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.
Ever since he could remember, Jorge Hauser had been passionate about marine life and began filming the world beneath the waves along the coast of Mexico and the Caribbean in 2011. The incredible footage he and a group of friends shot over the years inspired them to create non-profit Pelagic Life to help protect the seas around Mexico, and they went on to produce the globally influential, multi-award-winning documentary Mexico Pelagico.
After developing ecotourism with fishing communities through Pelagic Life, Jorge knew he had to make a living out of his passion, the ocean. So, he bought a diving live-aboard and began providing marine adventure trips in Mexico, spreading awareness on the beauty and fragility of the Earth’s oceans – and the paramount need to protect them from man’s increasing degradation.
The experience showed Jorge that environmentally conscious consumers were willing to pay a premium for high-quality, responsible ecotourism; the company rapidly acquired more boats and began expanding aggressively as Pelagic Fleet.
A radical departure from the traditional adventure industry in Mexico, Jorge’s innovative, accidental business has the potential to take more and more people to experience the richness of the Mexican oceans first-hand – and gives him powerful leverage to lobby government and influence marine park management and conservation. The business plan may have come from an impulse buy, but it has the potential for sea change.
As Jacques Cousteau said: “We cannot protect something we do not love, and we cannot love something we do not understand.”
Follow on Facebook: @pelagicfleet
Ben Chestnut co-founded Mailchimp in 2000 with Dan Kurzius to provide web design services to burgeoning tech companies, setting up an email marketing service as a side project along the way. All went well with the web design business until the tech bubble burst in 2001, which forced a pivot to the airline and travel operator market. That also went well, for a while – until the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack forced a pivot to real estate. Again, the switch of market focus worked, for a time. But, by 2006, it was clear that the web design business was no longer growing as quickly as it had, and the founders were starting to lose their passion for it.
Then Chestnut remembered a piece of code they had written for an email greeting card project. The project failed, but the founders dusted off the code, repurposed it as email marketing, and tested it with their small business customers. By 2006, they were attracting enough interest and revenue from these customers, who they also felt more connected to than their enterprise clients, to persuade them to go all in on the marketing platform.
The decision was really a hunch, and a counter-intuitive one at that – the marketing focus for businesses today is heavily skewed towards social media and smartphone applications, rather than email. It was some hunch. Mailchimp has seen amazing sales growth without having to pivot into the enterprise space where the clients (and fees) are larger, and expects to achieve $700 million in revenue this year.
To this day, Ben Chestnut encourages his employees not to trash any idea that is not an immediate fit, but rather to file it in the “parts bin” for later use – much in the way he turned a ‘failed’ idea into a multimillion dollar business.
Follow on Twitter: @Mailchimp
In the early 2000s, computer science graduate and hummus addict Christian Mouysset launched Hummus Bros – a chain of restaurants offering hummus bowls. The ambition was to establish a consumer brand that would ultimately make it onto supermarket shelves. However, after years of building the business, Mouysset identified a fundamental flaw in the industry: typically, data sources in restaurants are fragmented and difficult to analyse, so staffing, ordering inventory, forecasting and budgeting are generally based on intuition and guesswork, with little analytical insight from hard data.
Mouysset realised that without the ‘hidden’ insights of cloud big data, restaurateurs like him could not unlock the full potential of their businesses – so he closed Hummus Bros and teamed up with former McKinsey Digital junior partner Adam Taylor to launch Tenzo, an AI-powered business intelligence platform for the restaurant industry. Tenzo uses machine learning to aggregate the fragmented pockets of data in a restaurant and combines them with external sources like social media ratings to generate actionable insights. It is used by restaurateurs to optimise sales forecasting, inventory management, social media presence and HR planning – ultimately growing revenues and margins. With no comparable platform in the market, Tenzo is growing at double digits month-on-month, acquiring 2,000 small-scale restaurants and large chains alike as customers. From a natural foodstuff to artificial intelligence, Tenzo is food for thought indeed. Or should that be thought for food?
Follow on Twitter: @tenzoinc
To say that Scrub Daddy came about through accident is somewhat of an understatement. In 2006 engineer and inventor Aaron Krause ran an auto-detailing company, but his hands constantly got dirty at the detailing shop, so he created a polymer foam that cleaned them extraordinarily well. However, his attempts to market the sponge came to naught and he sold the auto-detailing company to 3M in 2008. The polymer foam invention was not part of the sale, so – much like Alexander Fleming’s neglected petri dish – Krause “put them in a box labelled scrap and left them at
the back of the factory”.
In 2011, when his wife asked him to clean the lawn furniture, Krause remembered the long-forgotten box and, frustrated with traditional cleaning sponges that didn’t work, realised that the foam became soft in hot water and hard in cold water, making it extremely good at cleaning dishes without scratching their polished surfaces.
Krause founded Scrub Daddy and in October 2012 went on US TV series Shark Tank, in which entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors, winning an investment of $200,000. Since then, the smiley-face shaped sponge has earned over $100 million in revenue, making it the biggest-ever success on Shark Tank. To date it has sold over 25 million sponges across the US and added several product lines, and was recently valued at $170 million, with ambitious international expansion plans. If necessity is the mother of invention, you could say Krause’s invention is the Daddy of all sponges.
Follow on Twitter: @ScrubDaddy
When founders Steve King and Hugo Amos set up Black Swan Data, their mission was to use social data in a more meaningful and insightful way. Their success led the company to become the UK’s fastest growing tech start-up, predicting consumer trends faster and more accurately than anyone else through data science and machine learning, forecasting the mega-trends of matcha tea, cannabidiol (CBD) and wellness.
They call this Social Prediction™.
It has helped brands like PepsiCo, Danone, Disney and Google mould changes in the market to their advantage and deliver stronger, faster innovation pipelines.
Through challenging circumstances in 2015, Black Swan Data discovered its technology could benefit others far beyond its intended purpose of predicting consumer behaviour. Steve’s sister Julie was wheelchair-bound and in danger of losing her life. Despite countless tests, doctors couldn’t diagnose her.
Using Black Swan Data’s prediction IP, the team was able to harness millions of internet conversations and entries from Julie’s diary to match Julie’s symptoms with others. They made connections and patterns that humans simply can’t. This led to a breakthrough diagnosis.
Julie has a rare but treatable form of Parkinson’s – and went from being wheelchair bound to running a marathon. Since then the company set up White Swan charity and is now using the power of prediction to help prevent illness and accelerate the path to diagnosis and wellness. Whatever the future holds for Black Swan Data, it’s clear that serendipity and prediction can be a powerful combination.
Follow on Twitter: @blackswandata