It’s the instinct of an entrepreneur to be early to the market with a new product and service. After all, being at the forefront of an innovation puts you in an advantageous position.

In Brian Paes-Braga’s case, when an opportunity for innovation came calling, he was quick to answer. As a result, Lithium X was built into a highly successful business which he later sold at an incredible profit. Never tiring, Brian now serves as principal and head of merchant banking at SAF Group, a private equity and credit investment firm that builds, invests, finances and advises high growth companies.

The Lithium X story is about instinct and timing. In 2015, then only in his mid-20s, Brian responded when he learned about vast stores of lithium that hadn’t been touched. This was during the electric automobile boom when lithium was a hot commodity. Brian quickly pursued a partnership with his mentor, Vancouver mining tycoon Frank Giustra, and the two established Lithium X, a lithium resource company that was sold two years later for $265 million.

Brian recalls, “During my early years as a stockbroker and investment banker, I was involved in helping resource companies raise money for a number of initiatives. As I was looking to venture out on my own, I realized that lithium had the right supply and demand outlook. Lithium X, in my opinion, provided an excellent way to fill a need in the resource market. The company could also lead the way for small-cap natural resource speculators to connect with electric vehicles.”

Being first isn’t easy as it takes a calculated combination of vision and risk. In a very real sense, it almost requires X-ray vision, seeing what others can’t or don’t see. Michael Noice, who coaches entrepreneurs, writes that many of today’s successful businesses were created by people who had the ability to do just that, then capitalize. As examples he cites Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and HomeAway.

Smart entrepreneurs, argues Michael, are always looking for an edge. “They want to know how they can identify trends and how they can use that skill to build and grow a business.”

In recent years, yoga has become big business. Unfortunately, most yoga mats were the same shade of blue and a lot of practitioners carried their equipment around in nondescript duffels.

Then, Jennifer McKinley came along.

In 2005 she co-founded Plank, a company in Charlestown, Massachusetts that manufactures premium, fashion-forward yoga mats, tote bags and other gear. Plank is one of several companies that recognized the need to bring some much-needed color and chic to the studio.

You never know what might inspire someone to be first. After all, if you’d told people just a few years ago that they’d be lining up in long queues to buy lobster--that’s right, lobster--meals off the back of a truck, they would have thought you’d been in the summer sun for too long. That was until California cousins Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselekis launched Cousins Maine Lobster. The two had relocated from Maine, missed the food and realized that something needed to be done.

“Our Maine love-fest eventually grew into Cousins Maine Lobster, a business that would bring the best of Maine seafood out to Los Angeles where lobster was typically viewed as a pricey delicacy, only served in precious portions at fancy restaurants,” Jim told CNBC. “Within a year, we had pooled our assets and bought a food truck. We wanted to give Los Angeles customers that Maine lobster shack experience on the West Coast.” Today, the company is franchised all over the U.S.

A common thread that connects many new ideas as entrepreneurial ventures is a personal interest or mission related to the founder. Maybe it’s an innovative way to solve a problem based on a technology no one has harnessed yet. Perhaps it’s a new product based on a lifelong interest.

When Brian Paes-Braga founded Lithium X, he had personal reasons far beyond profits for doing so.

“For me, the reason I started this company in the first place [is that] I’m a big believer in weaning the world off fossil fuels,” Brian has been quoted as saying. “That was the mission of the company.”

Whatever the reasons, it all comes down to that million-dollar idea. And if it’s something trend worthy that no one has leveraged yet, maybe its real potential is worth far more than a million.

Published by Gaura