Nothing gets the mental juices flowing quite like being immersed in a good book. For the 2017 finalists their favourite reads helped them to unlock their entrepreneurial potential and recognise how they could make a difference.
Yet not all inspiration needs to be drawn from startup self-help guides. The choices range from fantastical science fiction, a collection of American speeches and British poetry, lessons learned from hidden tribes of ultra-runners and polar explorers, historical accounts of Nero’s Rome and Japan’s Samurais and even an illustrated children’s book which set its reader on the path to transform the world for the better.
Add these books to your reading list and let the creativity flow.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Chosen by Álvaro Vásquez of Bioestibas. “This book recounts the unsuccessful expedition to the South Pole led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. It is, without doubt, a brilliant leadership lesson, demonstrating commitment to your goals is the definition of success when facing problems. I often think of Captain Shackleton when I find myself at crossroads and try to imagine what he would do in such circumstances. It is undoubtedly one of my best memories from adolescence.” Bioestibas use plant stems to make ecological palettes preventing deforestation and greenhouse gases.
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Chosen by Judith Joan-Walker of African Clean Energy, manufacturers of a clean energy device for safe cooking that also produces solar energy. “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide taught me two valuable lessons. First that you don’t have to be like everyone else, individuality is invaluable. Secondly, life can get a bit ridiculous, and that’s OK.”
Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling by Rudyard Kipling
Chosen by James Steere of iDrop Water, the in-store vending machines that sell drinking water by the litre in reusable containers. “My two favorite pieces of writing are the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, and the 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt called “The Man in the Arena”. Both are impassioned calls to action for people to live meaningful lives and for all of us to use the talents we’ve been blessed with to the full. This is encapsulated perfectly by Kipling when he writes to ‘fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run’ and by Roosevelt when he said we should each strive to be a person ‘who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly’.”
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Chosen by Daniel Dalet of SoloColo. “This my favourite book for both business and life. It sparked the idea in me that we all have our personal path to walk and it’s helped me through the best and worst times in my life.” SoloColo employs single mothers to produce sustainable coconut oil.
Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
Chosen by Lauren Shuttleworth of Words With Heart. “It had a huge impact on me. It was an awakening. When I first read it as a teenager it woke me up to the world outside my own and to the inequality faced by women and girls.” Words with Heart create eco-friendly custom print and stationery products, using proceeds to fund education projects for women and girls in the developing world.
Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
Chosen by Alejandro Malgor of Xinca: “It’s the story of a man who brought doing good and having grand adventures into the heart of his business life. It’s a book that deeply affects me as both an entrepreneur and outdoor enthusiast.” Xinca are upcycling waste materials into premium footwear.
The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
Chosen by Daniel Vach of SENS Foods, which offers healthy and sustainable protein bars using cricket flour. “I used to read Asimov a lot when I was younger,” says Vach. “I loved his futuristic concepts about how things might work and how people might organise when expanding all over the galaxy. I liked how Asimov built his complex universe, knowing what had to happen in one place to have a knock on effect in another and how he maintained that across all his books.” Asimov’s creation is also a favourite of Robin Jun Lu of First Respond, who are making first aid a social norm through regular training courses. “Asimov’s Galactic Empire inspired me to think beyond the here and now and always consider the future of society,” says Lu.
Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Chosen by Mark Istvan of NowTechnologies, who enable wheelchair users to interact with computers to better integrate into society. “It’s very well written, exciting, offers great historical insight of Rome under emperor Nero’s rule and has a lot of relevance for social problems that still persist today.”
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson
Chosen by Ernesto Rodriguez-Leal of WeaRobot. “I loved learning about the rise, fall and comeback of Apple’s iconic co-founder. It’s a fantastic lesson in how to turn a great vision for the world into a reality. I also liked the Innovator’s Dilemma by Clay Christensen for highlighting the powers of disruptive innovation and the opportunity startups have to introduce their products and services into the market.” WeaRobot are building affordable exoskeletons to support movement and rehabilitation.
Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux
Chosen by Michaël van Cutsem of Beeodiversity, who analyse pollen to reduce pollution and increase biodiversity. “This is a great source of inspiration for new business models and ways to achieve wellness and efficiency within a company. I also love Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Inspired by real events, it’s the story of a criminal who escapes prison to start a new, positive life in India. It shows that life is guided by choices. Choose who you want to be or what you want to achieve and make it a reality.”
Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World by Alan Weisman
Chosen by Tricia Compas-Markman of DayOne Response, who have designed backpacks that collect and purify 10 litres of contaminated water in 30 minutes. “This is a book about the building of a permanent village, called Gaviotas, in Los Llanos, Colombia, one of the most brutal environments in the world. The idea of building and inventing tools and systems without existing infrastructure inspired me when I was in college to realise this type of work and world is possible.”
Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World’s First Computer
Chosen by Marios-Ermis Petrotos of Laddroller, creators of a light and affordable wheelchair that enables users to stand up. “This is the story of the Antikythera mechanism, the first analogue computer dated from around 205 BC, and its discovery and comprehension by modern scientists.”
Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
Chosen by Dickson Ochieng of Sanivation, who provide affordable sanitation services and transform human waste into clean-burning fuel. “This book has had a big impact on me. For any change to occur, you must have a good reason, a good motivation, and a good environment. The rider is your rational side, the elephant your emotional side, and the path your environment."
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Chosen by Will Chua of FOLO Farms, who turn hotel and restaurant waste into compost to grow organic vegetables. “It was a gift from a very close friend to some of us FOLO co-founders many years back, and in a way the running that we were inspired to do brought all our buddies together that made FOLO possible.”
The Gardens of Light by Amin Maalouf
Chosen by Khaled Al Mezayen of SoWat, who produce transportable systems that turn any source of fresh water into clean drinking water. “I love all of Amin Maalouf’s books. He transports me into another world, another time. Les Jardins de Lumiere tells the story of the thinker Mani who founded the Manichaeism. It shows how even great ideas can be destroyed or mocked, and serves as a reminder to not be overly affected by criticism.”
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Alborn
Chosen by “Neil” Peetachai Dejkraisak of Siam Organic, who empower small scale farmers to grow rice using certified organic farming methods. “My all-time favorite book, it’s a reflection of what I consider to be the ‘truths’ in life and it helps you to understand what’s real and what’s not. I believe everyone should read this book and they may find themselves living their lives differently, living lives with more passion and purpose, living life with love and happiness.”
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Chosen by Liang Wu of Green City Solutions, who use special moss cultures to create “CityTrees” that eat air pollution, and also a favourite of Kornelia Dimitrova of Sea Harmony, who create vertical muscle-farming reefs to restore marine ecosystems. “I learned to read with the help of the illustrations in Le Petit Prince,” says Wu. “That first book always stays with you.” Veronika Osvaldová of SmartHead, who enable companies and individuals to promote their socially responsible activities, also identified The Little Prince as a crucial book in her formative years, as well as Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. “They have all had a hugely positive impact on me,” Osvaldová says.
Ryōma ga Yuku by Ryōtarō Shiba
Chosen by Toshio Yamada of Factelier, who sell Japanese clothes online directly from rural factories to consumers globally. “I was deeply moved by the story of samurai Sakamoto Ryōma – in English the title is ‘Ryōma Goes His Way’ – who foresaw the future of Japan during the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Although little known at the time, he was instrumental in the emergence of Japan as a modernised nation open to the world rather than secluded to it.”
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Chosen by Tessa Cook of OLIO, who connect people to their local community via an app to reduce food waste. “This is my favourite business book. We’ve applied some of the high level principles for OLIO and it’s amazing.”
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Chosen by Katharine Budd of NOW Money: “Anyone pursuing social entrepreneurialism should by default, subscribe to Objectivism – the philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism with full respect for individual rights. Although Atlas Shrugged is a novel, it was how Ayn Rand popularised the pillars of competition, creativity and human greatness that are championed through the Objectivism Movement.” Now Money is a mobile banking app designed for those excluded from the financial system.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Chosen by Michelle Bang of B Y T, who upcycle unwanted fabrics and transforms them into luxury apparel and accessories. “This is my favorite fiction book. I love that this is the work that allowed her to be the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921. I love her ability to chronicle with wit, humour and brilliance the psychology of the social class within her time. That window into society was absolutely fascinating to me. My favorite nonfiction book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. For me, it was a groundbreaking book, which changed my mindset on how to lead and manage others with an introverted nature. I’m now conscious to lead and empower those who aren’t always the loudest in the room and ensure all voices are heard.”
A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life by J Craig Venter
Chosen by Adam Kuzdraliński of NEXBIO. “Craig Venter is one of my heroes and is known for being one of the first to sequence the human genome. It was a fundamental moment for modern medicine and a catalyst for huge progress for civilisation.”
100 Years of Harley-Davidson by Willie G. Davidson
Chosen by Júlio Oliveto Alves of Livre, who are creating a future where driving a wheelchair brings freedom and fun. “The history of Harley-Davidson inspires me greatly in the development of our brand and lifestyle and relates well to our goal of creating an electric motorcycle that is fun as much as functional.”
In A Better World, screenplay by Susanne Bier
Chosen by Dr. Son Preminger of Intendu, a brain training platform that uses video games to aid patients’ recovery. “This movie highlights the complexity of life and raises key questions about our role on this planet.”
Life on Earth: A Natural History by Sir David Attenborough
Chosen by Nuno Gaspar de Oliveira of Sun Concept, who build solar electric boats for the working community. “I was only three when I first found this book and was immediately transfixed by it, forgoing cartoons to flick through its pages. The planet teemed with the exuberance and defiance of life, yet people argue over whether it’s worth protecting. Attenborough was, and still is, my hero and inspiration. He convinced me that all life matters and that our biggest challenge is to learn how to live harmoniously. It marked a very important part of my development as a person.”
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