In a world characterised by an increasing pace of technological change that is pervading all areas of our work, social and personal lives, statements such as, “artificial intelligence technologies will replace human jobs”, “augmented/virtual reality will truly allow us to work from anywhere and remove the need for offices” and “cars in 5 years time will completely drive themselves” now seem sort of… real.

There are so many more technologically-savvy people and it’s so much easier and accessible for those people to use technology to create. Startup formation in the UK increased by 4.6% last year, with 608,100 new businesses registered in 2015 while 581,173 were created in 2014. According to Companies House information, 2015 had a record number of new incorporations.

At the end of the day, technological advancement comes from people, their ideas and their self-will. Today, if you want to create and innovate, your immediate thought may very well be, “could I build a tech startup business out of this idea?” With the rate at which startups are emerging and the speed of technological advancement today, no wonder more and more large companies are setting up “innovation units” and “startup departments”.

If you view tech startups as small, specialised and hugely motivated technology “SWAT” teams, then the cost of not engaging with them is increasing fast – whether it’s startups eating your lunch or startups having technology that you should really be getting to grips with, questions of acqui-hiring, acquiring, partnering or investing in are becoming more important.

But how should larger corporations effectively engage with the right startups to drive the right outcomes?

I have always thought that a great way to help everyone is to focus on the right business problem, the right pain point, and bring the right groups of people together around that. If you identify the right business issue, and then bring the people in the large corporation who own that problem or are incentivised to solve that problem together with the entrepreneurs and startups who are investing their livelihoods to solving it, you might be able to create something powerful. You might be able to help the startup improve their product/service offering, shorten the time it takes for them to achieve product-market fit and get their business off the ground.

You might be able to help large corporations learn more about and realise the very real relevance of emerging technologies for the improvement of their business and operations. You might be able to learn yourself and explore the applicability of new emerging technologies to today’s business problems.

For me, this is what the EY Startup Challenge is all about. It’s about helping to bridge the gap between small startups and big corporations and so far, it has been valuable.

Blockchain – 2016

A third EY Startup Challenge has now begun in London after two programmes in 2014 and 2015, as well as one in Berlin earlier this year. This time, the programme is running from 12th September to 21st October. We are focusing on exploring how blockchain technology could be used to address problems in Digital Rights Management (media & entertainment sectors) and Energy Trading (energy and power industries), working with six very exciting and promising startup businesses:

Adjoint Inc: building a new messaging and consensus protocol that allows enterprises to quickly deploy, maintain, and analyse a global network of smart contracts on top of a mathematically verified, cryptoledger fabric.

BitFury Group: develops and delivers software and hardware solutions for businesses, governments, organisations and individuals who want to securely move an asset across the blockchain.

BTL Group Ltd (TSXV:BTL): offers blockchain solutions to businesses across a number of industries, and has recently built a prototype that uses a blockchain based interbank payment network built on their core settlement and asset trading solution, Interbit.

Blockverify: provides a distributed ledger solution for companies to prove exactly where their products are in the supply chain at any given time, allowing businesses as well as end consumers to trace the source, establish authenticity and prove ownership of their purchases.

JAAK: a smart content platform for digital media, their protocol acts as an ‘operating system’ for defining, managing and commercialising media and metadata on the blockchain.

Tallysticks: leverages the functionality of blockchain technology to deliver efficiencies across financial workflows, delivering all automation by integrating into various ERP and accounting systems and connecting them with financial ecosystems as well as by plugging into electronic payment rails.

Each of them will work on building a product or prototype that addresses a specific problem within the DRM or ET space. These two key areas are ripe for change and blockchain and smart contracts have the potential to bring about notable enhancements in productivity, transparency and risk management. The prospective impact outside of the financial services sector is enormous.

They will receive guidance and feedback from a number of EY’s client organisations, including but not limited to:

– Viacom

– Discovery

– PPL and PRS for music

– Thomson Reuters

– EDF Trading


The programme will culminate on a showcase day on the 19th October and the startups will be presenting their products or prototypes. Already there is a huge amount of excitement and progress in terms of use-case identification and development planning.

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