Growth and disruption: Trends facing today’s entrepreneur

Every day, millions of entrepreneurs identify problems and find solutions — or they uncover ways to do things better. They may be emerging entrepreneurs at startups or seasoned entrepreneurs leading established companies.

During the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to dozens of entrepreneurs throughout Illinois and Wisconsin who are part of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program in the Midwest. What I’ve learned is whether emerging or seasoned, they share many of the same characteristics: resilience, ingenuity and creativity.

It also became clear to me that there are three key trends facing entrepreneurs in the years to come, and they all stem from growth and disruption.

Changing strategies

Large. Small. Local. International. It doesn’t matter. The key to success with any company is growth. In the “old days,” if you were a startup, an initial public offering (IPO) meant you had made it. Your company had reached the pinnacle point in its lifecycle.

Today’s entrepreneurs have a different mindset. An increasing number of fast-growing companies are waiting on or even passing up an IPO and, instead, exploring strategic alternatives elsewhere. At the same time, entrepreneurial leaders of large, industry-leading companies recognize the unique opportunity to expand their companies by acquiring the aforementioned fast-growers. This strategic move benefits both companies, with the acquired firm achieving the capital it wanted and the larger firm continuing to innovate and grow.

Long-term disruption is key

Disruption is something entrepreneurs know well. Many of the great entrepreneurs of our time have been laughed at and dismissed when sharing their ideas — thankfully, that didn’t stop them. Who would have imagined 15 years ago that we’d be able to ask our phone for directions, and then get the right answer? I’m glad Steve Jobs did.

But it’s not enough to be disruptive for a moment in time — you must think bigger and ask better questions that will pave the way for your future success. Does your innovation solve just one problem? Or might it create solutions to problems we don’t yet have? Are you launching a product? Or are you developing a new product category that will disrupt business or services as we know it (a la the smartphone)?

The most successful entrepreneurs recognize that the key is to innovate at least 10 years out and create products and services that will have a lasting change on the economy and consumers, even if others can’t see their vision yet.

Tech, tech and more tech

In everything we do, technology is the wraparound. Think about everything you’ve done today. How many tasks included some sort of technology? In your car alone, you get a warning when your tire pressure is low, you get an alert when you’re drifting into the next lane, and now your phone can even locate and start up your car. Entrepreneurs are disrupting every industry using groundbreaking technology solutions.

While I’ve worked with a myriad of entrepreneurs, for 30 years, the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award has honored hundreds of them. Each a success in their own right, identifying new, pioneering ways to create long-lasting disruption and reminding us that change is the only thing we can depend on.

I look forward to even bigger and bolder ideas in the next 30 years and am eager to see what our region’s most promising entrepreneurs think up next.

Lee Henderson is an Assurance partner in the Chicago office of Ernst & Young LLP and leads the firm’s Central Region Strategic Growth Markets practice focused on serving high-growth companies.