In Silicon Valley, it’s all too easy to get pre-occupied with the massive wealth that can be generated from a smart insight into emerging technology. But when you begin to look closer at the idea of wealth, it begins to reveal something more profound. The word wealth isn’t derived from financial acumen, smart investment or economic prowess – wealth is derived from wellbeing. And when you begin to think about wealth in these terms, focus shifts from fundraising, the next massive IPO or market-capitalization, toward the net effect that technology can have on those who need it most.
A new kind of optimism is breeding companies that truly understand this kind of wealth. They sit at the intersection of technology, purpose and creativity. These companies are taking on some of the world’s largest problems, problems so large that they’ve been largely invisible to the world. The most inspiring part: it seems that the financial success of these companies is just one outcome of smart problem solving rather than the sole intent.
Even more encouragingly, true wealth is being generated in the field of medicine, which is one of the few industries where innovation can drive costs up rather than reducing them. We know too well the demands rising healthcare costs place on governments and patients. When medical innovation cuts cost significantly, it is truly astounding.
Theranos is a biotech company which has a radical approach to blood testing. Anyone who’s received continuous treatment knows that regularly giving blood can be painful, debilitating, even traumatic, which is especially counterproductive when the body should be in a time of healing. Theranos’ new method of blood testing uses just 1/100th to 1/1,000th of the amount of blood currently required for diagnostic testing. This vastly reduces costs, with prices that are often a half to a quarter of independent labs, and up to one tenth of a hospital lab. It is said that such pricing represents a godsend for the uninsured, insurers, and taxpayers. The company’s prices are set to never exceed half the Medicare reimbursement rate for each procedure, a fact that, with widespread adoption, could save nations billions.
Meanwhile, each year, more than two and half million people die from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. This occurs because almost all vaccines require cold storage between 2˚ and 8˚C. A lack of ‘cold chain’ transportation limits access to vaccines. So, Vaxess Technologies has developed a soluble, silk-stabilized vaccine which can be shipped without refrigeration. An invention that reduces waste simplifies logistics and increases access. “We thought about how to use silk for tackling the most unmet challenges in global health,” said Livio Valenti, co-founder of Vaxess. “We saw the opportunity to build a sustainable, profitable business while creating an important public good: increasing access to health for those who are most in need.”
Another chilling statistic, more than 120,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ donation in the US. According to Organize, a company aiming to dramatically increase the number of organ donors in the US, this contributes to $42 billion in annual dialysis cost, which could quadruple by 2030. Twenty-one Americans die each day while waiting for organs. Ninety-five percent of Americans support organ donation yet only 40% are registered. Organize seeks to modernize the antiquated donation system, increasing points of entry and centralizing data.
“There was a moment of real epiphany when we looked at the variables and said: ‘We can make a real change and solve this problem in our lifetime,'” says founder Jenna Arnold. A streamlined organ donation system combined with effective marketing could eliminate the organ shortage entirely. “We want to put ourselves out of business in five years.”
Creating true wealth isn’t just limited to medicine. Companies across all fields are finding ways to create sustainable businesses, which benefit customer, company and investor.
About 3 billion people depend on open fires or traditional stoves for cooking and heating. Unfortunately exposure to the particulates in the resulting smoke is responsible for an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths a year. BioLite‘s stove technology uses air injection to make fuel burn hotter and cleaner – of course BioLite aren’t the first company to create a stove for the developing world but their business model is different. The developing World isn’t BioLite’s sole focus, they have been selling their stove for recreation since inception, by doing this and selling to the ‘base-of-the-pyramid’ business at same time, BioLite have created a stable business capable of having a global effect.
Lastly, 1.2 billion people across the world are without access to reliable energy. Eighty-five percent of those people live in rural areas without the necessary electricity grid infrastructure to provide reliable power. The company d.light has created a model for a mobile-enabled distribution grid, which could provide energy to those in need. This leap-frogs the need for a traditional grid infrastructure and converts the high costs of distributed solar energy into affordable monthly payments.
d.light measures its impact against a universal ‘theory of change’. They do this across four areas of well-being: financial freedom, productivity gains, human health, and environmental health. The entire business is aligned against this theory and it guides d.light’s assessment of everything from the customer experience to the first purchase of a solar lantern.
Invention in its truest sense has always been the amplification of human intent. Our tools should always enable more of us to do things better, with less effort and to a greater effect. A hammer allowed us to build. A wheel allowed us to move. But today, as a society, when we judge wealth or the success of an organization or product, let us consider the whole meaning of the word wealth.
We create wealth not only by building companies that become more valuable, or technology which becomes more widely adopted, we build wealth by creating the tools which enable others to occupy a better state of well-being.
10 steps toward building true wealth
- Look for problems that have massive human scale.
- Meet an asymmetry of supply and demand by clearly identifying the need and a scalable solution.
- Look for adjacent technologies which are pushing down the price of components and raw materials that may be at the core of your product.
- Try to serve both developed and developing markets with the same basic technology.
- Integrate with people or organizations who understand the problem first hand. Fitting in is far more helpful than standing out.
- Design tools that can be built upon by others.
- Go meet your end user. To create a holistic experience, everything you do or make should not only be informed by your purpose but also should be intentionally designed to benefit the wellbeing of your end user.
- Always design something that people need, and want.
- No matter how tempting it is to follow money over your founding cause, don’t.
- Remember true wealth means wellbeing for you too.