Bertrand Piccard says startups must prioritise good communication if they want to push their innovations to market.
Speaking to Innovators Magazine for this special edition showcasing the European Innovation Summit’s inaugural EU Top 50 Startups event, where he is giving the keynote speech, the ‘serial pioneer’ has a clear message to the young innovators taking part: ‘success will come from good communication.’
Words of advice from a man with a strong record of doing just that, and with real impact. In 2016, Bertrand successfully communicated the epic potential of clean technologies, when he piloted the first ever round-the-world solar flight, alongside co-pilot André Borschberg, in the history-making Solar Impulse plane.
“The Solar Impulse flight showed the world that it is possible to push the limits of technology in order to build the foundation for a sustainable future,” said Ban Ki-moon, who was then United Nations Secretary-General.
And now Bertrand is heading around the world again – this time with 1000 solutions that can ‘protect the environment in a profitable way’.
Launched at this month’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn – via the Solar Impulse Foundation, which Bertrand is the Initiator and Chairman of, the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions (World Alliance) will select and promote 1000 solutions that can help contribute to international climate targets.
“I want to select the best 1000 solutions and go around the world again – not with a solar plane but with a catalogue of solutions. I want to take them to governments, heads of state, to parliamentarians who have to make legislation, and to institutions and big corporations. It will show them what exists today and make clear they can be much more ambitious in the targets they want to reach,” Bertrand said.
To do this effectively, he will communicate to decision-makers, in governments and industry, in a language they can understand, which is simply that profit and ecology go hand-in-hand.
“Heads of state all tell me that the main problem is inertia; the difficulty to move things. And that ecology isn’t enough, as you have too much resistance from industry.”
He continued: “What you need is to have the politicians owning the solutions, so they know which are the best solutions for their country; what is profitable, what can create jobs, and then they can incorporate it into their political programme. They are then in a position to say – look, we are going to do this because it will create jobs, it will make profit, it will sustain growth.”
“Even for climate change deniers, it will be logical to use these solutions,” Bertrand added.
And it is this criteria, the combination of economy and ecology, that an expert panel will use to rigorously assess the suitability of each solution.
“I want to bring key people together, into the World Alliance: startups, companies, institutions and organisations that are producing, implementing or supporting the use of clean technologies, and offer them – free of charge – access to these independent experts – who give credibility to each solution,” he said.
Solutions Bertrand says already exist.
“I think there are a lot of people everywhere in the world; in startups, in universities, in research labs and even big corporations, with one or several solutions that are profitable and can protect the environment, but they are not known about, people have no idea that they exist.”
All 1000 will be presented at COP24 in Poland next year.
European startups show the way
A number of game-changing innovations stemming from European startups have caught Bertrand’s eye in recent weeks.
“One startup in Europe has invented a system of solar cells, to simultaneously produce heat and electricity,” he said. “Until now you had only thermal solar, or photovoltaic solar, and it combines the two; so on the same surface you can produce heat and electricity.”
Another young company which impressed him, is advancing a product within the rapidly growing electric vehicle market.
Bertrand continued: “This company has invented an additional power unit that you hook to your electric car, that allows you to travel an additional 600km. And you rent it, you don’t need to buy it. So you can have your little electric car for the city, which you use during the week, then at the weekend – when you want to go on a break – you rent the little trailer to give you the additional range you need for your electric car. This is really interesting.”
Creating amazing products is only one part of the equation though, their value must also be properly communicated to the right audiences.
“What I want to say to the startups, all the people gathered for the EU Top 50, all the innovators – they have to work on the political level, they have to promote themselves, they have to speak of profit, not only ecology,” Bertrand said.
“And we need to help them market themselves better. This is what people miss when they are innovators, the marketing part. They are very good scientifically but they don’t know how to communicate. And today lots of the success will come from communication. By becoming better known, better respected; they can bring their solutions to the market. This is where the World Alliance can help them because all our strike force is in communication; it is in the media; it is in the relationships we have with governments.”
And on a personal level, Bertrand added that those who want to help accelerate the shift to a sustainable world, have to find ways of approaching challenges from different angles.
“What we have to do is to learn to think differently,” he said. “I believe that we have to understand that, as human beings – or even companies, we are prisoners of what we have learned to do. We are prisoners of our habits, prisoners of the paradigms that we believe are so strong and important.”
To break free of these shackles, Bertrand urges innovators to ditch paradigms that stop them moving forward.
“For me innovation is not when you have a new idea. Innovation is when you get rid of all substitutes, all beliefs, and this is how you can innovate. You don’t innovate with a new idea, you innovate when you understand the paradigm that prevents you from moving ahead, and you get rid of this paradigm.”
He added: “When I initiated Solar Impulse, the paradigm was that you can never fly longer than the 20 days that I did with my balloon around the world, because after 20 days – which was a long flight – you have no fuel, so you cannot continue. So you think ‘OK we can never progress, we can never get better’ but that’s wrong. The paradigm is you have the fuel and you fly as long as you have the fuel. So to change the paradigm you need to stop having fuel. And Solar Impulse is a plane that changed the paradigm and flew with no fuel, and could actually fly forever.”