Over the past three decades, the principal driver of business has undoubtedly been technology. Whether it’s the latest consumer product launch, the newest startup taking the investment world by storm, or developments in efficiencies, tech has been seen as the lightning rod of business growth.
Although tech is still running strong, entrepreneurs and investors who are serious about finding the next big wave of growth should turn to the field that stands to be one of the greatest drivers of growth over the next decade: science. Those who embrace this early and successfully harness this vast potential to create new growth will be the winners of the new science economy.
While science was, not too long ago, the engine of global business growth, for the past few decades, it has lived in the long shadow cast by tech. But today, with a warming and increasingly crowded planet creating major issues ripe for business disruption, a number of cultural, political, environmental, and demographic forces are combining to create a perfect storm for science-based businesses.
In just the past few years alone, we’ve seen scientific research create entirely new industries where there were none before. For example, according to a report by Allied Market Research, the artificial meat industry will grow to $8.6 billion in 2026, from $4.1 billion in 2017–notching a global, industry-wide CAGR of nearly 8% between 2019 and 2026.
Artificial meats are only one small drop in an ocean of science-fueled growth. In fact, the span of this new frontier is virtually limitless, ranging from materials science research creating ultra-thin solar panels and electric car batteries, to genetic research powering companies like 23andMe. And with the rate of scientific advance compounding, the areas that science will open to business exploration will see an exponential rise in coming years.
Just as importantly, we’re seeing progress in the domain of transferring scientific knowledge and discovery from the lab to commercial applications. We’re learning how to connect scientific advances with market gaps, gauge risk related to bringing new science-based applications to market, and train scientists to work in business innovation.
As the CEO of three science-based business ventures, I’ve seen how powerful this model can be—and just how much potential lies in its development. At my current company, Creo, we’ve been able to put an advanced new twist on the quite fundamental process of fermentation to develop microbial strains that produce rare cannabinoids, without the need for any plants whatsoever. In leveraging scientific advances in biosynthesis in this way, we’re solving problems at market, legislative, environmental, and social levels. Our fermentation-derived cannabinoids don’t run afoul of federal laws, don’t involve the substantial environmental costs of a large crop, and, given all this, will make these powerful ingredients accessible to many more people.
Putting science at the center of a business model also offers a unique competitive edge. The high degree of knowledge and expertise required to develop and market science-based solutions enables companies to carve out highly defensible niches for themselves. For the startups that drive innovation, this kind of breathing room from competition is crucial.
So how should entrepreneurs go about leveraging science for growth?
In my experience, these steps are critically important:
Create Real Fusion
Business leaders need to do more than create partnerships with scientists that have complementary skills. They have to build organizations that intertwine science and business. This is about science-minded entrepreneurs working in synergy with practically minded scientists to create the kind of interplay between science and business that can truly impact the world.
Embrace the Importance of Your Role
Your work will bring you into close contact with incredibly smart people. Researchers may awe you with their technical knowledge. Scientists can make you feel intellectually stunted by comparison. It’s easy to be intimidated by such expertise. But don’t. Just like you need these brilliant scientists, technologists and researchers need you too. Your work of commercializing these complex breakthroughs could not be done without their work, but they could not do it alone either.
Translate the Science into Human Terms
Science operates in the idealized world of controlled experiments. Yet humans exist in the imprecise, messy world of real life. Understanding that to be successful the science needs to work for real people in their everyday life is foundational to successful commercialization.
Think About Constraints Early
Your idea is going to get tested by practicalities along the way. Materials for product production might be scarce or unsuitable. Manufacturing tolerances may require a change of plans. If you work in a linear or sequential fashion, you might find yourself continually backtracking to rework your idea to meet real-world constraints. To avoid these U-turns, consider the practical constraints as early as possible–start with the end in mind.
It’s clear that science is going to come roaring back to the frontlines of commerce and industry. Those looking to grasp the future will do well to embrace this unfolding reality.
Roy Lipski is Co-Founder & CEO of Creo, an ingredient company with a proprietary platform for producing natural rare cannabinoids without the cannabis plant.
Image Credit: Gerd Altmann