Jane Martino on why crises can be healthy for business

Jane Martino is chair and co-founder of the globally recognized tech-based not-for-profit Smiling Mind and is currently consulting to a number of clients across the technology and venture landscape, including in the investment committee at x15ventures, Commonwealth Bank’s venture arm .

In October and November this year, she joins us as a judge of the Innovator Award in the 2022 Smart50. Here, she speaks with SmartCompany about her approach to innovation across a range of projects, and of her excitement to see the great businesses born out of yet another time of uncertainty.

How does your approach to innovation vary across your work in the business and startups sphere and your work at an NFP?

I’m obviously still heavily involved as chair at Smiling Mind. That’s an NFP structure, so I think in terms of innovation, that really has to be around research and what we know about mental health, and using those insights to shape our product and future direction and what we do for young people, and preventive mental health more generally. For the other clients and people I work with, it really depends on what their plans are, what stage of business they’re at.

That’s a challenging question to answer, but my philosophy around innovation is the same, regardless: always thinking about what the customer really needs, not just now, but potentially in the future, and using the resources and insights and people that you have to shape that strategy.

What leaps forward in innovation and tech have stood out to you recently?

Really, the very best innovations come from solving a problem. The problems that I’ve seen that had to be solved quite quickly, particularly with COVID-19, were certainly connecting people virtually. That’s definitely something that I’ve leaned on really heavily — as we all have. The newer platforms coming out like Livestorm, and the constant improvements and iterations, that I think have been fantastic. In terms of actual things that I use, I also love Espresso Displays, which allow you to just basically have a large screen that you can plug in anywhere and take anywhere.

I haven’t used them, obviously because I’m not in the industry, but Clove Sneakers I absolutely love. They’re special sneakers that are made for the healthcare industry. They’re so clever, and obviously something that has been hugely important in the last couple of years. All examples of things that have been improved and iterated on constantly, to solve the problems and the challenges that we have.

How difficult is innovation for businesses right now?

It’s actually these times where some of the best ideas and best businesses are born. And it’s because we’re forced to make hard decisions, we’re forced to do things differently, we’re forced to look at things in a different way, to potentially work in a different way. That’s challenging in some ways but it also takes us back to basics, pushes us in terms of our creativity, and how scrappy or clever we can be with our resources. I think that can be really healthy for business.

True entrepreneurship is about leaning into obstacles. If we look at it that way, I guess it’s a growth mindset, but I also think some of the best businesses have been born in a recession. From memory, I know Netflix and Airbnb, are some of the more recent ones, but there have also been Microsoft (1975), and GE (1892), as examples of not so recent ones.

Good things can happen and the reason, I believe, is because we kind of go back to our core of what it is to be an entrepreneur and bring things into the world, even when we don’t have much to work with.

What words of inspiration do you have for SMEs today?

The one thing I’d say in terms of inspiration, and the thing I like to talk about the most, is probably around health, and obviously I have a bit of bias there. At these times it really can be quite stressful for founders. If I could get one message across it’s look after your health and the state of your mind, because that will help look after the business and your people. When you’re under stress and you have lots of things going on and lots of challenges, external factors that you can’t control? That can have a really big impact on your mental well-being and your health. So, it’s really important to prioritize that and that will be really great for the business and the people in it if you do.

Jane Martino joins the Smart50 program again in 2022 as a guest judge for the Innovation Award category.

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