Fleming discovered penicillin essentially by accident, and indeed many other famous discoveries have been entirely serendipitous.
This award is for a person or organisation that built a thriving business on an idea that originated in the most unexpected or surprising way.
Learn more about the 2018 shortlisted candidates
- Asesh Sarkar, Salary Finance
- Enoch Li, Bearapy
- Dr Gerard Vidal, Enigmedia
- Tarek Al Emam, Freezmate
We live in a world where a minimum-wage worker could be paying 1,000% on a payday loan, while a CEO on a six-figure salary could get the same loan at 3-4% per annum.
Noticing his children’s nanny struggling under the burden of debt, Salary Finance Co-Founder Asesh Sarkar observed this paradox first-hand. He helped his nanny sort out her financial situation by lending her the funds she needed to pay off her debt, and then allowing her to repay the loan through monthly deductions from her salary.
Today, a quarter of the UK workforce experiences financial insecurity and eight million hardworking people in the UK have no savings at all – financial burdens are clearly weighing heavy on many.
Under Sarkar’s guidance, the passionate team at Salary Finance is systematically tackling this societal problem by providing an innovative and socially-responsible portfolio of employee savings, education and borrowing products. This comes at no cost or liability to the employers they partner with, making it a genuine win-win for businesses and for staff who are less stressed and more productive.
Follow Salary Finance: @SalaryFin
On completing his degree in telecommunications engineering in 2005, Gerard Vidal embarked on a PhD thesis in chaos theory. In one lab experiment on convection patterns in silicone oil he noticed some extremely interesting mathematical properties. But after completing his thesis in 2010, the self-confessed “freak PhD physicist” found employment in troubled Spain hard to come. At that time, he had no entrepreneurial ambitions and didn’t foresee the applications for his discovery. But his telecoms degree had made him aware of the crucial importance of security in data management and, by applying his observations on mathematical properties to data encryption, he was able to encrypt information 20 times faster than other solutions and using 50% less bandwidth.
Realising the mathematical properties he had discovered could be applied in different domains to solve many kinds of problem, he founded Enigmedia in 2012 in San Sebastian with two friends. Enigmedia's core technology comes from Vidal’s PhD in chaos theory and enables a unique value proposition: data control and real-time secure communications in any kind of industrial communication protocol with a negligible delay (this is a critical requirement). Its unlimited potential applications have enabled it to gain footholds in markets as diverse as smart manufacturing and oil and gas, winning several awards globally for best cyber security start-up and raising €3 million (£2.68 million) in funding to date. In the age of the Internet of Things, Enigmedia is poised to do great things.
Follow Enigmedia on Twitter: @Enigmedia
As Enoch Li, founder of Bearapy, freely admits, seldom can a business have had less propitious origins: “When I was in severe clinical depression, all I wanted was to get out of it. When I started playing with [teddy] bears, I did not think it had anything to do with anyone else. All my friends thought I was crazy!”
But a module on object-relations during the INSEAD Executive Masters on Coaching and Consulting for Change encouraged the former high-achieving multinational company executive to write a case study about playing with the bears as a “transitional” therapeutic object. That led to a profound “ah‐ha” moment, resulting in playfulness research, published articles on play and finally to developing the Bearapy model of using playfulness “to inspire creativity and manage change”.
By promoting employee wellbeing to prevent workplace burnout, stress and depression, Bearapy has the potential to save companies billions of dollars in absenteeism, help mental health become a core part of organisational culture and make the world of work a happier place. The published author’s latest book Stress in the City includes case studies of how play has helped executives de-stress.
Follow Bearapy on Twitter: @Bearapy
School friends Wombi Rose and John Wise trained to become naval architects before travelling to Vietnam, where they discovered incredible hand-crafted paper cards. Back home in Boston, Massachusetts, they gave the cards to friends, family and strangers – and were struck by the reaction when someone opened a card for the first time to reveal the beautiful paper sculpture inside.
That was the moment the idea for a truly innovative business was born and, after graduating from Harvard Business School in late 2014, they founded Lovepop to manufacture and sell 3D paper pop-up greeting cards.
Designed by naval engineers with cutting-edge software, then handcrafted using the ancient art form of kirigami, each piece of paper art is a thing of beauty – no wonder that Lovepop has grown explosively since its foundation. The company has enjoyed year-on-year growth, exceeding 400% in 2016, secured US$6 million (£464 million) of early-stage funding and since attracted a further $12.5 million (£9.66 million) from investors this year.
Rose insists that Lovepop does not so much sell paper as “an unexpected moment – you get an ordinary envelope in the mail, but when you open it you find a 3D teddy bear, a pirate ship or a beautiful willow tree love scene.” Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable story of paper worth.
Follow Lovepop on Twitter: @Lovepop
On a blazing hot day at the beach, Tarek Al Emam dipped his towel in the water and wrapped it around himself, sparking the idea for the world’s coolest business. His concept? A pad filled with gel that can be frozen or heated to cool down or warm up its user. Al Emam immediately saw the commercial potential and, after six months of research and development and 26 failed attempts, Freezmate was launched in 2016.
The venture’s first creation was a neck cooler for the beach or for exercising in hot weathers. This was soon followed by products for cooling construction workers, babies, animals and cars. But the best (one might say the coolest) application was yet to come. Teaming up with global partners such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Freezmate has created a special mattress to help refugees around the world beat extreme temperatures all year long. Owners can sleep at night in the cold winter months and stay cool in the blazing sun.
In the Syria crisis, for example, Freezmate is partnering with humanitarian agencies and private corporations, and to date has provided several thousand cooling/warming mattresses to displaced refugees in Syria, the Al Zaatari camp in Jordan and Lesbos refugee Camp in Greece.
Initially conceived as a utility product for cooling users at the beach, Al Emam has continuously evolved the product and there are now applications for use everywhere – including extreme humanitarian crises. How cool is that?