Co-author, Dr Adams Adieza
When you hear about emerging technologies, what comes to your mind? Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Drones, Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual/Mixed Realities, or Data Analytics? Well, those are not what we are talking about. Those are relatively well-known, and you probably already use them. There are dozens of other emerging technologies with equally, if not more, powerful, and disruptive applications, that many people are not aware of. These little-known technologies offer great opportunities to solve critical human problems, and, in the process, people can build thriving startups off them. We will introduce you to these cool technologies: what they are; their features, capabilities and most importantly, how to exploit their business potentials. Let’s begin the show. But first, startups! What are they? why is everybody talking about them and in what ways are they important to a country like Malaysia?
Startups and their Importance
A startup is an early-stage enterprise that attempts to solve customers’ problems by introducing new products or services. Startups create value by deploying resources to address problems in a profitable and scalable way. The term is most commonly used to describe early-stage technology companies, but it also applies to non-tech companies. Examples could be misleading as startups are not expected to remain startups throughout their lives. They are expected to eventually become established and scalable companies. Startups are valuable economic agents to a nation. They push the boundaries of innovation, build products that make life easier and enjoyable, create good-quality jobs and help the government achieve its economic development goals. The next generation of startups will be those applying deep technologies to solve the most important problems that humanity faces today. These technologies are powerful enablers. They make cities livable and people’s lives easier, better, healthier, productive, and more convenient. Let’s get to know some of these little-known technologies.
Emerging Technologies: Features and Capabilities
By the year 2040, Malaysia will be spending approximately RM4 Billion for kidney dialysis and RM3 Billion for transplant patients annually. That is according to a recent study. Bioprinting is a technology that makes it possible to print any human part. From kidney to heart, to vertebra and even eyes, it’s now possible to replace any part of the human body with a custom-made one. All over the world, there are millions of people on life support searching for matching kidneys, hearts, and bones. Let’s stick with Kidney in particular. It is now well-known that kidney transplant is a global problem. In the US, over 100,000 patients are on the waitlist every year, and only 16 to 17 thousand transplants get done.
A study published in September 2020 by Farida Islahudin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and colleagues, note and we quote, “although Asia is the most populated region in the world, it has the lowest rate of kidney transplantation and the greatest growth rate for numbers of people entering chronic kidney disease and end-stage kidney disease (ESKD)”. In Malaysia, 21,000 people are on the waitlist and out of that, only 30 – 40 transplants get done in a year. Dr Farida Islahudin and her colleagues went on to highlight that “the discouraging environment of kidney donation is even more concerning in Malaysia, which reports among the lowest kidney donation rates globally”. With bioprinting technology, InshaAllah, in a few short years from now, this problem will be addressed. With Bioprinting technology, the above-quoted costs and the human fatalities associated with kidney disease will be brought down significantly. The tipping point for this technology is 2025. That is when it is expected to be generally available at an affordable rate.
Imagine being able to know, with precision, the health of vital organs in your body any time, without running any tests or visiting any medical expert? Imagine being able to get alerts on diseases and harmful organisms in your system the second you get infected? How about the possibility of having diseases in your body treated automatically without any direct intervention from you? That’s the stuff of implantables. Health implantable is a technology injected into the human body to detect, monitor and in some cases automatically release healing medicines to treat certain conditions. Healthcare expense is a major cost for both individuals and countries of the world. Apart from the financial costs, the human cost of diseases cannot be quantified. With a preventive medical solution like implantable, these costs could be brought down significantly in a few short years from now. Like bioprinting, the tipping point for implantable is 2025.
Neurotechnology (Artificial Memory)
Some experts have noted that the next basis of competition among nations is going to be in the brain. It is soon going to be about which country is faster in understanding and artificially optimizing the brainpower of her workforce? Neurotechnology makes it possible to understand brain activity, predict human behaviours, and gain express access to the working of the human mind. There are diverse potential uses for this technology. Fight drug addictions, help disabled people to communicate better, treat brain disease, regulate eating habits, improve work performance and so on.
Designer Being, 4-D Printing, Nanomaterials, and others
There are other emerging and disruptive technologies like ‘Human Genomic’, otherwise called Designer Being, which makes it possible for anyone to make babies with genes, attitudes, behaviours and even complexion that you like. We have others like 4-D Printing which not only prints anything smarter, quicker and at a fraction of the cost but also printed items have the capability to adjust, like a chameleon, to changing environmental conditions. We also have nanomaterials, which according to experts, are ‘200 times stronger than steel and a million times thinner than a human hair. This is expected to revolutionize and disrupt the manufacturing and construction industries in a few short years from now.
Leveraging Emerging Technologies to Build Startups
It is not enough to understand the capabilities of the aforementioned technologies. The technologies themselves are mere tools. For them to be useful and serve humanity at scale, there is a need for innovation around their production, distribution, and sustainability. In essence, a business model must be built around the technology. This is what startups do. But for startups to do this profitably, they need to do a few other things along the way.
Understand Pressing Customer and Societal Needs
What makes technologies useful is the problem they solve. The starting point for startups is not the technologies. It is a deep understanding of human and societal problems. The best way to understand people’s most important problems is not to have them speak about them. If Akio Morita, the founder of Sony had relied on what people say, Walkman would not have been invented. The best way to know people’s most important pain is to watch or join them to experience it. The more painful, costly, and urgent a problem is for a large number of people, like kidney disease, the better for startups.
Understand Technological Possibilities
Anyone that hopes to solve any of the world’s most important problems must do well to understand available technologies. But we must point out that you don’t have to be an expert in the production or even knowledge of any technology to leverage it to provide solutions. You only need to know the capability of the technology and its appropriateness for the problem at hand. Well, for startups, you need to know how to make money from deploying the technology. They need to re-innovate business models.
Deploy Disruptive Business Models
A business model is how a startup creates, delivers, and captures values. For any business to succeed, there are several pieces that need to fit perfectly. The right customers, right customer relation management, right distribution channels, right value proposition, right partners, right resources, right activities, right cost structure and appropriate pricing or revenue model. To get to the right place for each of these elements, there are several options. Startups need to be aware of these options and try out new combinations or successfully convince customers to ignore some of the elements altogether.
Conclusion and Call for Action
The 4th Industrial Revolution is a time of unprecedented technological possibilities. What used to be science fiction yesterday are now in the realm of possibilities. Problems that currently challenge humanity and human society are a few years from being a thing of the past. If there is one economic agent to whom emerging technologies bring enormous opportunities, it is business organizations, especially innovative entrepreneurs who are ready to understand customers’ pressing problems, deploy appropriate technologies and re-innovate business models to enable the delivery of values in a profitable and scalable way.
Dr Adams Adieza is a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK) and has experience in the start-ups eco-systems in both Nigeria and US. Dr Azizi is a professor of accounting information systems at UMK with a passion for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.