Real Innovation Awards 2017: Judges' Choice winners

Our judging panel has reached its verdict. Did our experts agree with the public? 

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London Business School (LBS) was abuzz with new ideas and inspiration at the second Real Innovation Awards (RIA) ceremony on 2 November. Finalists and winners flew in from around the world including Copenhagen, India, Japan, the US and Johannesburg to be at the event, where they shared stories with fellow innovators and celebrated what real innovation looks like. This year’s winners were announced as follows:

The Harnessing the Winds of Change Award – for those who spot what's round the corner just soon enough to take advantage of it – Fever-Tree. Fever-Tree’s founders saw that those customers who were buying premium gins would love a premium mixer to go with it and set out to create a high-end tonic. 

The Alexander Fleming Serendipity Award – for a company that has capitalised on an accidental discovery – Jeffry Weers, Respira Therapeutics. Weers experimented for 20 years to develop the technology used in the TOBI Podhaler, inspired by the way the balls used in baseball practice can be thrown at a curve.  

The George Bernard Shaw Unreasonable Person Award – for an individual who has shown enormous tenacity and stubbornness in pursuing an idea against the odds – joint winners Martha Silcott from FabLittleBag and euglena Co’s Mitsuru Izumo. Silcott was determined to get her new idea for women wanting to dispose of used tampons neatly into production, despite most (male) investors turning pale at the thought – while Izumo developed the technology to grow the nutrient-rich microalgae euglena despite being told it was an impossible, ridiculous idea.  

The Best Beats First Award – for an organisation that moved fast to dominate an emerging market category – Vivino. The innovative app has become the largest online wine marketplace in a crowded competitive landscape.

The Masters of Reinvention Award – for the company that most successfully reinvented itself in the face of disruption to its business model – Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy). Ørsted has transformed itself from a traditional fossil-fuels energy provider to a forward-thinking renewables company that has left oil and gas behind. 

The If At First You Don't Succeed Award – for an individual or organisation who tried something that didn't work out, but provided the stepping-stone for eventual success – Ritesh Agarwal, OYO. Agarwal pivoted his business model from a budget-rooms platform to focus on good-quality rooms and guest experience.

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at LBS, said the MBA students he taught were an invaluable source of inspiration. “Their huge diversity and networks resulted in more than 400 nominations, many of them uncovering extraordinary, hitherto untold examples of innovations and innovators. Their stories captured the challenge, the drama and the triumph of real innovation.”

Professor Birkinshaw stressed that real innovation is about much more than a visionary leader or a cool new product – factors that are far too ordered and simplistic. “Real innovation is haphazard and serendipitous and it requires a willingness to fail,” he said. “It needs stubborn, even slightly unreasonable, people who are prepared to challenge the existing order. And it needs good timing – some great ideas come along before the market is ready for them, while others arrive too late.” 

Twenty-seven businesses were shortlisted for the awards. An expert judging panel selected the winners of the Judges’ Choice while an online public vote for the People’s Choice ran in parallel throughout September. 


Vimi Grewal-Carr, Vice Chairman at Deloitte and one of the judges, hailed the awards as a celebration of the diverse skills, hard work and sheer persistence needed to make innovation a success. “Innovation is not something that just happens,” she said. “It comes from the freedom to experiment – and fail – coupled with real determination and commitment.” 

Her fellow judge Charlie Dawson, Partner at The Foundation, said: "I have loved judging the Real Innovation Awards. They are wildly eclectic and each of the shortlisted entries has a story that deserves to be heard – not just to reward the intrepid souls who have taken on the world and made it better but also to inspire all of us out there who might want to do the same and who can be put off by assuming the process is a mixture of genius, perfect timing and millions of pounds. Bloodymindedness, a sense of purpose, making your own incredible luck often through equally incredible persistence… all themes that come through and that make it sound like innovation is a very do-able activity if you really mean it."

The awards were launched in 2016 by the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in partnership with Management Today