Q&A with Mark Castleman
Managing Director at Ignite: Intel for Startups
Mark Castleman, Managing Director at Ignite: Intel for Startups, will be participating in the Ask the Experts! Panel Discussion – Where the Ventures are Venturing session at The Innovation Workshop and Tour: A Quarterly Series, hosted by the Frost & Sullivan Growth Innovation Leadership Council. The event will take place at MIT InnovationHQ, MIT’s new hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, on May 17, 2023. Space is limited, so you’ll want to register soon if you’d like to join us!
Ahead of the event, Mark answered these timely questions about innovation today:
- What do you see as the top two challenges to technological innovation for companies today?
The pace of change in tech and particularly AI, as well as funding climate seem to be the top challenges early-stage companies face. For startups in particular, the pace of innovation can be exhausting. Large companies often have an advantage where they can skip generational shifts, so long as they are sufficiently established firms that are not overly impacted in the short term. Meanwhile, startups need to demonstrate traction or some growth-minded metric in order to attract professional investment. So, you can see the conundrum…startup customer opportunities, that are often large companies, drag out because the prospects slow down their adoption of innovation. This creates a reinforcing loop pressuring the startup to innovate more quickly. This loop can create existential challenges as the tension between innovation and adoption is a function of time and money. Commodities that startups severely lack.
- Are AI applications and innovation a dangerous pairing? Best scenarios for success or pitfalls to beware of?
AI as an innovative force is inevitable — we are past the point of no return. The real question is what future will it establish? There are many unknowns right now and the value chain is shifting in ways that will be very difficult to anticipate. It could be viewed as an opportunity because it’s shifting just about everything, which changes the gravity of capital and also where that capital lands. Because of the shift, many companies are currently placing their bets about the future. Of course, this is incredibly hard because the inputs on the decision for placing the bets is changing so rapidly that it feels like just about everything is a guess.
- Your thoughts on how to apply the principles of innovation to solve for one of the key issues of our age – sustainability?
Sustainability needs to be considered in an innovative context, as part of commercialization. We need commercial perspectives on sustainability to drive cultural adoption. It will happen. Many are working on this now, so it’s only a matter of time. Sustainability as a matter of both the wallet and heart are important.
- Based on your experiences, what is the most challenging part of the start-up lifecycle? Biggest lesson learned – or maybe, the lesson learned over and over?
I think the biggest lesson learned for startups, after they fail, is that they discover that they should have paid much more attention to the problem as the path to the solution. Most startups fail because their solution is not obvious to the critical need of the customer. This pervasive mismatch burns time and money. Usually, failed founders who are willing to be introspective will discover what they should have done, but it’s often too late. The main thing they should do is focus much more on the problem and ensuring that their solution is tightly matched to a detailed and specific issue.
Don’t miss The Innovation Workshop and Tour: A Quarterly Series, hosted by the Frost & Sullivan Growth Innovation Leadership Council. It’s a unique opportunity to connect with and learn from industry leaders ready to share experiences and insights you can apply to your own organization. Collaborative sessions on critical innovation issues will abound, capped off by a tour of MIT’s world-class innovation headquarters.