Venturefest 2017 – What can established organisations learn from entrepreneurs?
I recently attended Venturefest 2017 at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. By all accounts it was an excellent event and a great opportunity to chat to and listen to presentations from entrepreneurs, financiers and new start ups.
The morning started with a predictably encouraging speech from Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, outlining the opportunities and resources available to start ups in the North. Later on there were a number of useful speeches, innovation showcases and a highly informative panel of expert entrepreneurs and investors. I was particularly impressed by the passion and enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs I chatted with during the networking sessions. As a consulting firm specialising in advising established organisations on innovation and spending the majority of my career working with large blue chips, it got me thinking; what might large organisations learn from successful and up and coming entrepreneurs?
Learning from the real innovators
Having spent many years developing innovation capability in large organisations I found that the real innovators (start ups and entrepreneurs) exhibited a number of transferable skills and personality traits. These skills are not only essential to small start ups, but they might also be applied to innovation in established organisations. Here is what I learned:
- Passion – The passion of the attendees at Venturefest clearly shone through, but how do we get employees to exhibit that same passion when we are asking them to be innovative. Give them the freedom to develop their ideas and make mistakes, provide them with a share of the rewards and let them make a name for themselves. Most entrepreneurs aren’t just in it for the money, they do it because they believe in their idea. If we allow employees some flexibility and room to be creative, we might just find that they begin to do what human beings do naturally, create.
- Integrity – This was very important to a number of the speakers at Venturefest. Having integrity builds trust and thus sustainable relationships. Doing the right thing because you believe in it from your heart means that you need not be constantly questioning yourself. Innovators in organisations need to be honest with themselves and others so that they can build their reputation as valued change agents, not only bringing new ideas to the table, but crediting others for their input.
- Being multi-skilled / open to learning – As an entrepreneur you are rarely likely to have a specialised department for every aspect of your business. The only solution is to learn the ropes and do it yourself. This multi-skilled approach can be applied to innovators in large organisations too. Complex ideas are likely to impact different functions and require a variety of skills to bring them to life. While the innovator will never be an expert in every area, they can use their ideas to learn more about the wider organisation and how it works. This valuable insight provides employees with a bigger picture into the functioning of the organisation and will undoubtebly lead to more creativity and effective idea generation.
- Not developing products for the sake of it – A couple of the new start ups highlighted that there is a temptation to bring numerous products to market. Likewise in established organisations we are not innovating for the sake of innovating. The purpose is to identify real value, and that might well mean failing numerous projects and ideas in order to find the nuggets of gold.
- Having a mentor and seeking help – An entrepreneurs life can be a lonely one so having a mentor to bounce ideas off and discuss challenges is invaluable to success. We can apply the same principle to employee innovation. Providing innovators with a supportive mentor who will provide encouragement as well as challenge them to succeed will mean that they feel supported.
- Build a network – Leading on from the last point, building a network for new businesses is essential, and it is no different for innovators in established organisations. It is often too easy for employees to spend their organisation life in a departmental silo, all the while being surrounded by highly skilled and knowledgeable colleagues. Innovation in organisations is cross functional and so innovators need to build a strong network of experts and influencers across the organisation.
- Remaining positive and don’t be afraid to fail – It is said that most successful entrepreneurs fail a number of times before they are successful, but in hindsight, those failures built the foundation for their success. The same is true in organisations and the message must be clear. Innovation is a numbers game and not all ideas will succeed. However, learning from failure is part of the value of innovating successfully.
- Work smart not hard – Entrepreneurs do both, but they don’t work long hard and arduous hours, they work long enjoyable and passionate hours. Because they love what they do, what they do doesn’t feel like work. We shouldn’t be expecting employees to work long hours unless they enjoy and are passionate about what they do. In large organisations presenteeism is the enemy of innovation where passion is it’s childhood friend! Employees cannot be expected to innovate if they are tired and worn out from their day job. They need freedom and empowerment to be allowed to be creative.
I’m sure entrepreneurs could teach a lot more to large organisations, these are just a few of the observations that I picked up at Venturefest.
On that note I’d like to give a big thank you to the Business Growth Hub for organising such an inspiring event. Roll on 2018.
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