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Inventor vs. Entrepreneur – Vertical vs. Horizontal Skills

#Insights & Comments#Entrepreneurial Mindset

Last week we had a presentation in front of board of directors of a transportation technology startup regarding some work that we have been done on parts of their business plan, in order to prepare them for fundraising in the next couple of months. The board and management team is comprised of inventors of their (patented) engine technology, engineers and first FFF investors (lawyers and business men/women).
What came into my mind, was that in our opinion there was “the innovator” missing in the team, the Apple’s Steve Jobs, the Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg that should have the vision, entrepreneurial skills and mindset to navigate the startup through the early and possibly late stages of its commercialization.


By looking at the past there have been different cases of “one-person-fits-all” inventors and entrepreneurs, like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison which have been able to tackle all the problems around all the areas of their inventions and innovations. Even if at the times access to information and education (in which to learn and develop transversal business skills) was limited compared to today. The inventor was innovator and entrepreneur within the same person and had to develop the skills to invent, innovate and execute an idea, from the very early days to the commercialization and beyond.
But with a world becoming more and more complex both regarding markets and technologies the chance to see an entrepreneurial inventor arise is very low. In present times we have highly specialized technical teams that are able to dig in deep into a vertical technology development, but spend most of their professional time building up more and more expertise in a specific (but limited) topic. Same applies to business and market experts: someone that is very strong with a certain range of products/services, business models or a certain local / regional market will struggle to move in a completely set of variables, as market and business logics might be completely different one from another. In addition we have a general global “acceleration”, which impacts how fast innovations enter a certain market and become obsolete.


In my opinion there are two main elements to be focused on, in order to overcome this problem:
1) Enable the opportunity to develop “horizontal skills” during school, university and later during the professional career. At school and university level introduce open lectures on certain basic concepts in the different disciplines and invite students from a broad range of faculties or activate interdisciplinary projects, in which people from the different faculties work on a specific problem/project. Both technical and business professionals should be open to rotate between different functions, business units and markets or develop broad skills by joining an entrepreneurial (or if involved in a corporation, an intrepreneurial) project and use new educational platforms that might provide easy and immediate access to know how on a broad range of topics.
2) Build cross-functional and cross-cultural teams that can combine all the needed skills, knowledge and understanding regarding technology, market and implementation. The focus should be put in learning how to communicate in such teams and being able to understand and relate to each other’s particular skills, problems and particularities.
I experienced these two solutions personally, both on the academic level, where I mixed up my computer science degree with business and finance related topics. In my early career I tried to gain experience in several industries and company sizes (which on one side slowed down my career, on the other side provided me with a very broad range of insights into different problems, solutions, products/services, markets,  people, management styles, etc.). In my present focus as innovation consultant we try to stay as industry agnostic as possible in our products and services, in order to be able to provide them to a broad scope of companies and to learn from one specific industry and identify applicable insights, tools and solutions for any other industry we might be involved. By doing this I developed a very good horizontal understanding of different technologies, different markets (mainly in Europe and in Asia) and different implementations and applications.
And regarding our team we have a very cross functional and cross cultural team, based in different countries with complimentary know how, skills and experiences, but all share the same philosophy of pushing our knowledge boundaries and to really embrace what the great Steve Jobs once said during his famous commencement speech at Stanford University: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”.
written by Frank M. Saviane (CEO)