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Investing In Innovation: What Is The Next Big Thing?

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Forge Your Wealth is meant for education and entertainment and should not be considered financial advice.

Do you think when the world was just starting to learn how to navigate that they would have predicted that gears and machinery would lead to the industrial revolution? All you needed was a steady river, a wheel, gears, and axles to start mass production. And do you think the people who could understand how energy is harnessed by machinery would be able to understand how energy from electricity could power these devices? And do you think the people who know that electricity is, in the simplest terms, the flow of sub-atomic particles would understand how that same flow of sub-atomic particles can produce memory and information that led to computers and computational power? Of course they cannot. Computers are hardly new and there are many computer experts who still do not know everything about using the flow of electricity to produce information.

The Next Big Thing

The next innovation will not be something we really see coming. That will make investing in innovation difficult. Sure we may hear about many innovations like self-driving cars, renewable energy, genetic engineering, but we have no idea of how these will truly affect the world. When the combustion engine was invented, I do not think the people who invented it imagined a world where cities would have more parking spots than homes. Now cities need more space per person meaning less for housing. And they probably had no idea that those engines would produce supply lines that would minimize the number of meat packing plants and butchers needed (something we understand too well right now). The next innovation is not something that will impact a certain area deeply, but one that will impact the world broadly. You must understand the broader impacts of the innovation before investing in it.

In this post I will explain what you should look for when investing in innovation. This could include investing in a company trying to innovate, making your own innovative business, or investing in a new innovation with your business.

What Will Be The Next Big Thing?

The next big thing that will crush slow economic growth will have to fit many criteria including but not limited to below.

  1. People must accept this innovation broadly.
  2. The innovation can benefit broad populations.
  3. The innovation must be easy to implement.
  4. Must provide an edge compared to competition.
  5. Legal rights.

People Must Accept This Innovation Broadly

The most restrictive criteria I know is the acceptance of the innovation. If the innovation is something that people cannot broadly accept then no one will try to implement it. As a biochemist, I understand the barriers to this criteria too well. Fear of genetic engineering tends to be a default for people. Bioethics is a growing field to address these fears. Most other forms of ethics do not have their own words. However, there are many other ways that innovation may not be accepted broadly and for simpler reasons.

The Most Important Medical Development Of The 20th Century

To address how innovations may not be accepted broadly, let me ask you a question. What was the most important medical development of the 20th century? Penicillin? Chemotherapy? Monoclonal antibodies? Therapeutic RNAs? These developments have saved millions of lives, but there is one treatment that is considered the most important medical development of the 20th century, and it is neither of those four. In fact, it saved almost a hundred million lives in about half a century.

ORTs

Until the later 20th century, several millions of people died each year from diarrheal diseases including Cholera, now it is just under 2 million a year. The main cause of these deaths are not the disease itself, but the dehydration that occurs. If it was not for dehydration, the human body would fight off these diseases in a matter of days or weeks with few complications. However, diarrheal diseases have killed 30% of people infected (compare that to the worst case percentages with the Coronavirus). So a group doctors in Bangladesh developed oral rehydration therapy (ORT) which decreased the fatality rates to 4%.

What are the ingredients for this miracle medicine? Water, sugar, and salt. I am not kidding, you could make this treatment in your kitchen, it’s essentially sports drink with less sugar and more salt. And this costs around $1.00 per round of treatment. Those 2 million who die each year from these diseases could be saved with materials that would only cost the same as around a few dozen houses or a large fleet of cars. Remind me, what did we do because a few hundred thousand people died from a single disease during a flu season again? In all fairness, diarrheal diseases are not as contagious as the Coronavirus. After all, you know toilets for their cleanliness and no one in the history of humanity has ever gotten a disease much less spread a disease from a bathroom. (Extreme sarcasm notice).

Why The Most Important And Beneficial Innovations Are Sometimes Not Accepted

Actually the reason people do not really accept ORTs is because it was too simple. Think of it, the treatment is water, salt, and sugar. Under any other circumstances people would call that treatment a placebo. And when was the last time you have heard of ORTs? I am one of the few who never received such treatments who even knows they exist.

Simply put, if the innovation does not look or sound impacting, there will be few people people spending money on that innovation, much less investing in that innovation. If you want your innovation to have any investment, or for broad acceptance from people, you need hype behind it.

How To Tell If People Will Broadly Accept The Innovation

The first question you should ask yourself before investing in any innovation is whether the innovation has any hype. If there is hype, people have heard about it. If people have heard about it, marketing will not have to spend too much time spreading the word about it. In fact, people have already bought it. Hype is an incredibly powerful tool.

Think of Elon Musk. He has used social media in ways that are ethically questionable and have swung his company stock. That is why I consider practically all of his companies as speculative investments. Whether he means to drive investors by social media (I am just wording it that way for legal reasons) this shows that hype easily drives people.

The second question is how much of the innovation is easy to understand. Take a look at biotechnology. Many people have no idea of what is in a biotechnological advancement. Unfortunately, I cannot see investing in biotechnological innovations as an investment that will give you large returns too quickly. Unless the innovation is very impacting, people will resist it or claim there are other solutions to the problem you are trying to solve if nothing else because they do not understand it.

The Innovation Can Benefit Broad Populations

When people are investing in innovation, they become too excited by the impact of the innovation to determine if it can benefit many consumers. After all, if an innovation can benefit many people, why wouldn’t they buy it? The simple answer could be that many cannot. This could be because many people do not have access to enough money to purchase the innovation, or at least access to the innovation. Furthermore, many potential customers could be in countries where your innovation is illegal. This is especially the case with genetic engineering. There is only one genetically engineered meat approved in the world, and it is not approved for commercial use in the US. In this part I will use genetically engineered meat as the example.

There Could Be An Area That Accepts The Innovation

It is not likely that every government will forbid your innovation, you could sell it to an industry where it is accepted. For instance, while genetically engineered meat is not broadly accepted nor legal, there are some places open to the idea. If the innovation is impacting in the meat markets of where you sold your innovation, other countries would look upon the benefits with envy. When they realize those benefits came from genetic engineering the consumers of the nations where the genetically engineered meat is illegal may cry out for a change in policy so your meat can come to their table. If not for the innovation, for the benefits. There are many things dynamic in this world including public opinions about certain products and services.

If you want to go down this route I would try to follow the strictest compliance rules possible. The compliance rules you follow developing this product will determine how profitable the innovation will be. If the innovation is not accepted by some countries you just shut yourself off from a considerable market and the innovation cannot benefit broad populations. If the innovation cannot reach broad markets there will be little reason for investing in that innovation.

Is The Innovation Affordable?

Is the innovation inexpensive, or at least less expensive than a common alternative? If not, it will not benefit many people. That is, unless the innovation is something consumers cannot live without. If people cannot afford the innovation or can afford to go without it, it will not be something people will buy.

The Innovation Must Be Easy To Implement

Believe it or not, but genetically altering a living thing is easy, you are literally doing it in your sleep. All kidding aside, genetically altering a living thing requires skill, skill is just another word for intentional practice. However, such innovations require certain precautions. Most genetic altering protocols I performed implement antibiotic resistant genes into cells so only the altered cells can grow in a culture with those antibiotics. This is called cell culture media selection. Unaltered cells die to the antibiotics in the media while the altered cells survive for further processing and experimentation.

There’s a good reason every lab I worked in has more chemical bleach than a pandemic hog. Chemical bleach is one of the few universal disinfectants. It will even kill the super yeast that cannot be killed by other common disinfectants and soaps and kills half of the patients it infects.

Genetic engineering would be hard to implement if it was not for bleach. Luckily, we knew how bleach helps disinfect surfaces long before genetic engineering was a thing. But what if there was no bleach? People would not implement genetic engineering. Not with the defaulted fear of genetic engineering and the lack of being able to kill the excess engineered bacteria.

The Systems Of The World Are Not Ready For Your Innovation

The innovation you are interested in investing in may be revolutionary, but unless the world you live in can implement it, it is worthless. What if the innovation is a solar wind rotor generator. In other words, let’s say this device could enter orbit close to the sun, and harness energy from the sun and transmit the energy to Earth. Trust me, this is entirely fictional, at least right now, but let’s say it is not and it 100% works, how do you get it into close orbit of the sun?

The closest we ever got to the sun is 6.1 million kilometers with the Parker Solar Probe. Would that be close enough to harness those energies and would it be inexpensive to send those generators there? It’s not that the generators would not be innovative and I do not believe anyone would complain about these generators nor deny their benefits if they existed.

Coffee Ground Fuel

But let’s take a look at one of the strangest practical innovations I have heard of today. Using wasted coffee grounds to make biofuel. Some chemical engineers came up with a way to extract oils from used coffee grounds and transform it into biofuel.

This is a brilliant innovation and one I would be investing in except for one problem. How will they get the used coffee grounds from me? I throw mine out, they would be neigh impossible to filter out of the trash. So are they going to create a new supply line system to collect these grounds including specialized bins and trucks that only collect these bins to prevent mixing? Would this company pay for the grounds, would it be free, or would I have to pay them to take it not unlike biomedical waste which is incinerated to produce energy? This is going to be a hard innovation to implement in our systems. Not because the innovation is not brilliant, nor that I do not support it, but there are many other cogs in our system that need to be addressed before this innovation is profitable.

The most viable solution is to have coffee shops save their coffee grounds and ship them to those chemists. But that will not work for people who brew their own coffee. People who brew their own coffee do not frequent coffee shops and that is how 79% of coffee drinkers get their coffee. The coffee shop system would only work for a fraction of the used coffee grounds produced.

Provide An Edge Compared With Competition

An innovation is not worth investing in if there is no edge. No edge means no customers, no customers means no business.

However, this does not mean that the edge needs to be ground breaking. Consider Duck Donuts. It could have been just another donut shop which baked their frozen donuts for the morning crowd. However, Duck Donuts makes warm donuts custom made so they feel much fresher. That edge alone made it one of the few famous names in donuts in the US and the only one from this century. Even small edges can give an innovation a good chance against competition.

This is not a hard thing to find with innovations. Any innovation without an edge is just a different idea. Innovations must provide something new as well as helpful over other competition. If Duck Donuts was just another donut shop, it would not have grown as quickly as it did.

Legal Rights

There are two parts many people do not consider, whether the idea was already tried or the legal kinks in the innovation. For the legal aspect I will bring up primarily patents.

In biotechnology, patents need to be made before even solvents for experimentation are purchased. Chances are many have the same idea. If there is no patent, investing in the innovation may be a mistake because another company may have the patent. While it is almost easier to make innovations in every other industry, making innovations in other industries are not that much easier. Patents are tricky legal documents and I am not a lawyer much less a patent lawyer so I have little idea of how to handle them. You should consult an expert. If you are unsure of how well the innovation will hold legally you should reconsider your investments.

My Own Story

My little brother, being the engineer he is, came up with an innovation. I will not go into details because this innovation sounds like it could make a big impact. However, I did mention a modification that others could make on his innovation to have it do something else almost entirely. Someone else could fight him for the patent if they do such a thing and if he does not address this in the design and patent.

There have been smaller reasons companies have fought for patents. I once went to a conference where the presenter mentioned the years and the millions in fees required to fight a certain legal battle. The patent was for elliptical machines, and those two machines looked as alike as a frog and an alligator. If that massive of a legal battle could happen between two pieces of fitness equipment then the cost for legal battles my brother could face with my said modification would be devastating.

Even if it is obvious the other party stole the designs (or obvious they did not steal the designs for the elliptical) I hope I did not dissuade him too much from trying that out. It was just a warning of what he could face if he is not prepared. When you are investing in innovation, you must know exactly what legal efforts are required to make returns.

Final Thoughts

The next big thing is out there, but to find it you must follow these criteria.

  1. People must accept this innovation broadly.
  2. The innovation can benefit broad populations.
  3. The innovation must be easy to implement.
  4. Must provide an edge compared to competition.
  5. Legal rights.

If the innovation you are investing in cannot meet these criteria, it is not going to be the next big thing. At least not yet. Take this knowledge into mind as you are on your path to forge your wealth.

Author: Papa Foxtrot

Most of my life I was careful with money and learned where I should invest it. I was very lucky to have parents who taught me financial literacy when I was young. Unfortunately, I am very lucky because many people lack the financial literacy I know. The purpose of Forge Your Wealth is to teach people who are just starting out in life how to obtain their wealth or anyone who just realized they may need to learn more to handle their finances. I currently have a PhD in biochemistry, just started a job in industry (will not disclose where exactly for personal and professional reasons) and am currently married to the love of my life. I am one of the lucky few people in America who graduated with no student debts, my wife was not. Over the series of a little over 3 years we paid for our wedding with no debt and paid off her federal student loans.

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