Dreamers and Disruptors: How the Evolution of Silicon Valley is Reshaping Our World

07/31/2015 05:25 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2016

The earliest companies in Silicon Valley were created by dreamers. Driven by visions of an improved future, these dreamers built entirely new areas of technology, including semiconductors, computers and networking. But those ventures also laid the groundwork for companies today, which are using that technology to bring massive change to the industries that form the foundation of our modern society. Big innovations are happening in the areas of finance with Bitcoin and transportation with Uber, and the face of hospitality has forever changed thanks to Airbnb. It feels like we may be on the verge of an infrastructure revolution -- with the market for these disruptive ideas being so big that their eventual impact could be five to 10 times greater than those companies on which the Valley was built.

Dreamers Set the Course of History

In the documentary Something Ventured, about the history of Silicon Valley, many of the original VCs -- including Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins and Don Valentine -- talk about what it was like to be involved in the seminal moments of soon-to-be corporate giants like Intel, Apple, Genentech, Atari and Cisco. The funding of those companies was a turning point in our culture, and their combined value today is over $1,000,000,000,000.

These investors were also dreamers, just like the people they believed in. Together, they built businesses that led to the creation of digital platforms that have become the backbone of computing, networking, science and entertainment -- and helped millions of people along the way. Without their work, companies like Google and Amazon, let alone the entire Internet, might not exist as they do today. However, it's interesting to note that because those early companies were so cutting-edge, our country's most entrenched industries were able to ignore them and continue with business as usual. That's not the case today.

Disruptors are Charting the Future

Due to the proliferation of technology, the pace of change today is faster than ever. Industries that have been doing business the same way for generations are being disrupted by entrepreneurs who are making services more accessible, efficient and personalized. Vital industries, such as finance, transportation, food and hospitality, are under siege, and the market opportunity for this infrastructure revolution is enormous. In the long term, these new companies could have five or 10 times the global impact of Silicon Valley's original companies. $1,000,000,000,000? That could be small potatoes.

Here are a few areas that the disruptors have set their sights on in this new era of Silicon Valley.

Taking the Financial Services Industry Online

There is approximately $156 trillion in global financial assets, according to Business Insider, but less than 20 percent of people worldwide have access to a loan from a financial institution -- which means there's a huge opportunity to transform the consumer lending business. Lending Club, founded in 2007, facilitates personal and business loans through an online marketplace. With no branch structure to support, overhead is low, fees are virtually non-existent, and savings get passed on to customers via lower interest rates and higher returns. Last quarter alone they processed over $1.6 billion in loans. LendingHome, founded in 2013, brings the same simplicity to home loans. In their first year, they processed over $100 million in online loans -- most of which closed in less than 10 days. Making money more accessible to people around the world is going to be a huge boom to the global economy, and we've only begun to scratch the surface.

Changing the Way We Eat

In 2013, the total retail and food service sales in the United States amounted to approximately $5.08 trillion. In that same year, Fortune reported, "Venture capitalists poured $2.8 billion into food-related startups." And funding has continued ever since because Internet and mobile communication has enabled people to get high quality food delivered right to their doors. Blue Apron ships recipes and their ingredients, in the exact proportions needed, for consumers to make gourmet meals themselves. Compared to grocery shopping, this model significantly cuts down on waste -- and by partnering with local farms and producers across the country, Blue Apron is cultivating an ethos of sustainability. They're now shipping over 1 million meals a month, doubling their business from this time last year. Another startup entering the fresh, healthy meal-delivery space is SpoonRocket, a company that promises a warm meal from a daily-curated menu within 15 minutes of ordering through their app. With services like these growing every day, restaurants and grocery stores will need to adapt in order to keep their customers coming back when they can get the same -- or better -- quality food delivered at home.

Improving the Experience of Travel

The global revenue of the hotel business is between $400 and $500 billion annually, but that number does not account for Airbnb. Technology has given rise to a sharing economy -- a huge economic engine that's only just starting to mature. Airbnb is now in 190 countries and is finalizing a round of funding that will put its value at $20 billion. By comparison, in 2014, Hyatt was valued at $8.4 billion. Staying in a local apartment through Airbnb, VRBO or FlipKey gives travelers a more authentic experience. And those companies are also driving traditional businesses to look for revenue streams where none previously existed -- and in doing so, they're creating even more opportunity. An example of this is Duetto. Founded in 2012, Duetto provides hotel companies with cloud-based systems that generate dynamic pricing models based on a series of fluid data points, which allows hotels to continually optimize their pricing and maximize their sell-through rate.

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One crucial difference between the early companies of Silicon Valley and those of today is that the changes the dreamers brought about took place over a twenty-year period. Today's disruptors are changing the world's infrastructure in real time; aspects of our daily lives that we take for granted shift before our eyes. This begs the question of what might happen next. In the future, today's disruptive ideas will likely be the status quo, and the next wave of Silicon Valley ventures will once again build on the groundwork that was laid before them to change the way we interact with our world. Nobody can predict the future, but changing it? The Valley's got that covered.