Swirling economy makes role of innovators key

Swirling economy makes role of innovators key

The world around us is changing at a fast pace and that dynamic is creating both challenges that can destroy businesses and opportunities to create a fortune.

That thought struck me while standing in the quadrangle at the heart of UCC last week. It was a day when new students were being introduced to third level education.

The place was alive with energy but one of the obvious and dramatic changes from the time I attended was the prolific use of mobile devices.

Virtually everyone was either communicating or consuming data and therein exists a massive marketplace that did not operate while I was in college.

Inside that virtual market there is an enormous amount of activity that has fundamentally changed the physical world outside it.

I am sure young consumers were ordering products that are shipped direct from the source online to their homes in parcels.

In so doing they have side-stepped the retail stores that created the soul of many urban environments for the past 100 years.

These are being hollowed out by a new form of business which has created billionaires in companies such as Amazon and eBay while destroying companies with household names.

This process of change will continue and possibly speed up as technology grows its capacity to communicate and trade at ever lower costs.

Other forces, including the mobilisation of political and regulatory change to manage climate change, will have an equally profound impact.

Last week the food and fuel retailer Applegreen revealed ambitious plans in the rapidly growing area of electric vehicles. Instead of analysing this as a structural threat to its entire traditional fuel filling system it believes a large business opportunity is opening up.

While smaller petrol stations may struggle to forge a living as electric vehicles gather pace Applegreen believes its large motorway service areas will become destinations for electric vehicle users.

By offering multiple high speed chargers in car parks the company expects consumers to use those for relatively short breaks while buying food and drink in the growing set of offerings within their large stores.

It also expects electricity, like all energy, to be charged for as the electric vehicle phenomenon grows. While highly competitive with traditional petrol and diesel it will form a major part of the company's future as we all adjust to a new way of road transport.

These are just some examples of how the economy is swirling around us and making the role of innovators and entrepeneurs so valuable.

Those who identify and exploit the changes to establish new business can expand rapidly while anyone who sits on their laurels can expect some nasty shocks in the decades ahead.

Large traditional businesses will fail as this process evolves and the Irish economy needs to tap in to the areas that are growing quickly and have the greatest probability of success.

The development of a wide number of technology-based enterprises in the Republic is key in this regard.

Online markets, cyber security and artificial intelligence are just some of the areas offering vast potential.

So, too, is the development of a new generation of food and drink that can provide specific health benefits for a growing and aging global population.

By tapping the scientific food knowledge that has existed in Ireland for many years, and marrying it to the technology and data processing that now exists, entrepeneurs should be able to bring forward solutions that create new markets at home and abroad.

It will probably be the generation that I witnessed in UCC last week which will be at the vanguard of the changes that lie ahead of us. If they study the radical changes of the last 30 years it will provide a pathfinder for the rate of change ahead.

Joe Gill is director origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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