13 Ways to Tell if a Company Is Truly "Innovative"

05/02/2016 10:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Calling a company "innovative" has become commonplace. To identify a truly ground-breaking startup, look for these ways in which it surpasses today's standards.

A. It Achieves the Impossible

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When other startups or small businesses think they've come "close enough" to something they think can't be done, that's not innovation. It's when doubt turns to success that something becomes truly innovative. Taking impossibility out of the equation means you are solving a long-standing problem, which will get your target audience truly excited. - Murray Newlands, Due.com

A. It Creates New Business Models

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Innovation should be disruptive. It should take the old way of doing business and turn it on its head, forcing businesses to be nimble and creative in finding ways to reach customers. Think of a standard supply chain. Now imagine one that can deliver your product to the most remote locations where FedEx or UPS don't deliver. It can't be done with business as usual. That's innovation. - Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

A. It's Willing to Cannibalize Itself

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Many startups reinvent an existing product to market to changes in the way we consume, purchase or behave. But what makes lasting companies innovative is a willingness to disrupt themselves. Amazon is a great example with the Kindle disrupting its own sales of hard-copy books -- so is Netflix pushing streaming to replace its DVD rental business. - Fan Bi, Blank Label

A. It Develops a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

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A startup that creates a sustainable competitive advantage is truly innovative in every sense of the word. Launching a business that provides value in the present is tough enough, but the ability to carve out a niche in the future shows true innovation. Between the inherent resource constraints and inevitable competition from established businesses, this task is exceedingly difficult. - Charles Bogoian, Kenai Sports, LLC

A. It Turns Weakness Into Strength

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Almost every business analyzes its strong suits, but a truly innovative startup goes a step farther. These are the companies that clearly identify their weaknesses and then find ways to turn them into strengths. This shows that the people behind the company are dedicated to the self-improvement and self-awareness that a startup needs to grow and thrive. - Vladimir Gendelman, Company Folders, Inc

A. It Addresses a Pain Point

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Innovative startups listen to their users and clients and learn what their pain points are. This way, they're in a good position to develop solutions for those pain points -- and that's the kind of innovation that matters. - Douglas Baldasare, ChargeItSpot

A. It Moves Ahead of the Curve

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A company "innovates" when it moves ahead of its industry -- before other companies hit the curve. Whether you're solving a complicated technical issue or making a breakthrough in life science, find room to innovate so you're not just a carbon copy of other businesses. - Yiannis Giokas, PCCW Global

A. It's Adaptable to a Rapidly Changing Market

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Innovation is happening more rapidly than ever before. In order to be innovative, companies need to be adaptable. They need to move quickly, adjust plans and evolve with market and customer demands. To do so successfully, startups also need to stay in line with their broader mission. - Carlo Cisco, SELECT

A. It Fills in the Blanks

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Any startup or small business that can bridge a gap between consumer desire and the current reality is an innovative startup. That's the kind of companythat's creating something new by solving existing limitations. Businesses that fix seemingly unfixable problems are innovative too. Both of these types of companies are altering the status quo for the better and thus, innovating. - Aron Susman, TheSquareFoot

A. Its Structure and Budget Defies the Odds

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Small businesses are more innovative because of their company structure. The small structure allows for quick decision-making without the hassle of going through layers of approval, which can slow down company processes. Small businesses also have to be more creative than their larger counterparts due to a much smaller budget. This forces out-of-the-box thinking and innovation. - Patrick Barnhill, Specialist ID, Inc.

A. Instead of Trying New Ideas, It Perfects Old Ones

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Everyone's trying to find the best "new idea." Sadly, there aren't many new ideas left. What we could stand to see more of, however, is someone taking old ideas and making them new again. Our friends at Candylabtoys.com, for instance, build beautiful wooden cars in a style not seen since the 60's. They've taken an old idea and made it relevant again -- with absolutely fantastic results. - Nathan Hale, First American Merchant

A. People Would Miss the Company if It Were Gone

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The equation for measuring the impact of a startup is roughly equivalent to the number of people who would be legitimately angry if your service disappeared tomorrow. Companies who consistently focus on building this user base of people who love and need your service end up making large, truly innovative companies. - Neil Thanedar, LabDoor

A. It Has a Vibrant Company Culture

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What can truly make a company innovative are the people and the culture -- in other words, what the company stands for. Create an innovative culture and allow your people to take risks. Yes, sometimes they will fall, but if the risk is previously calculated, it's something that must be not only accepted but also celebrated as a lesson and opportunity to learn. The possible benefits are so much greater. - David Tomas, Cyberclick

These answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.