Opportunity hiding in plain sight

Early in December, Inc announced the 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year:  Kevin Surace.  Innovator of the year would be an equally appropriate title- as well as social entrepreneur.  Kevin is based in Silicon Valley (my home territory).  High tech startup, you’re thinking.  Wrong.  The company is Serious Materials and the products are used in construction- like windows and drywall.  Exciting stuff, right?  Well, that’s the point.  While others focused on bits and bytes, Kevin paid attention to windows and walls and saw amazing opportunities being overlooked.

Take drywall, for example.  Most companies are using the same method of production that’s been used for ±115 years.  Unfortunately, the manufacturing process is environmentally unfriendly and drywall is non-biodegradable.  Debris from building demolition and remodeling winds up in landfills.  Serious Materials now produces EcoRock, a gypsum-free product manufactured from recycled materials using a method that produces 3% of the emissions from production of traditional drywall.   Consider the demand for construction materials worldwide and it’s easy to see there is a market for this product.

Serious Materials believes in the triple bottom line: eco-friendly materials manufactured in an eco-friendly way, producing profits, and creating job opportunities.  Twice the company bought factories that were being shut down- one in Chicago and the other in Vandergrift (PA).  Employees who had already been  off  were hired back and retrained to produce eco-friendly products.

In the article, Kevin is quoted as saying “We’ve all got BlackBerrys on our hips, but we’re building with the same materials we used 30 or 40 years ago,” Because tech,biotech and alternative energy are ‘hot’, little or no attention is being paid to areas badly in need of modernization.  What great opportunity for innovation are you overlooking right now?  How can you see things with a fresh eye?  When are you going to do that?