation, companies must figure out how to layer multiple intelligent technologies together. Complete automation of a process is complex and therefore requires a strategy for combining technologies and integrating them within the to deliver maximum value. 

Competition among tech providers will drive down prices for implementation 

Organizations may be wary of the costs of digitization on such a large scale, but the process of integrating technologies does not always require creating a new infrastructure to replace manual operations. In fact, many RBA, AI and machine-learning solutions can be integrated into automation that already exists. DataMind AI, created by AI company Razor Labs, transforms already existing heavy industrial machinery into smart machines, sparing companies the need to purchase new expensive hardware. The smart solution learns the machines autonomously and provides a tailored model for optimizing it. Other solutions for institutional adoption of AI will flood the market in coming years. And as digitization pushes forward and entrepreneurs come up with seamless and affordable solutions to get companies on board, the competition among tech providers will drive down prices for implementation. 

Digital transformation is an intricate process and organizations will have to implement automation simultaneously on multiple fronts to reach the goal of hyperautomation. Executives can collaborate with digital-innovation advisors or technology consultants to create a hyperautomation strategy from top to bottom. In this approach, it’ll be up to executives to create a clear strategy, set objectives and prioritize actions across all business operations to ensure the application of automation is efficient. Another approach organizations can take is looking to employees, who are in the best position to pinpoint which actions can be automated. This way, companies can also train the employees to handle more advanced processes instead of the routine ones that are being handed to smart machines, thus elevating their workforce.

Related: 3 Ways Automation Can Help Companies Work Smarter, Not Harder

It is clear that the path toward hyperautomation is critical for companies’ growth and may even be necessary for their survival. Whether they decide on a top-down or bottom-up approach, organizations must have a clear vision, implementing automation in the most efficient way, in order to secure their position in today’s ever-changing, competitive landscape.

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Nicole Walters, CEO and founder of Inherit Learning Company, chats with Andres Wydler, executive director of StartOut, about how technology unlocks new opportunities.

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June 22, 2021 2 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The pandemic forced many companies to make big pivots, and by utilizing tech, some found ways to actually positively affect their overall business.

Nicole Walters, founder and CEO of Inherit Learning Company and star of USA Network’s She’s The Boss, recently spoke with Andres Wydler, executive director of StartOut, about the role technology played in shaping how the LGBTQ nonprofit operated over the last year — and the opportunities it unlocked. “By going virtual during the pandemic, we found the opportunity to turn all of our local events into national ones,” he explained.

StartOut immediately refocused its efforts from in-person to virtual events and, Wydler says, “The community responded incredibly positively. With tech, we were suddenly able to expand our reach nationwide and so our members could likewise expand their reach nationwide.”

Wydler says that during the pandemic, he found that people were more generous with their time, thanks to tech. “You no longer have to deal with getting to the office — it is no longer a time challenge to meet with people,” he says. “And we found that venture capitalists and angel investors were much more willing to listen to many more pitches than before because these meetings were just a Zoom link away. So that was incredibly positive.”

StartOut benefitted as well from the new possibilities of virtual offices. The company was able to significantly reduce overhead expenses and was no longer bound by geography when recruiting talent. “We tried to make lemon-aid out of lemons, and that’s just what entrepreneurs do,” he says. And despite all of the hardships of the past year, he believes that StartOut, and the members it serves, is now in a very strong and positive position.

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