Minnovation: Does a successful startup need to be innovative?

Rafat Abushaban

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Why we need more minnovation, not innovation

Check the web for an upcoming Startup Bootcamp or Business Plan Competition close to your area. Chances are you will find it focused on attracting new "innovative" ideas and encouraging entrepreneurs to apply, and for a good reason.

Innovation is considered an essential component of the entrepreneurship journey as it brings differentiation and novelty to ease our lives and help us solve problems with new ways that we didn't consider possible before.

With that being said, we go back to the question of the title: Does a successful startup need to be innovative?

Before answering, it is essential to differentiate between different types of innovation. Check the figure below.


Take Inventions for instance. An invention is the creation a new meaning. In their most basic form, inventions are what people apply patents for. They can be a new screen design or even a mechanism of doing something. A Micro-processor is an invention, so is the eye-scanner. Both are useful components in developing mobile phones, but they may not necessarily be usable in a standalone state.

On the other hand, an Innovation is highly linked with an invention in the sense that it creates something new, but it differs as it provides a new value using breakthrough knowledge created as a result of the invention. Take 3D printers for examples. These printers are manufactured using multiple components (inventions) to form an innovation. Unlike traditional printers, 3D printers have opened the doors to new industries and possibilities for health applications, architectural designs, among others.

Some suggest that innovation is much more difficult to achieve than invention because innovation creates the value that can be utilized, sold, and used for the benefit for the end customer.

However, it is important to note that innovations are rare, because they need to be financially producible at an acceptable cost before monetizing.

Rarity is the problem

The reality is this: innovation is hard to come by. The chances that an entrepreneur in a growing economy is dreaming of building the next Facebook or Apple are close to nil. So an alternative route would be tweaking existing working business models a bit and providing something new. This is sometimes called Renovation, but we like to use the term of Daniel Isenberg: Minnovation.

Here is why Minnovation is a great route for entrepreneurs:

diffusion of innovation curve

Minnovation utilizes existing innovations

The Market Adoption Curve clearly shows that the adoption process of new innovations, products, and services is time consuming. When introducing a new innovation to the market, it is usually accompanied at first with suspicion and reluctance by the majority.The beauty of Minnovation is that it builds on existing experience of the audiences with similar innovations so they know how this works, and are ready to accept a twist on an already-proven product.

Take Alibaba as a good example on Minnovation. With the rise of online shopping destination of different types (Amazon, ebay, others) in the west, Jack Ma wanted to do something similar but focusing on a significant non-utilized market in China at the time. Alibaba group is now a world leader and their platform differs significantly from its rivals, but it all started with a little twist on the proven e-tailing business model.

Minnovation builds on proven success

Innovations pop out every day, but many of which do not see the day of light. The market forces often help (or kill) products and services due to different factors that are beyond the scope of this piece, but the few remaining innovations often grow exponentially.

Thus, it is much easier to utilize an already-successful innovation with a tweak and tap into the market with a minnovation. Take Careem  car pooling service as an example. The success of Uber has helped similar services around the world popup, of which Careem was one of the more successful startups. The startup's recent acquisition by Uber only goes to prove that this was a good approach to grow a successful business.

Minnovation saves R&D costs

Innovation is time and effort consuming. It consists of dedicating a lot of time and resources before reaching the final finished product or service. Minnovation on the other hand utilizes an already-proven product with a twist on it.

Aramex's story is a good example for this. At first, the startup has used existing system of the then-market leader "Airborne". Upon its acquisition by DHL, Airborne gave notice that it will be drawing its support and the Aramex team started developing their own system and processes based on what they have learned to sustain the business.

Thus, we come to the conclusion that Minnovation is as important as Innovation. If you are starting out and don't have the resources to invent and innovate, try to come up with a minnovation. Who knows, it might be the best thing you'll ever do

Rafat Abushaban

Founder of Riable and consultant to several international organizations in entrepreneurship education and researcher in innovation systems and seed funding methods with 10+ years of practical experience in the MENA region, Europe, US and S.Korea
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