This month saw Elon Musk, the great serial entrepreneur and innovator, unveil a revolutionary transport idea named Hyperloop. Musk, the founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla, is suggesting that passengers and freight can be shot through tubes at almost the speed of sound, essentially using magnets and fans to fire transport capsules through an underground system, floating on a cushion of air. When he suggests that this is a viable idea for transport between Los Angeles and San Francisco (and could be vastly more economic than a high-speed train currently under development), the world is right to take notice. Musk is a man with a track record of delivering on his vision.
Interestingly Musk's vision for revolutionising the railways was hitting the headlines at the same time that PayPal, the most well-known of the companies he founded, promised to revolutionise the world of payments by harnessing mobile and cloud infrastructure to allow users pay for items in-store just by presenting their faces. The technology is being trialled by Richmond High Street and means people can head to the shops armed with just their phones, leaving the wallet behind.
Budding business owners and innovators in the UK should look at Elon Musk's technical and corporate success and be inspired. He's worth an estimated $570 million USD, he taught himself computer programming, and by the age of 12 he sold his first programme for about $500. It's clear that Musk is an innovator that can build powerful companies able to harness technology for new business and social application, again and again.
Yet Musk is quoted in the BBC saying, "I get a little sad when things are not getting better in the future."
This is a common feeling among entrepreneurs - they want to change the world for the better. And if entrepreneurs bring innovations ranging from electronic payments that remove the need to remember or insecurely store important financial data, to knocking hours off the commute, they are clearly putting a lot back into society at-large as well as creating jobs and wealth.
I sincerely believe that we need more technology visionaries like Musk to help make the world and our society better, and there is no reason that the UK can't produce them.
We are fortunate to live at a time when the technology to support such visionaries is widely available, be they as mould-breaking as Elon, or as worthy as those just looking to set-up local businesses. From the arrival of 3D printing, increasing availability of high data speed mobile infrastructure and recognition attributed to the importance of coding skills, technology has never been cooler.
From time-saving software to the force-multiplier that is cloud computing we are living in exciting times! With a great idea, a determination to realise that vision and the right application of technology, then lives are changed and fortunes made.
Neelie Kroes, the Vice-President of the European Commission is a prominent cloud evangelist. Neelie says, "If your ambitions don't extend beyond national borders, they don't extend far enough," and points out that "for businesses - especially small businesses - to have IT as flexible, nimble and innovative as they are, without massive start-up costs... the cloud boost is worth hundreds of billions of euros to our [European] economy..." So businesses in the UK, large or small, domestic or international in outlook have a lot to look forward to with such a prominent technology supporter.
Such visionaries show that a brave new world of innovation and growth is within our grasp.
But visionaries are just one aspect. The government has made steps with Tech City and attempted to encourage banks to lend more to businesses - but many would argue that these actions don't go far enough to give UK businesses the access to cash and infrastructure that will truly support a new wave of visionaries and power UK success.
My challenge to government and the banks is to think bigger and brighter so that the next wave of innovators can dream bigger and act upon their ambitions. The next million pound idea could be just moments away - but innovation is a two-way street. Society is creating innovators, but innovators need an infrastructure fit for the 21st century.
Let's give them the tools to get the job done. It's in everyone's benefit.