Top five things big companies can do right now to benefit from a startup culture

We all know that startups have a different way of doing things to large established business. And many of these business practices have a significant advantage as the world around us changes at a rapid fire pace.


So what to do about it? Glad you asked.


Here are five things large companies can do immediately, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That’s right, my friends, super cool big company hacks that allow Conglomerate Joe to get his startup on.


Sponsor and get staff to attend startup events


Large companies have always done a fair bit of ‘educating their staff’ – allowing them to go to industry conferences and events. So, all this one takes is a little twist, or ‘pivot’ as we say in startup land. Instead of getting staff to attend that conference they always attend, or a Cannes Advertising Festival, get them over to a startup-focused event. Maybe even get your company to sponsor it.


One of the easiest ways to find out what is going on is to get some feet on the ground. Interact with a new bunch of people, attitudes and industries. Mix it up. Your staff will come back inspired and with some lessons to boot.


Run a hackathon


Get your company to run a hackathon. What’s a hackathon, you ask?


Hackathon: an event, lasting from a single to a few days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming to create new products and solve problems.


But it doesn’t have to be about software, it can be about the collaboration and integration of digital ideas into your business. Hackathons are amazing for so many reasons that I couldn’t name them all, but here are a few:


  • They show staff how quickly things can actually be done
  • It’s OK to fail in this environment
  • They are great social facilitators
  • They educate staff on the digital revolution
  • They facilitate culture shift and results orientation
  • They bust through internal politics


Fear not if you’ve never run one or your company doesn’t have any hackathon chops inside it. You can get people like us at Pollenizer to help you run one.


Fund a dissident employee


You know that super smart employee you’ve got, who is talented, but a bit unfocused. The same person who is probably planning on leaving to start their own thing, their own startup? Well, let them have their cake and eat it too. Why not partially fund their exit and put some money for equity into their startup? Let them work in your office and run a startup inside your business. Give them a cash injection for some equity in their startup. The amount they need would be a rounding error for what most large companies spend on an advertising campaign or some packaging design. Back the dissident.


It’s actions like these that make companies employers of choice and send a positive infectious vibe around the office. It says so much about the future focus of the business and how it cares about its staff. And the startup they launch just might work and become profitable.


Start a ‘skunkworks’


Innovation inside the existing company is difficult. The existing cultural imperatives can get in the way of new methods and thinking. So maybe the next important launch or product innovation team belong outside the walls of the existing office or R&D lab.


A separate skunkworks can be set up to house the staff working on your company’s next big thing. We need look no further than the Google X labs – which is not located in the Googleplex, but a half a mile down the road in a semi secret location. Being somewhere else allows staff to behave in a different way. In this situation you want to mice to play, so you need to take them away from the cat.


Inaugurate the Failure Cup


We all know that startup culture is one that respects fast efficient failure, and that it’s what leads to iterative improvements and finding what does work. So maybe you can formalise an ‘It is OK to fail’ culture into your company. Inaugurate the Failure Cup so the company can celebrate the failures of staff trying to make a difference and lead the organisation into tomorrow.


Sure, don’t celebrate stupid and expensive mistakes, but smart strategic and iterative low cost errors.


Develop a list of cool activities innovations staff can play with and get wrong. A list of unsolved problems the staff can fail on while trying to find a solution. Stuff that won’t kill the company, but will breathe life into projects. It works, and it has positive cultural impacts as well.


Steve Sammartino is a startup coach for Pollenizer. He’s also an author who has a new book coming out titled: The Great Fragmentation – why the future of business is small. Steve helps companies transition from industrial era thinking into the digital age. This article originally appeared on the Pollenizer blog.


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