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Community Insights Innovation The Pandemic

A Silver Lining of COVID-19: Innovation Super Evolution

If the pandemic has taught the world anything, it’s that we are capable of moving much, much faster to make change. 

By one measure, 42 percent of the workforce in America alone was working from home in June.

Now, as we seek to combat COVID-19, 155 vaccines are in development, including 10 vaccines undergoing phase 3 trials; many of these teams are already achieving encouraging results in remarkably short order.

Several 1,000-bed hospitals were built in China in just over a week.

Doctors are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telemedicine as they did pre-COVID.

Cities, meanwhile, have adapted at a record pace, taking the opportunity to be more experimental and thoughtful in city design. Seattle, for example, has closed 20 miles of streets, to provide safe spaces for community activity and engagement. It is only one of many.

Companies that were taking decades to implement digital transformation suddenly found it possible to move entire workforces to their homes, and got them up and running securely in a matter of days. Researchers on the virus have been iterating quickly on experiments, shaping them in real time as healthcare professionals learn more about COVID’s pathogenesis. And pharmaceutical companies, with rapid progress on therapeutics and testing as well as vaccines, are in a focused sprint, backed by governments around the world, collapsing a lengthy and bureaucratic development process from years to months. 

I’ve said before that what we call the Super Evolution is a convergence of data, ubiquitous computing, and advanced engineering that will make it possible to improve our physical and biological worlds at a pace never before seen in human history. Fueled by technology and human ingenuity, this is a marriage of equals, with both working together in new ways. It’s a mega-evolution that will move us much closer to solving humanity’s biggest challenges: climate change, food availability, healthcare, and — now — global pandemics.

At this very moment, we’re seeing Super Evolution’s real-time emergence, catalyzed by COVID. It’s what happens when fetters — of money, time, bureaucracy, and even mental models — are removed by necessity. In their place, we see design, experimentation, and data feeding each other in an impressively-accelerated innovation cycle. 

As humans, we have been largely dependent on our ability to interact with each other in the physical world. We met prospective business partners in person, drove to the store to pick up groceries, and staffed up our manufacturing and meatpacking plants with people. Cities and governments took years to make relatively simple decisions, relying on consultants to shape and execute years-long, on-the-ground projects. Patients didn’t hesitate to head in and see doctors in person as opposed to choosing telehealth services that enabled a video call with a provider.

The pandemic made those personal interactions impossible virtually overnight, shifting just about everything from the physical world to the digital one. More importantly, it spurred all of us — individuals, businesses, and governments — to make life-or-death decisions in real time. The stakes are high. And we no longer have the luxury of time. 

This sense of urgency — coupled with our lack of ability to make decisions and execute on them intuitively — has forced humanity to change. We now are able to sense the world with digital tools and observe patterns; to use computer power and machine learning to derive insights from the data and make the right decisions; and to use robotics to execute those decisions in the physical world in the quickest and safest way.

COVID is our current crucible. But it proves that the vision of the Super Evolution is now reality — and technology is what we needed to do it all better and faster. It shows that we can no longer give ourselves the indulgence of long timelines, never-ending development cycles, and “reasonable” (i.e., low) expectations of ourselves. The bar has been reset much higher. 

For the kind of entrepreneurs we love to work with at Innovation Endeavors, this is tremendously exciting. They can seize the moment to bring the world’s most complex problems closer to becoming a distant memory. They can help ride the wave of this mega-shift in the world order to disrupt industries like supply chain, cybersecurity, construction and agriculture, making them safer, more productive, effective and prosperous. They see, as we do, a decade of accelerated innovation ahead that will turn established, untouched industries inside out, with upstart start-ups outflanking entrenched, slow-moving incumbents. 

We see this demonstrated in companies in the portfolio we’ve invested in:

  • Farmer’s Fridge: democratizing the approach to accessible and healthy food
  • Fabric: transforming retail supply chain and logistics in metropolitan areas 
  • Replica: shifting how cities plan for better land use and infrastructure
  • Afresh: reimagining the grocery supply chain 
  • Dewpoint Therapeutics: using biological condensates to explore new medicines

What these young companies share are the elements we believe best position them for success: moonshot thinking, passionate curiosity, and the ability to try new things and celebrate failure. This is critical because we’re no longer deep in the academic explanation of a theory. We’re living the reality of the applied Super Evolution ecosystem, where the fastest progress is being made through the partnered effort of humans and machines. 

From here on, the companies that succeed will be only those that invest deeply in the ethos that underpins this revolution, and that embrace this historic and exciting acceleration. 

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