Corporates can learn much about innovation and entrepreneurship from startups, according to panellists from the startup scene and academia at Microsoft TechEd in Sydney.
Large enterprises have lots of money and customers, but suffer from a risk-averse culture because they have shareholders, said BlueChilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin.
Startups are the “complete opposite,” in that they have little money and few customers, but by nature are risk takers, he said.
“If you sort of marry these two concepts together, you can have this beautiful partnership where you adopt a startup methodology – you can innovate on ideas cheaply and quickly and then you can leverage corporate distribution, capital and reach.”
Eckersley-Maslin and the other panellists gave several tips for businesses looking to spur innovation:
- Instil an entrepreneurial culture
Maree Teeson, director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said she has received the best results as a mentor by providing constant encouragement to her team.
“You’ve got to instil self-belief,” she said. “You’ve got to hold on to the passion of the person, because they’re going to go out and take the risks, and sometimes they’re going to really doubt that passion and really doubt what they’re doing.”
The best way to drive an entrepreneurial culture is to have a common purpose, said Sarah Vaughan, director of developer experience and evangelism at Microsoft Australia.
“The work has to be meaningful,” she said. “If a team believes, agrees, is tenacious [and] really wants to achieve that goal, then the culture will follow from that.”
Communication is critical, said Maurice Pagnucco, head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales.
“Make them feel part of the organisation by giving them information about what’s going on.”
- Recognise mentors
“People confuse management with mentoring,” said Teeson.
Organisations could encourage more people to act as mentors by providing accolades for excellent mentorship, she said. “I don’t think we do that enough.”
Mentorship should come “from within the person,” said Eckersley-Maslin. An organisation that tries to mandate that certain people act as mentors will often get the wrong kinds of mentors, he said.
- Solve immediate problems
“Are you curing a headache or are you a vitamin pill?” asked Catherine Eibner, lead startup advisor for BlueChilli and the CEO of startup Project Tripod.
Solving headaches should be the priority because these are the problems that the business will find most pressing, she said.
“If that’s what you’re solving, you’re going to have a much better chance of getting to market.”
- Credit is not important
“You can achieve anything if you don’t care who takes the credit,” advised Eckersley-Maslin.
“If you have an idea or a concept for innovation and you really want to drive it, sometimes it’s best to let someone else take the credit for it even though you’ve done the bulk of the work,” he said.
That person might have greater influence in the company and can act as a champion for the idea, he said.
Teeson took a similar view, saying that it’s important to “pay it forward.”
“I’ve never asked my staff to pay it back. I never ever ask them to come back and give me the grants, give me the accolade [or] give me the papers. I want them to do it for the next generation and that sets them free and allows you to be generous.”
- Last resort: Do it yourself
Sometimes it will be impossible to break through the corporate beast with an innovative idea. That’s when it’s time to quit and make a startup, said Eckersley-Maslin.
"If you can't get your idea up the chain, f*** it. Try it yourself and sell it back to them.”