Don’t get fooled by incubators for innovation
Incubators are working closer and closer with corporate groups to help them improve in the innovation process. They provide a wide range of options to help the incumbents integrate agile methods and lean management process into the large companies toolboxes. Yet, once you break down the global offering of the incubators, what you would actually put in your basket and in the brains of the employees you send there is a culture shock. And this won’t help you improve your innovation process; it can at best help you raise a question about how your corporate culture can change to innovate again.
What we know:
Incubators in France and in Europe are selling trainings, deep dive, and standardized master classes on the “Startup ecosystem”. Companies with such product portfolio are piling up right now in France, following the trend set by the likes of The Family and its Lion Executive program or Numa and its Bootcamp or Open Innovation initiatives. They are impressively well crafted and detailed classes for your top and middle management employees to touch and smell what are startups and the processes and methods they use to disrupt the way the business is currently done. But what would “stick” once those employees of yours are back in your company? A better understanding of how to upgrade your corporate legacy and tools to help create value or a larger view of how different the startup and corporate worlds are? Add the inertia of a large group, the internal politics, and the short term conflicts of interests between traditional business and digital business and you will have a fairly accurate picture of the outcome.
Why you should care:
Incubators are smoke and mirrors, they take you out of the corporate world and legacy to show you what could happen in a world without anything to lose and anything to risk. This is the world of startups, a playground for smart people to challenge the world they have been raised in and break their codes and way of working to perform better. And it makes a really mind-blowing setting to attract corporate groups that are lagging behind startups. But don’t get fooled, the focus isn’t about supporting your company and your teams to perform better. Those offers are here to provide the required cash to operate their business based and solely focused on creating the next startups that would disrupt your very own business.
When you are looking at the innovation offerings from incubators, which still are a very relevant way to learn from the other side of the business spectrum, you should make sure that you are providing your teams with the means and processes to use them in their current corporate environment in order to (1) adjust your process to make them more agile and lean, (2) facilitate the ideation and development of efficient incremental or disruptive innovations (3) target an adjacent market with your current product portfolio. With those objectives in mind, you may find yoursefl more interested in working with companies providing a blended learning process that provides such outcomes once they have learned about adjusted versions of the startup toolboxes.
What to do:
Incubators are levers to bring a change agent into your corporate culture. It is totally relevant and useful to run such programs for your employees’ skill development as HR perks and trend watching initiatives. But you would be building a clear divide between your current situation and what they have seen and quickly assimilated. And you would require building a bridge to cross the chasm you have highlighted. Intrapreneurship programs are, for example, well identified as viable options for this to happen. You can also create internal think tanks and “shadow committees” to facilitate the continuation of the discussions and potentially create new tools and processes.
But all of those are only stepping-stones if you are aiming for an impact on the top line and bottom line. What you need is a real innovation program where you enable teams, either internal or external, to forcefully try to crack a market or address a business need. It requires a significant financial commitment but it would always be less cash intensive that faking to create the next innovative service or product with the IT services companies or Marketing agencies that aren’t fit for that job. If you are not convinced, list all the projects you have started with them and cross check what is the amount of cash that has been burnt for which results. Maybe then, you would love to reconsider the way you are currently working.