– Enough of that startup hype!
– We need more entrepreneurial leaders and startup collaboration!
Both are true. Key is the different roles. There is absolutely no need for all of us to become startup entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, but the winners in the race for best innovations are those who know how to work effectively with the entrepreneurial types. We should make room for them, support and collaborate with them in mutually fruitful manner.
We hear a lot about entrepreneurship these days. With all the buzz and hype around startups we hear things like ‘everybody should be entrepreneur’ and ‘every big company should become like a startup’ and so on – ad nauseam.
”Not all of us need to become entrepreneurs or innovators.”
As a startup entrepreneur I would never invest in a big company that seeks to turn itself into a startup. Startup is very special operation in the wider scene of business, intended to unearth and act on opportunities, not to run steady business. Fancy living next to a nuclear power plant organized as a startup team?
Lots of large company executives go to startup events like Slush and Web Summit. Yes, it’s exciting and fun, but remember that even in the startup life the festivities are really just the surface. Immediately below the surface is a constant struggle for survival, negotiating next round of finance, securing the all-important pilots and customer access. These also suggest the best paths to fruitful collaboration, through support.
”The 21st century Innovation Race will be won by those who know how to collaborate with entrepreneurs.”
In the realm of entrepreneurship support is necessary. Innovators, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs need to fail a lot. The struggle is romanticized but in reality rather frustrating. Failure is more frequent more radical the idea is and less support the innovator receives. Support is needed both to increase the chances of success and to mitigate impact of failed attempts; this includes picking up the pieces, pivoting and trying again!
Therefore the most important people are the first who stand up and support the radical thinker, an innovator or an entrepreneur. Without the first supporter most ideas remain idle, non-starters and your most innovative people get frustrated. Indeed, we claim that an entrepreneur is only as strong as the people lending their support to him.
The key is to get the different types to work together and rally enough support to the entrepreneurial types, who are often marginalized or sidetracked in big corporations. The entrepreneurs, internal or external, need well-connected senior managers who can rally support, allocate resources and open key doors. At the same time organization requires those line managers and well-organized processes to run large global machines of international corporations.
This approach is completely different from the ‘everybody should be an entrepreneur’ – by stressing the importance of support we shift the focus from the innovators as creative masterminds to the majority of managers, from idea to first actions, fuelled by the support.
“The most important are the first supporters of the innovator”
Meanwhile, the support is actually a two-way street. We argue elsewhere that the startups can be an important catalyst for the large organizations. With their action-orientation and openness the startups entrepreneurs can challenge and push for big corporations into taking more radical action towards renewal.
The two-way street works also on the personal level. Like in mentoring, the entrepreneur’s supporter also gains learning and insight into future possibilities. We recommend working side-by-side with innovators especially to all top executives.
Hence there is tremendous combined upside if you know how to collaborate with entrepreneurs. Widely recognized best partner to open collaboration will attract the best entrepreneurs and external innovators. The same applies to your organization as an employer – startup collaboration will make your employer brand more attractive exactly in the eyes of the difficult-to-attract creative and entrepreneurial types.
In short: don’t run to buy jeans, sneakers and a hoodie and pretend to be a cool startup entrepreneur, instead, learn to work with the entrepreneurs both externally and within your organization. Best way to learn is by doing it.
As a top leader of a large organization, do not ask everybody to innovate and act as an entrepreneur; rather, ensure that your crew understands and appreciates the different roles, clear room for the entrepreneurial types, demand your people and especially your managers to support each other. Give your personal special attention to those who do take risks, innovate and put themselves on the line. They are the sharp end of your business renewal.
CEO & Founder
 Consider here Steve Blank’s elegant definition of a startup as a temporary organization seeking for scalable business model.