Can artificial intelligence capture, or at least simulate, the ‘X’ factor in business idea creation — you know, that innovative spark? Can it help boost creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in ways not possible in previous times? A new survey of startup founders and creative professionals finds AI has become a new tool to take business concepts to such new heights. Or is it wishful thinking at this point?
Eighty percent of the founders say they have integrated AI into their creative processes, according to the survey of 150 founders and 486 creatives. While a majority of the founders, 55%, still prefer human creativity over AI in their startups, technology is a big part of their growth. Top applications include data analysis to inform creative decisions (42%) and product development to identify and prioritize features or services (25%).
Industry observers agree that AI is catalyzing new business formation and innovation, both through startups or within existing enterprises. “Generative AI has opened new opportunities that entrepreneurs can tap into when ideating their next business,” says Flavio Villanustre, global chief information security officer of LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
“AI, and in particular generative AI, boosts new business formation in several ways,” says Uche Ogbuji, founder of Oori Data. “It helps entrepreneurs express ideas, rich descriptions of those ideas, and even suggest steps towards realizing those ideas.”
For startup founders or executives entering established markets, generative AI “accelerates the writing of proposals and copy for marketplace communication in well understood yet competitively weighted terms,” Ogbuji illustrates. “In the case of new, disruptive ventures gen AI helps articulate the unique selling proposition.”
In either case, “AI frees up time for financials, human resources, selling, and other aspects of business formation,” he adds. “Gen AI can also greatly accelerate development of web design wireframes, logos and other materials to help polish a startup’s presentation.”
Innovation and creative have a serendipitous or informal aspect, so it may be a stretch to capture and bottle that spirit. “There are no true shortcuts to serendipity—a person who has not given enough careful consideration to a problem space might not even recognize when an opportunity has opened up,” says Ogbuji. “AI can’t serve as a substitute for such understanding.”
Still, he adds, “AI is better than anything else is speeding up search processes. An entrepreneur in the AI age still needs a strong base of experience, or an extraordinary amount of intuition about a problem, but then they can use AI to help avoid blind alleys and chart more optimal paths in business formation.”
A key role for AI in the innovation process “can serve as an effective information aggregator and processor,” says Villanustre. “They can execute programs that any other computer could possibly design. It also means generative AI can improve itself to the point where disruptive ideation occurs.”
Entrepreneurs and corporate innovators seeking to rev up creativity “need to understand generative AI is just a tool; in no way can it replace human creativity,” Villanustre emphasizes. “It’s unlikely a generative AI model will independently produce the idea for the next Tesla or Amazon.”
At the same time, AI “is a very effective tool to perform market research through document summarization and analysis,” he continues. “It can also be used as a sounding board for ideating a new business. Once the idea is solidified, generative AI can supplement scarce resources in the initial stages of most startups, serving as a relatively inexpensive but versatile assistant to efficiently handle most rutinary tasks.”
Step up into established enterprises, and there may be resistance to AI-enhanced innovation. “In broad terms, some leaders are reluctant, or even fearful, in evaluating new technologies, such as generative AI,” Villanustre says. “Conversely, visionary leaders are typically eager to explore new technologies to understand potential benefits and efficiencies.”
Strategies founders have undertaken to build acceptance of AI into their fledgling organizations, as identified in the Mercury survey, include holding team discussions to address AI integration concerns (50%), launching pilot projects to showcase AI’s potential (42%), and collaboratively identifying where to implement AI (42%).
“Different founders have different strengths, and should primarily look for AI to help complement them in areas where they may feel less confident, so that they can present more complete propositions to markets, investors and early employees,” says Ogbuji. “Gen AI outputs should always go through human review—they should be treated more as a starting point for supporting material, and never as the finished article.”