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Nick Pendleton - 3Nick Pendleton
Founder and CEO at Forge Strategy & Growth Associates
IORMA COO and Director of Research

Brings you his regular reports from the Innovation front line 

Start ups – your window to the future 

My career has largely been concerned with helping organisations focus on the future, anticipate what’s next, seize opportunities and prepare for possible outcomes.

There are many ways to do this but, for me, one of the most effective is to pay attention to what entrepreneurs are doing in the start up scene. This article explains why.


By engaging with the start ups you get to observe, often from a ring side seat, a cauldron of insight, creativity & experimentation. An arena where passionate, talented and committed individuals are acting to understand and exploit opportunities created by new technologies and changing customer needs. Importantly this is a space unencumbered by legacy systems, politics, conventional wisdom or the need to protect existing profits. This means the focus is purely on how to solve problems in new or better ways, ways that slow or distracted incumbent players often don’t notice or don’t care about. These individuals often believe in the opportunity they have identified so much that they are willing to quit their jobs, work at their own risk – they do not want you to pay them a salary, in fact, often they want to put you out of business. Where they see opportunity, corporates and government’s often see distraction and threat. Most of us live in the world that is, rather than one that could be.

These newcomers boldly look to sweep away the old and re-imagine the new, applying different perspectives and trialling different business models. They bet their own time and money (and other people’s investment) on being able to offer customers something better. Winning in the marketplace and experimenting until they find a way to make money. The dynamism of this iterative challenge can teach us far more than relying on consultants and researcher’s summary of trends, top down market size forecasts, workshops and discussion groups. Nothing beats engaging with those with skin in the game and a burning need to turn a nice concept into a market tested commercial reality.

Of course most start ups fail and no one can reliably pick the winners, whatever they claim. (My favourite research, by the way, on this topic shows that luck and timing, two things that no one can control, are critical factors in determining success.) But by observing, by participating, you CAN begin to see patterns, learn what others are trialling and perhaps find your own insight and inspiration. I’ve found the most profound insights can come from outside your own sectors or fields of expertise. If you adopt a curious, open mindset and are willing to reflect how a concept applies to your context, you may be surprised what you discover. Alvin Toffler in his book “Future Shock” 45 years ago, put it better than I ever could; “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”.

For this reason, as Research director of IORMA, I think one of the most helpful things I can do is to share with you start ups that are doing interesting things. As an incumbent you could choose to partner, invest in, copy, monitor, ignore or try to delay the development of what you find. As an individual it may spark an idea, an entrepreneurial passion or energise you to get something done. As an educator, advisor, legislator or regulator it may help you focus on what could be important for tomorrow, rather than risking looking through the rear view mirror. As an entrepreneur you may find some sources of comfort, support, comparison and learning.

The good news is that I meet a lot of start ups. As the strategy and innovation director of Royal Mail I spent much of my time and energy preparing, helping execute and then making a success of our historic IPO. But less publically, I was also tasked with building up a strong platform for innovation and corporate venturing. This meant studying, trialling and implementing a variety of ways to bring greater innovation and revenue diversification to a 500 year old organisation, which also is helping shape the ecommerce revolution. Not everything worked but we learnt from everything we did and some of the best outcomes came from engaging effectively with start ups.

Currently I am privileged to attend pitches by around 40 start ups a month. Most days I meet someone doing something extraordinary – whether as a mentor on accelerator programmes, an active angel investor, through my advisory work, scouting for corporates or helping smaller companies structure and scale, as a conference speaker or member of numerous networks. This takes a lot of time and there is much wheat to separate from the chaff – but it is worth it.

My offer to you is to let me do the hard work, spend the hours in the start up world, look at the fine detail and then share some of the more interesting companies I come across. They offer insight and opportunity – it is of course then up to you how you choose to apply this.

Over the next few articles I’ll share with you selected potential disrupters and game changers. Companies such as My Mini Factory, Localistico, Fixr, loop, makers academy, trint, opun, vidsy, crowdemotion, our screen, kid rated, domotz, spixii, mangopay, currency cloud, iwoca, property partner.

Just remember there will always be more bright people working on innovative propositions that could impact you, your company and the future outside your organisation or network than within it. Paying attention can help you become better prepared for what’s next – so join me and draw back the curtains, open the window, let the fresh air in, look outside (your company and sector) and enjoy the view.

If you are interested in more details on any companies that I mention or how to find and work more effectively with start ups, please email me here