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The professionals

This year’s 10.10.10 programme has started and it’s got water and infrastructure in its sights

Tom Higley's 10.10.10 brings elite entrepreneurs into the smart city space
Tom Higley's 10.10.10 brings elite entrepreneurs into the smart city space

There’s a buzz around smart cities and it’s got something to do with the energy of experimentation, start-ups, accelerators, competitions, hackathons, disruptors, digital pioneers, new ideas et al.


And while for many entrepreneurs the smart city movement offers them a first foray into business, in Denver, Colorado, a small group of serial, highly successful and very well-seasoned entrepreneurs are about to turn their business acumen to the smart city space.


These are game-changers who have founded many commercial ventures before. They have proven track records of attracting capital; they can engage and retain top talent. They can sustain and grow ventures and make business returns.


The event is organised by 10.10.10, a non-profit organisation that invites 10 elite entrepreneurs to learn about 10 ‘wicked problems’ with the aim to foster new commercial solutions to help solve these issues in 10 days.


This year the organisation is holding its first ever Cities Programme in Denver, where ‘wicked problems’ in water and infrastructure come under the spotlight. These specific problems have been brought to the fore for consideration by institutions, organisations and individuals working in this area.


The ‘wicked problem’ concept was first identified in the early ‘70s by two Berkeley professors. These flavour of problems stem from numerous causes, which spread and entangle themselves with other ‘wicked problems’.


10.10.10 founder and CEO, Tom Higley, believes that elite entrepreneurs are the vital ingredients for solving such problems.


“These wicked problems are too often left to governments, non-profits, industrial giants and large organisations and research institutions but they will not solve them,” says Higley. “We need new perspectives. We need outsiders with different points of view. We need serial entrepreneurs.


“Wicked problems present tremendous business opportunities. This means entrepreneurs, investors and the market itself could take them on. But this can only be done with the right combination of entrepreneurial energy and insight.”


Higley started thinking about 10:10:10 back in 2012 with its genesis arising from his observations that the considerable talents of proven, successful, serial entrepreneurs are often wasted by not finding a good founder/opportunity fit. They were also far focusing too readily on problems that were somehow beneath them.


As the 10:10:10 vision states: “The world doesn’t need its best and brightest to build yet another app. It needs them to grapple with wicked problems – the sprawling, intractable issues that must be tamed if we’re going to build a better world. We need them to persuade investors to fund this vision. We need them to deliver these new products and services to a hungry and waiting market that will create and sustain new businesses and offer incentives for the creation of more things that deliver return on investment and benefit to the community, society and the world.”


10.10.10 is built on a unique model that requires a diverse group of individuals to assist the CEOs.


Each 10.10.10 programme provides an opportunity for 10 invited serial entrepreneurs from the US who plan to use their considerable experience to create new ventures that deliver both economic benefit and social good. These CEOs are assisted by a diverse group of individuals.


These include Validators from 20 organisations and institutions that have a deep understanding of a domain’s programme. They validate that wicked problems are indeed wicked problems. They also validate alternative approaches an entrepreneur might take to solving them.


Problem Advocates have often dedicated their lives and careers to the understanding of wicked problems. They articulate the pain caused by a problem, help others understand how people are affected by it and serve as the champions, securing resources that can be used to create new approaches and solutions.


In addition, 10.10.10 bring in another 25 people to the table that have specific skills and abilities. Known as Ninjas, these are experienced professionals with diverse skills and backgrounds able to offer heavyweight assistance. Much like a co-founder in a start-up, Ninja’s gather and interpret, engage in ideation, and modelling, all vital for early-stage company needs.


The first five days of the programme is really about getting an understanding from a collaborative perspective about problems that are on the table, while the latter five days are about creating a prototype.


Throughout the 10-day programme, the entrepreneurs lay a strong foundation that supports up to 12 months of additional work dedicated to the creation of a new venture. This programme and process has caused 10.10.10 to become known as the world’s first venture generator.


“It is really an exercise in moving light-speed collaboratively to begin to deliver what might be the notion of a market-based solution to a particular problem,” says Higley.


With the current programme in Denver, validators for the ‘wicked problems’ include companies like Denver Water, Water for People; The Nature Conservancy; The Colorado Foundation for Water Education; AECOM; Xcel; Imagine H2O; American Water Works Association and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The Gates Family Foundation and Walton Family Foundation have also given their support.


“We seek creative solutions to ensure a healthy Colorado River that sustains agriculture and provides clean, safe and reliable drinking water for growing cities like Denver,” said Jill Ozarski of the Walton Family Foundation. “We must embrace a new phase of collaboration, innovation and flexibility when it comes to how we manage our water. That is why we’re proud to support 10.10.10 and welcome its entrepreneurs as they seek to develop creative, forward-looking solutions and be a model for innovative, collaborative problem-solving well beyond the Southwest.”


“Responsible stewardship of Colorado’s natural resources is a critical challenge facing our state, now and into the future,” said Tom Gougeon, president, Gates Family Foundation. “Innovation, collaboration, and balanced management of Colorado’s water resources will be needed to ensure long-term quality of life in this extraordinary place for future generations. We are eager to hear the creative ideas and solutions generated by 10.10.10 and its entrepreneurs, as they bring new perspectives to these important issues.”


The selection of 10 ‘wicked problems’ selected for each programme are dynamically tied to the validators chosen for each programme. They may be large foundations, non-profit or all profit organisations.


Keenly aware of wicked problems in the sector that they can’t solve themselves, they bring these to the table. Through various workshops and sessions, these problems are distilled down with substantial research undertaken around the final 10.


“Part of the narrowing that occurs happens as we determine through that research which problems seem to be more ready for entrepreneurial activity and successful ventures,” says Higley.


The CEOs are sourced through 10.10.10’s growing network of investors, entrepreneurs and organisations around the country all of which in turn are phenomenally well connected. “We invite entrepreneurs,” says Higley, “We don’t have an application process per se because most of these entrepreneurs are not people who would apply. They will be willing to request an invitation but they’re not filling out an application form that is not the way this works.”


Higley expects that the current water and infrastructure programme will spawn five new ventures, while the programme in 2016 spawned three.


The first programme held in 2015 focusing on health spawned two companies: BurstIQ, based on blockchain technology that delivers digital health data securely and Apostrophe Health, which delivers a solution to small employers enabling them to be radically more efficient in their healthcare spend, delivering the type of capabilities that would ordinarily only be available to much larger organisations.


“Our goal is to be in 10 cities by 2022 and do two programmes a year in each of those cities. So at that scale, some 100 new ventures will be formed a year, in each case addressing ‘wicked problems’ in specific areas.


Higley expects 10.10.10 to be held in the States for at least the next two years, and sees no reason for it not to be extended elsewhere in the world.


“I can readily see doing this in London, in Paris, in cities in South America and Asia,” he says. “It’s just easy to imagine it will make sense in those environments.”


Higley likens 10.10.10 to a bow tie, where the knot in the middle is a new venture. He says to the right of the knot is where most people in the world of entrepreneurship and start-ups focus and that part of the reason why 10.10.10 start-ups are inclined to greater success is because they recognise the left side.


The listen, learn, leverage and launch process is the 10.10.10 way. CEOs are presented with a distilled cluster of problems that matter and which have been fully vetted, and researched. This is its unfair advantage, the early exploration that also evaluates a commercial reception. Only then do the actual ideas start to form.


Says Higley: “Entrepreneurs typically build their next ventures based on something that captures their interest, attention and passion. Our entrepreneurs participate in 10.10.10 to focus on things that matter – to them and to the world. Water, infrastructure and health are great places to start. Each of our partners understands that more of the world’s population is moving to urban areas, that water and infrastructure have become critical resources that cities cannot ignore or take for granted. We are incredibly fortunate to partner with cities and validators in a way that brings the attention of entrepreneurs and investors to problems and opportunities in water and infrastructure. This is, in so many ways, a new frontier.”



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