Thank God for the Big Ideas

You seldom come across people who are working on ideas that will change life as we know it. Ideas like putting people on Mars, new energy solutions, supertrains, and overnight genomic sequencing are ones that very few people are taking on and technologies that very few people know about. At a conference in Paris I spoke at earlier this summer, I met and got to know the founders of Hyperloop, a supertrain idea spawned by Elon Musk in 2013. The train will be comprised of hyper-pressurized capsules that passengers sit in and will travel at speeds of up to 760 mph. They are starting with building a train that will connect San Francisco and LA, making the travel time no more than a mere thirty five minutes. Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO of Hyperloop, explained to me that the goal is to connect every major city that is about 400–500 miles away from each other, so that essentially no city is more than forty minutes away from each other. Imagine if you could get from LA to New York in less than an hour?

They are breaking ground Q1 of 2016 and already have over 400 engineers in LA working on it. The most admirable part about the Hyperloop is that it is powered by solar panels (installed on the top of the train) and it will be at minimal cost for the passenger. Ahlborn, explained in a recent Forbes interview, that the goal is to have at the very minimum, the tickets during off-peak hours be free and that there would be other ways that they would make money. He did not give further details as to their business model.

Though it will cost at an estimated $16 billion to build and 10 years to construct, what was refreshing to know was that the founders are more energetic and determined than ever. In speaking with them, their eyes glowed when they spoke about different materials they were trying out and the plans for the next year. Its people and ideas like these that truly give me hope in the world.

In the world of female entrepreneurship and healthcare, a woman who has recently been the topic of many conversations is Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of Theranos and the youngest self-made female billionaire. At age 31, she’s already been running a company now for 12 years and holds over 84 patents to her name. The very first patent was actually the one that led Holmes to start Theranos. It was titled, “Medical device for analyte monitoring and drug delivery,” a concept she came up with while a Stanford to better conduct and monitor blood tests.

Fast forward to today, Holmes’s solution allows for a blood tests to be conducted through a single pinprick, using only a few drops of blood, 1/1000th of the amount that was previously required of blood tests. Most importantly, Theranos tests cost a 10th of what hospitals would charge, meaning that those who aren’t insured will have far great accessibility to blood procedures. It is this type of equitable health care access that will change the world and that’s exactly what Holmes intended. In a recent interview by Mercury News, she explained she launched her company after “thinking about what is the great change I could make in the world.”

Transitioning to someone who has already changed the world in significant ways is Martine Rothblatt, the founder and CEO of United Therapeautics. At age 60, Roth has started and successfully grown four companies and is currently the highest paid female CEO in the U.S. However, Rothblatt could care less about titles and money as she’s been focused on disrupting industries, primarily those in the satellite radio and biotechnology.

Starting out as a telecommunications lawyer, she founded Sirius Radio in 1990 after many years of working the satellite space with companies like Geostar and WorldSpace, where she founded a global satellite system to replace shortwave radio and provide tele-education services to people in developing countries. Her career took a sharp pivot in the mid 1990s when her daughter was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a life threatening condition that can lead to heightened blood pressure and often times, heart failure. So in 1996, Rothblatt founded United Therapeutics in hopes of fighting the disease and in 1999, she took the company public. United Therapeutics now produces drugs that includes treatments for cardiopulmonary diseases, monoclonal antibody therapies that fight cancer and glycobiology-based antiviral drugs. These drugs combined produce $1.3 billion in sales and as a result of Rothblatt’s research, her daughter is now healthy and alive at age 30.

Rothblatt isn’t the most conventional CEO, however. Far from it actually, she’s transgender (had sex-change surgery in 1994) and founded a religion called Terasem that promotes “cyberconsciousness” and an immortality through technology.
Strange as it seems, all the people listed above as well as any “change-maker” seem to have their own quirks and nuances. However, the other thing that they have in common is that they are not working on the next “Snapchat” or “Instagram,” but are thinking bigger, thinking so unconventionally that those who spoke to them in the beginning of their careers probably thought they were insane. We need more people like this.

There are a staggering 1.6 million apps available to download between the Android and Apple App stores, 21% of these apps are games, another 8.5% lifestyle and 6.6% entertainment. What if there were 1.6 million big ideas? How different would the world be? What does it take to get people to think about big solutions that will change the way that we live in this world?

Not to say that apps are not important and serve their purposes, but what if even half the resources that go into developing a game, were put into new energy solutions and lofty ideas like Mars exploration? The answers to the questions will stay unknown for the time being, but thank god that at least these people and ideas exist.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs.

Here’s to the crazy ones.