Overcoming innovation challenges: MI-3 day two highlights

Mission Innovation 3 kicked off with Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist who was among the first to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe. During his keynote, he spoke about overcoming innovation challenges and what drove him to think beyond conventional wisdom.

Piccard built the world’s first solar-powered plane; an aircraft that can fly indefinitely. Truly, they only descend to swap pilots or for severe weather. The wingspan is enormous, but it’s feather-light; a brilliantly creative innovation. However, nobody in the aviation industry believed it could be done. So, Piccard had to seek help elsewhere to create his dream. He turned to the America’s Cup boat builders who helped significantly lighten the weight of his plane using hi-tech carbon.

He likened his creation to other innovations that could have been done years prior; think Leonardo Da Vinci or the first Wright brothers’ planes built of wood and cloth. “The Egyptians could have built this type of plane. Really, anyone in the last two thousand years could have. But everyone believed that it couldn’t be done. And this is what causes innovation – when people challenge the things that cannot be done,” said Piccard.

Day one continued with a panel of start-ups. I was particularly inspired by Taavi Madiberk, an Estonian entrepreneur, who, at the ripe age of 20 came up with the idea to build ultracapacitors out of Graphene. Using the thinnest compound known to man at one atom thick, yet up to 300x stronger than steel, Skeleton Technologies was born, introducing the best conductor of heat and electricity. At 29 years old, he’s raised $43M Euro and built two manufacturing plants while helming his company by three wise guiding principles: “get shit done, push the boundaries and act with good judgment.” That’s my kind of visionary leader.

One of the most inspired moments of the day was when Jo Evans, Deputy Secretary of Australia’s Department of Environment and Energy, called a meeting to understand the drivers and motivators of the Australian companies that attended. She was a thoughtful, intentional listener and reinforced that the Australian government supports the private sector’s innovative initiatives at a practical level.

Overcoming Innovation Challenges

MI-3’s opening ceremony was tremendous; a brilliant mix of culture and business. Fatih Birol, The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency gave the annual report card on the world’s progress toward reducing carbon emissions. The IEA is monitoring the progress of 38 clean energy technologies; only four are on track, 23 need work and 11 are off-track. It was a sobering report, reinforcing that we must be emboldened to work harder and with increased urgency.

Encouragingly, considering the amount of wealth, innovation and jobs we can create by investing in this space, Birol predicts that our 2040 carbon goals can be achieved 80% through efficiency and 36% through renewables. This is an immense opportunity and we need to shake the belief that it cannot be done. Rather, this is precisely where innovation lies.

The opening ceremony ended with a thrilling and fitting rendition of David Bowie’s Heroes from Nina Persson, lead singer of The Cardigans, and Moto Boy accompanied by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. It struck chords with all, for we must believe that when passionate experts collaborate we WILL solve this hard problem.

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