Wanted: 5 Startups To Change the World

Umair Haque is a smart guy. He studied neuroscience at McGill, did an MBA and econ/strategy research with Gary Hamel at London Business School, and began working towards a PhD in strategy and innovation at Oxford in 2004. He also founded Bubblegeneration, a consultancy that studies the economics of consumer-facing industries. Haque is now the Director of the Havas Media Lab, which advises entrepreneurs, investors, and firms with “craft, and drive radical management, business model, and strategic innovation.” He also thinks Web 2.0 is full of crap.

The Challenge

OK, Haque didn’t actually use the phrase, “full of crap,” but he may as well have. On a recent post on his blog at the Harvard Business Publishing web site, he calls out the so-called web revolutionaries of today, referring to them as:

“sheep in wolves’ clothing…lost in the economically meaningless, in the utterly trivial, in the strategically banal: mostly, they’re cutting deals with one another to…try and sell more ads. That is, when they’re not too busy partying.”

He continues to say that today’s investors and startups are more interested in these deals and making money and not in anything that is so-called world changing. And he’s not going to take it anymore.

Haque then issues an open challenge to Silicon Valley: find a problem to fix that will change the world for the better and he will help you do it.

His help will come in the form of free consulting time. Putting his money where his mouth is, Haque promises to take time away from setting up his lab to advise five startups, funds, or companies that he thinks have the most potential.

Perhaps serving as motivation for this idea, if not inspiration, Haque references Tim O’Reilly’s speech at the Web 2.0 Expo (which we covered here, liveblogging style). O’Reilly’s message was “not to follow the headlines” and the hot consumer apps, but go after “big, hard problems.”

Does Web 2.0 Lack Innovation?

Those were harsh words by Haque…but are they accurate? Is Web 2.0 just a little self-obsessed? Are we wasting just a bit too much of our time throwing zombies at each other, watching YouTube videos, and posting ego-boosting tweets to revel in our 140 characters of micro fame to care about any big ideas?

Or is the problem even deeper than that? Jeff Nolan of NewsGator, for one, is concerned that all the money in the Valley is being funneled into businesses that are only offering incremental improvements over their predecessors. Sure, some will make it, he says, but only “a rare few” will find great success.

And while the VCs continue to fund startups in hopes one will be the “next Twitter,” the real question remains unanswered. Nolan writes,

“What’s frightening is the inability to answer the basic question “What’s next?” The Valley thrives on “The New New Thing” (possibly one of the most poignantly titled books ever) and with every turn of a generation, there is an awkward moment where we’re just figuring out where we’ve been but have yet to see where we are going… Right now is that moment.”

Tom Foremski of ZDNet agrees with Nolan, adding:

“Incremental innovation just won’t cut it…innovation has to be disruptive otherwise it won’t succeed, because there is little incentive to change.”

So, will Haque be advising the next new thing, the disruptive technology which actually makes an impact on the world in a way that tweets never will?

We certainly hope so. However, in the meantime, we’ll be tuned into Haque’s blog, where he promises to post more about how these problems can begin to be solved in the coming days.

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