How to foster a start-up spirit
Innovation can be challenging for long-established large businesses – as failure can result in far bigger losses than a small or medium enterprise. Despite this, plenty of large businesses are actively searching for ways to be like the brave, agile and nimble creatures of the startup world.
Learn startup skills: embrace a risk mindset
Telstra is a beacon of light when it comes to innovation on Australia’s big business landscape, launching its muru-D accelerator program for startups that includes an injection of seed capital, training and mentoring.
Muru-D cofounder Annie Parker says the program aims to encourage great entrepreneurs and give them a reason to stay in Australia. The mutually beneficial relationship gives the corporate enterprise an insight into how startups think, she explains.
Startups were considered the ‘hipster brigade’ not that long ago, but the landscape has changed dramatically and corporates are looking for meaningful ways to foster the sort of innovative thinking that’s commonplace among entrepreneurs.
Through the muru-D program, Telstra employees get to see first-hand what a startup culture is really like, which can be more nimble and responsive than big enterprise. Likewise, the startups can learn from the experience of the corporate world as they go on their path to disrupting traditional industries.
“As soon as you start working with a startup and give them a little bit of your experience and time, you can see how quickly it helps and how they can turn that knowledge into an extraordinary business,” says Parker.
And instead of working separately, corporates should be turning to the startup fraternity and actively encouraging them to come in and solve meaningful problems, she says.
“If a corporate sat and openly chatted with a bunch of entrepreneurs and explained their internal problems, they could solve real-life business problems.”
Investment: encourage self-sustaining entrepreneurship
Aside from Telstra, computer tech giant Dell is also looking for ways to innovate since being privatised just over a year ago.
Dell has launched a range of programs to support entrepreneurs such as Dell for Entrepreneurs and the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, among others. As part of its Legacy of Good program, Dell plans to invest $1 billion into emerging markets globally to encourage self-sustaining entrepreneurship.
CareerOne chief executive Karen Lawson has also been actively nurturing innovation of late, which has redefined the company. This includes the unveiling of a new strategy in 2014 and spending last year restructuring CareerOne from an online jobs board into a data-driven digital advertising, technology and media business by using existing data assets and partnering with startups.
“By using data intelligently and partnering with startups that offer innovative solutions that align with CareerOne’s goals, we’ve managed to pivot the business into new areas.”
But she admits it’s not easy for corporates to foster innovation.
“When you live in a house for a long time, after a while, you stop seeing the cracks in the walls that used to drive you nuts. Innovation is about pulling out of your comfort zone and starting to think differently and being brave about the future.”
Accepting failure is part of the game
Daniel Flynn, cofounder and managing director of social enterprise Thankyou Group, has been through the process of building a startup. While the startup culture embraces risk and accepts that failure is inevitable and a key part of the journey to success, many medium to large organisations struggle culturally to embrace the idea of failure.
“This is because failure is often seen only as a negative that equates to cost. As soon as an organisation has scale, the stakes are higher and as soon as an idea or strategy fails, shareholders and financiers weigh in on the matter and jobs are on the line. This results in a culture that teaches employees to play it safe instead of encouraging them to implement big ideas that have the potential to change the game.”
Not being afraid to fail is a skill corporations need to learn, says Zoe Pointon of online real estate startup OpenAgent.
“The well-known problem facing big businesses is how slow and regulated they are, which stifles innovation.
“One of the major lessons is the importance of failing fast, rather than trying to avoid failure at any cost. Big businesses need to learn to test and experiment quickly, rather than burning hours in long planning cycles.”
Look to the future: new ways to introduce innovation
Change is on the way and more businesses – not just startups – will embrace new ways to introduce innovation into their business, which will determine their survival, according to Lee Stephens, chief executive of advertising and media agency Switch Digital, who works with both large and small businesses.
At the core of any innovation this year will be the relationship between data intelligence, mobility and social media interactions, Stephens says. One structural approach Stephens proposes is that your social media team, research teams and marketing or branding teams are connected.
“For example, if the social media team within your business is separate to the search team and the brand team, the structure of your business is not well arranged for 2015 and beyond,” he says.
“Cabcharge and the taxi industry in general is a great example. Uber isn’t the real threat to the industry. The real threat is the failure of the industry to meet the expectations of consumers in 2015, and the devices they want to communicate through.”
Meanwhile, muru-D’s Parker urges other large businesses to consider meaningful ways to also foster innovation.
“My advice for other corporates would be don’t do this on a whim, because entrepreneurs in the startup community need corporates to get involved, and get involved for the long haul. I’m talking five years or more. You’ve really got to make it a meaningful, long-standing relationship, because startups are building something that hopefully will last the rest of their life.
“Remember, all those ‘overnight successes’ that you might have heard of, like Instagram or Facebook, took time. The average age of a startup is 8.1 years – there are no such things as overnight successes.”
Written by: Nina Hendy