Incredible ventures

Jeff Skinner, Executive Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, reflects on his recent shortlisting experience for one of London Business School’s scholarships focused on tech ventures.

I have just finished reading this year’s applications for the ‘Tech Disrupt and Transform Scholarship’, open to all MBA admits, supported by Jason Schretter (MBA2005).

A mix of sectors as you’d expect – for example, opening access to the Chinese legal system, solving corporate cash flow issues with ‘non-fungible tokens’, reformatting pediatric healthcare, pop-ups for ethical goods’ building on great new science to revolutionising airport scanners (away with those pesky queues, yes please). 

I love reading these applications. What shines through is their untrammelled entrepreneurial ambition. All set out a problem and argue that technology exists to solve it. Nothing too unique about that – any number of engineers have probably mused likewise. The difference is that our applicants want to do something about it – to gather together the resources (team and investment) and make it happen.    

Someone once described ‘entrepreneurship’ as ‘the lust for the power to do it right’. That’s what we have here – a sense of incredulity that a problem hasn’t been solved or an opportunity remains ungrasped – coupled with the ambition to be the one to do something about it.

Then there’s the sense of purpose. If successful then the founders will and should be rewarded but the primary motivation isn’t self-enrichment, at least, not in the financial sense of the word. Virtually all of the proposals result principally in social, environmental, or economic impact for others.  Adam Smith (he who said, ’public good through private interest’) would be smiling.

And finally, I love reading the applications because they give me a sense of what’s coming – a wonderful opportunity to stay up to do date and a great lens on the future. Time after time I thought of an idea as being bonkers (sorry, ‘incredible’) only to realise that it was merely ahead of its time by a year or two. I’ve learned to suspend disbelief, accept student prescience and wonder, vicariously, alongside them. 

But – and it’s a big, ‘but’, I’m screaming inwardly, ‘you need LBS!’. Brilliant that you have the idea and aspiration but (I scream) the strategy is unbackable. Every new venture is a lot of ‘ifs in a row’ and two out of three isn’t enough. As Peter Druker said, ‘Entrepreneurship is risky because so-called entrepreneurs lack a methodology’. I can’t wait to get these applicants into the School so that we can immerse them in the full panoply of entrepreneurial programmes (classroom and experiential) and plug them into our network of those who’ve done something analogous or know the intricacies of the target sector.  To turn them from ‘inventors’ into new venture leaders. 

About the author:

Jeff Skinner is the Executive Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LBS. He teaches several entrepreneurship courses at the School and leads many of the co-curricular activities supported by the Institute, including all competitions and the TELL Series

See the previous blog post from Jeff: Inception of a new LBS elective called ‘Innovation to Market’.

Read more Think articles from Jeff here.