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Startups, can you please dream a bit bigger?

I opened up ProductHunt this morning as I started to write this column. The first three ideas I saw are typical of the limited dreams of a lot of entrepreneurs today: yet another productivity app, another dating app and an app promising to be “Tinder for apartment hunters”.

Meanwhile Elon Musk has said he won’t take SpaceX public until he has established a base on Mars.

There’s obviously a middle ground between me-too ideas and the vaulting ambition of the world’s most ambitious entrepreneur but we need to start expecting more from startup founders.

Any requests?

Y Combinator’s updated Requests For Startups list is a good place to start.

The top 10 areas it suggests are all big problems seeking big solutions – energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotech, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, food and water, education, internet infrastructure and government.

A new photo-sharing app or a social network restricted to emoticons isn’t really in the same league. None of those sectors offers the speedy returns of consumer apps but they hold the promise of making a real dent in our reality.

Idea matchmaking

In the same week that Y Combinator unveiled its new Requests For Startups, Bill Gross, the creator of IdeaLab, reintroduced IdeaMarket, a marketplace for crowdsourced startup ideas.

Crossing Kickstarter with a traditional incubator, IdeaMarket lets anyone post an idea for a product or service. The principle is to match those ideas with investors and the right team to execute on them.

The person who generates the original idea gets between 5% and 30% equity in the final company depending on whether they invest themselves.

IdeaMarket is in beta and the first batch of ideas range from big, bold ideas (outsourcing x-rays to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis) to the waywardly wacky (a market place to pay people to pray for you).

If the site goes in the right direction, it could use the power of the crowd to push big ideas and bring together teams and investors who might not have found each other.

Dreaming big

Rather than just focusing on individual cities as hubs of tech talent, we should be working harder to tap into the global community of creative thinkers.

Harnessed correctly, crowdsourcing of ideas could lead to far bigger thinking than we tend to see today. We should demand more from our most talented. The best minds of today should not be focused on getting more ad conversions.

Of course, relying on the wisdom of crowds can end up with thousands in funding for a potato salad but it can also drive attention and capital to ideas that could change the world.

If we start expecting more from the startup world, new founders will step up to the challenge. It’s time to ask for more than just another app.

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