Is Corporate America a Startup?
What makes an entrepreneur today? If you are a startup incubating within a large corporation, is that selling out? Questions about entrepreneurialism's present and future were put to the test, deep in the heart of Texas on Friday.
Presented at Austin barbecue mainstay Lambert's as the South by Southwest Interactive Festival kicked off, a panel dubbed "Hacking Corporate Culture: Intrapreneurs, Entrepreneurs, and the Future of Collaboration" convened some 200 intra-, entre- and extrapreneurs, several from as far distant as France. Mondelez International vice president of global media Bonin Bough and Entrepreneur Magazine editor-in-chief Amy Cosper led a lively examination of what Cosper calls "working to create something from nothing."
Increasingly, brand marketers, such as Kraft spinoff Mondelez, are challenging large companies to think like startups -- driving innovation from inside. They're also placing large internal markers on incubator teams, like Bough's, to uncover pilot technologies that will drive success at the corporate level.
There's genuine allure to the "entrepreneur track" inside an organization, also known as intrapreneurialism. (After all, it's more comfortable than a garage, and the pay is steady.)
"That isn't entrepreneurialism," you're thinking. Well, maybe.
Consider: Entrepreneurism today is all too often tied to tech startups and their intrepid founders, yet it is a philosophy that can easily be embraced by startups and brands alike.
"Like a startup, it's an investment; you don't know what's going to come out on the other end," says Bough. "There is risk. It takes an organization that's willing to believe in this course, and that continues to invest even when the immediate realities of business might suggest backing away. But for people doing this inside a big organization, the scale at which you can operate can actually have a dramatic impact."
Business incubation within a brand colossus can afford innovative, material and financial attractions, in addition to the familiar boot-strapping elements of funding, managerial gurus, networking and top academic and research talent.
Bough believes if you work with people who don't believe in the power of startups, you might be a sellout. There's huge opportunity for those who truly believe to operate at a mass scale, says the popular and influential former head of Pepsico digital media.
"What we tried to do is create a program that is more beneficial to the startups we work with than to us," Bough says of Mondelez's incubator.
A first of its kind program, the Mobile Futures incubator is shaping the future of mobile by teaming power brands with start-up entrepreneurs. After an in-person pitch, nine applicants from a field of 300 mobile startups partnered with the Mondelez Mobile Futures brand teams to launch pilot technologies within 90 days.
"In early Q2, Mobile Futures brand and startup teams will work together to create and incubate entirely new mobile ventures that address broader business challenges," says Bough.
So what does make an entrepreneur?
The concept continues through one of history's more dramatic transformations, says Cosper, citing as one embodiment of the concept Limor "Ladyada" Fried, Adafruit's founder and lead engineer, the shocking-pink coiffed Maker-movement pioneer whom Entrepreneur named as its Entrepreneur of 2012.
"She started a robotics company taking not only the idea of a science company, but the notion that women can also thrive in the field of robotics. She's killing it in the market and redefining business," Cosper says.
Both Cosper and Bough point to the energy and innovative acumen of women entrepreneurs as catalysts for emotion and motivation in the next phase of entrepreneurialism.
"As we see more women in technology, we're seeing more ‘white space' that only, uniquely, women can occupy in the marketplace," says Bonin.