Disruptive Innovation With A Capitol Twist

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Externalize the fact that disruption in the marketplace is both necessary and difficult. By Stephanie Sheridan (Founder & Policy Coordinator, Institute for Policy Analysis & Implementation)

Many a crucial moment I find myself sitting in front of my computer or my phone, typing on my Android as I so often do, sometimes, with both my computer and my phone on in front of me, in the middle of one email, text or link follow up. What stops me, what complicates and confuses me is complexity in relationships. Let me try to explain.

I live and work in Washington, DC - in Dupont Circle, to be exact. I consider this the best neighborhood in the entire world. Why I bear such fondness for my neighborhood is that I can live, work and play all around the topics that I care deeply about: urban sustainability, macro and micro economic policy, private sector development and the ability to connect and interact with people interested in solving complex global challenges. All I have to do is walk outside the door and the world is right there. I run into people multiple times a day that I know. In economic terms this is called, positive spillover effects.

The ability to succeed in growing a company, however, boils down to untangling what has struck me as complexity in relationships. Whether real or imagined, I am up against some tough odds. To begin with, Washington DC is a town dominated by the traditional ethos of male-dominated management positions. Furthermore, academic qualifications present another barrier to entry for the ability to impact the marketplace based on economic analysis.

As the 30-year old founder of an “Institute,” I decided to disrupt the status quo of Washington, DC, from two perspectives - management, and market leading analysis.

Not only was I a young woman founding a company, I have a Masters in economics, not a phD. To break it down for you even further, during the first 14 months of IPAI, any complexity has been exacerbated by the following factors:

  1. Less than 100% Belief in IPAI’s Messaging.
  2. Inability to give myself some slack.

These two things created an illusion of complexity that I imagine is common in a startup, but still however wastes time. The biggest time suck came from internalizing other’s advice, analysis and what I would dare say, misperceptions.

Now, everyone who offered me advice, especially early on, no doubt thought I was absolutely stark raving mad for founding an Institute. And how can I blame them? I worried too much about their comments and what I was not doing, while not spending enough of my time delivering my message. And any successful company knows that message delivery is critical in order to compete in the marketplace.

After success both on the revenue and HR front, now that I feel happy enough in my disruption of the marketplace to talk about the fact that I spend too much time worrying about other people’s expectations of me, I can start to externalize the fact that disruption in the marketplace is both necessary and difficult. Disruptive innovation at IPAI is only possible with dire dedication to our mission and relentless belief in being able to influence the future.

As a company, we consult for products and organizations that address the most complex challenges in sustainability. We do research and development (R&D) for software and metrics that connect sustainability to financial markets.

From my role as a founder and a third generation entrepreneur, I stand on the shoulders of two generations in my family who got knee-deep in management and innovation. So what does that say about me? I am blessed by being incredibly good at strategy. It also says that I believe I know what I am doing in order to manage and untangle the relationships that are a part of IPAI and our growth and influence in the marketplace.

What I’ll say about the technology scene after having grown up in a software company is the following - I am happy that women are looking to prove themselves in the technology industry.

While I recognize the spillover effects of technology to help solve problems, I have to express my mantra that most companies will be well served in developing technologies that directly address the most pressing challenges in sustainability.

If you are reading this and you are one of those companies, please contact me. Because I would like to work with you. We are a tiny sector of the marketplace and by supporting each other we will grow.

Technology is a tool. Women can both create and master the tools, of course. But we cannot stop there. We must go further. Technology is important as a vehicle. Now, whether you choose to be the driver, the mechanic, or the designer of the vehicle, each role is important. In my role as a founder, however, I have no choice but to be a driver of the vehicle. Disruptively innovating is kind of like off-roading. You need a good driver.

Learn more about IPAI’s fall conference Entrepreneurs In The Green Economy and click here to visit the IPAI website and learn more about our work in capturing the value in sustainability.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Stephanie Sheridan is the Founder and Policy Coordinator at Institute for Policy Analysis & Implementation (IPAI), based in Washington DC. Stephanie is a trained economist who has had a long-time love affair with quantitative methods, with a Masters from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Bachelor of Arts from Eckerd College. Stephanie’s previous work at a startup compelled her to found IPAI and pursue her focus on meeting individuals’ needs in The Green Economy. Follow her on Twitter at @S_Sheridan.