Many successful innovations aren’t particularly novel or clever, but succeed because they are carefully timed to coincide with other complementary developments: they harness the “winds of change.”
This award is for those who spot what’s just around the corner soon enough to take advantage of it.
Learn more about the 2018 shortlisted candidates
Bulb founders Hayden Wood and Amit Gudka met five years ago when they were working in the energy industry. They saw the same problems at all the big providers: inefficiency, poor service and expensive tariffs. The duo set up Bulb to change the industry for the better in three ways – they're making energy simpler, cheaper and greener.
The 670,000 households Bulb serves represent 2% of the market. Its rapid progress makes it one of the larger challengers to the market dominance of the unloved giants. Bulb’s success has been built on a shrewd strategy combining good customer service; clear, equitable and competitive pricing; a guarantee only to use 100% renewable energy; and clever market positioning.
Instead of spending on TV ads and billboards, growth has come through social media, word of mouth and astutely judged referral marketing – so far enabling the upstart start-up to steal market share from the likes of British Gas and E.ON. Featuring a single tariff for all customers, paperless billing, easy-to-understand and jargon-free bills and contracts, Bulb is now Britain’s biggest domestic supplier of renewable energy.
There have been many new entrants to the UK energy sector following industry deregulation; some have come and gone already and more are fearing for their future, as they seemingly lack the know-how and customer service to sustain a challenge beyond the short term. But Bulb’s deep insight into the energy market and its perfect timing means it is well-placed to harness the (renewable) winds of change blowing through the industry. And it continues to make inroads into the estimated £6.6 billion market for small and medium energy suppliers.
Follow BULB on Twitter: @bulbenergy
Cambridge computer science graduate and entrepreneur Herman Narula once joked that his ambition was to “build the Matrix”. Improbable, the London-based technology company he co-founded in 2012, might enable developers to do just that. The venture leveraged the growth of cloud computing, innovations in the field of distributed computing, the games industry’s expansion and the demand for new kinds of gaming experiences to launch its SpatialOS platform for cloud-based game development.
SpatialOS is changing the videogames landscape by powering games of unprecedented scale and complexity, allowing developers to push gaming beyond the limits of dedicated-server architecture by connecting servers seamlessly together in the cloud. This allows developers to create virtual worlds with massive scale, meaningful persistence and rich, detailed and immersive levels of simulation.
The same core technology can also enable massive simulations of reality, to enable enterprises to understand the consequences of their choices, and place large-scale simulation at the heart of their decision-making.
Improbable has raised around $600 million (£467 million) from investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Horizons Ventures and the Softbank Vision Fund. Their ambition seems improbable but, as Narula says, the firm is “building a new ecosystem around us” – an ecosystem with enormous possibilities for many industries.
Follow Improbable on Twitter: @Improbableio
It was 2010, the global financial crisis was engulfing Sweden, and serial entrepreneur Jacob de Geer felt “it definitely [wasn’t] the right time to launch a new business.” But when his sole-trader ex-wife complained she was losing customers because she couldn’t accept debit cards – the mobile card processors available from banks were too expensive – de Geer did some research and discovered some 20 million small businesses in Europe were in the same situation.
Four months later he founded iZettle with friend Magnus Nilsson. The company’s ingenious device turns smartphones and tablets into card processors, linking them to an inexpensive card reader – anyone can take card payments and grow their business. The product took off with lightning speed in Sweden, blew across Europe and is now used by hundreds of thousands of traders in 12 countries.
Today, iZettle provides a range of tools to help small businesses get paid, sell smarter and grow, and with 1,000 new customers signing up daily, Paypal unsurprisingly acquired the fintech company for US$2.2 billion (£1.71 billion) in May 2018, making de Geer’s stake worth around $160 million dollars (£124 million). Perhaps a case not so much of harnessing the winds of change as riding a perfect storm of consumer demand and enabling technology.
Follow iZettle on Twitter: @iZettle
UK fintech Revolut is part of a cohort of fintech start-ups that are massively disrupting the financial sector. Detecting a customer pain point in traditional banks’ customer service and digital capabilities, the company offers an all-digital banking experience, including bank account, transfers, currency exchange and even crypto-currency services.
It was launched by former investment bank executives Nik Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko in 2015 as a smartphone app which is linked to a pre-paid credit card. Combining multi-currency spending and money transfers in a simple app sets Revolut apart – users can load funds in seconds and spend in more than 150 currencies without incurring bank fees. The company has expanded rapidly since its inception, launching a new service to allow users to invest in five cryptocurrencies and adding travel insurance and consumer loan products. It also plans to launch in the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand in the coming months.
The strategy seems to be working. In April 2018, Revolut announced a US$250 million (£195 million) fundraising, valuing the company at $1.7 billion (£1.32 billion) – more than five times the value of its last round of investment in 2017.
Its latest idea is to offer a commission-free shares-trading service to its 2.5 million-plus customers, positioning it as the most aggressive digital challenger to UK high street lenders – not so much harnessing the winds of change as storming the barricades of traditional banking.
Follow Revolut on Twitter: @RevolutApp
As a construction engineer herself, PlanGrid’s co-founder and CEO, Tracy Young, struggled with and recognised the problems arising from the lack of mobile technology in construction such as high paper costs for blueprints, miscommunication and having to rework extending project timelines. Using the just-released iPad and maturing cloud technology in 2011, Young and her team developed a solution: PlanGrid, a mobile application enabling project teams to collaborate across all stages of construction.
Today, PlanGrid saves users an average of 6.5 hours a week, translating to approximately $15,000 (£11,600) in savings on labour costs per person per year. Under Young’s leadership, PlanGrid has raised $69 million (£53.7 million) in funding and is improving productivity on more than one million construction projects across almost 100 countries.
PlanGrid’s continuing growth exemplifies how technology can help meet global infrastructure demands, and address construction industry issues such as the labour shortage. Young is leading PlanGrid, true industry game-changer, to capture that opportunity.
Follow PlanGrid on Twitter: @PlanGrid