What Kodak’s demise tells us about cleantech
Poor Kodak. You couldn’t make it up. A classic brand invents a great new technology (digital photography) but decides it would cannibalise their own products, so they ditch it. Someone else takes up the baton and they get eaten up anyway while desperately trying to claw back a piece of their action.
This isn’t a new story – when transistors arrived on the market, the valve manufacturers decided not to embrace the new technology and paid the price – they’ve all gone. You could argue the same has happened to Zavvi and the struggling HMV – they’re suffering at the hands of newer business models. The tragedy for Kodak is they weren’t blindsided by someone’s innovation, they had the ball and gave it away.
To my mind, Apple is one of the few examples of a major business which had its niche (desktop computers), then rode a wave of innovation and ended up dominating the new markets of mobile computing and digital media. But that took the particularly twisted genius of a certain S Jobs Esq.
So what’s the lesson for Green Business in general and clean tech in particular?
Well you can see the same thing happening in the energy market. A while ago Big Oil redefined themselves as Energy Companies, invested in renewables, messed about with them for a while, then ditched them and headed for the familiar grounds of oil and (fracking) gas. They appeared fearful of commercialising technologies which might ‘cannibalise’ their traditional business, but if they don’t do it someone else will. BP’s “Beyond Petroleum Generation” of bright young things are almost all working for cleantech start ups now. I’m sure most of them would want to crush their former employer in the energy marketplace.
The only thing that protects the traditional energy sector is the lack of true competition in the market, but, with the UK Government trying to break the near-monopoly of electricity producers and introducing the carbon floor price, those advantages might be starting to slip away. If I were a fossil fuel based company, the Kodak story would make me very worried indeed.