Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Cathy Waters joined her passion for books with her interest in IT to co-found the former Abebooks used-book database, later acquired by Amazon. (ARNOLD LIM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Cathy Waters joined her passion for books with her interest in IT to co-found the former Abebooks used-book database, later acquired by Amazon. (ARNOLD LIM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The Creativity Gap

How outsiders solve problems that stump experts Add to ...

Mr. Scudamore has incorporated his philosophy about creativity into how he does business. When bringing on new franchisees, he avoids people with previous industry experience because he prefers those with no prior assumptions. 1-800-GOT-JUNK's headquarters is an open space and employees are encouraged to have meetings where other departments can overhear and throw in ideas. Then there is the “Can You Imagine?” wall where employees post crazy ideas and ambitious goals.

Mr. Scudamore recently expanded his vision of home services by partnering with a Vancouver-based house painter to launch 1-888-WOW-1DAY! Painting. The company, which promises to complete any job in one day, has five franchises across North America and a Toronto location is about to open.

Stephan Ouaknine, the naive telecom tycoon

The Problem

Between 1994 and 2010, Stephan Ouaknine started three telecom companies and made three successful exits, amassing considerable wealth as he went. “I could have pretty much done anything I wanted to in telecom,” the Montrealer says. But instead of sticking to what he knew, he decided to tackle the most difficult problem of his career: climate change.

“I've been an earth lover my whole life,” Mr. Ouaknine explains. “I love David Suzuki but all of his rallies and books and documentaries aren't going to put the dent in climate change that a really profitable idea can make. Profitable ideas tend to get a wider deployment than the stuff that's just about loving Mother Earth.”

Examining the green technology sector, Mr. Ouaknine identified problems he recognized from the early days of telecom: The companies driving innovation, mostly young firms, relied on the crutch of government subsidies. Meanwhile, companies that secured significant venture capital lost their urgency. With the associated risks, banks were often allergic to innovation. And while these companies focused on creating the next technology, they often neglected to secure revenues.

Mr. Ouaknine realized that the way the clean energy sector financed innovation needed to be turned on its head.

The Idea

A couple of months after selling his last telecom company, Blueslice, he launched two companies: a $1-billion fund called Inerjys Ventures, which raises capital to invest in wind, solar and biofuel innovation, and Inerjys Renewables, a global utility that sells clean power. The genius of the idea is how the two entities interact. Not only does Inerjys provide capital while companies develop new technology, but it would also act as the companies' first customer, providing important revenues.

The Value of Naivety

So far, Inerjys has secured approximately $700-million in soft capital commitments prior to a first close, and the utility has projects in the works in seven countries. Mr. Ouaknine says that being an outsider is key to his ability to imagine a whole new way of financing green energy. “People who have been in a sector for 20 years sometimes only see the barriers, the reasons something is going to fail,” he says. “When you don't know what you don't know – when you're a little bit naive – you can come with a fresh approach. You can get stuff done if you're a mixture of naive and tenacious.” “Creativity comes hand in hand with challenging the status quo.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Single page

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeBusiness

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories