Tag Archives: entrepreneurs

The one where the seeds grow

So my penchant for new experiences and my enduring fascination with entrepreneurs collided last week as I signed on to a mentor with Seedcamp. In it’s own words Seedcamp is a micro-seed investment fund and mentor program for technology entrepreneurs. The event I took part in was entitled “Growth Day” and it’s part of a week-long party programme for the entrepreneurs to get their businesses to the next phase.

I must confess my earlier excitement at being involved in the day had dissolved to apprehension by the time I walked to the Google sponsored “Campus” just off Finsbury Square in the City. I don’t speak start-up, have never worked in a start-up and the current organisation I work in has got to be about as far from entrepreneurial as it’s possible to get…but I persisted.

As a brief aside the day was launched with an announcement from Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts with warm up from Special Advisor to David Cameron, Rohan Silva regarding changes to regulation at LSE designed to make a London float more attractive to entrepreneurs and prevent the exodus to NASDAQ. Mr Silva is the closest thing I’ve seen to a UK version of Josh Lyman and it was interesting to observe the government doing business with the press at close quarters. I hadn’t realised the efforts that were being made to build London as a destination for entrepreneurs. The comment I most loved from one of the panel (who’s name I didn’t get but who was an investor) was “the best entrepreneurs are missionaries not mercenaries”.

Following the announcement the 18 participating ‘seeds’ had 3 minutes to pitch their businesses to a packed room which was followed by break outs where a group of 4-6 mentors spent around 30 minutes with several of the seeds answering any questions the founders had, sharing any relevant insights or general opinions and provide any possible stimulus to growth. The day ended with the story of Mindcandy told by one of the rock stars of UK tech entrepreneurs Michael Acton-Smith.

As you would expect from a building packed to the rafters with entrepreneurs self belief and determination was NOT in short supply but as the day rolled on I found myself feeling more and more comfortable as I realised that often was they were lacking was a) real world experience b) a consumer or business perspective c) the opinion of someone who had no stake in their future d) someone to tell them straight. Fortunately for them (not so much for me sometimes) I have no issue being direct and hope that some unfettered feedback proved useful.

The thought that has been niggling me ever since is how I believe businesses could be engaging with start-up community not from any sense of altruism but actually to add value to their own organisations. Take a problem you have, you think it can be solved through technology, you don’t have the resources or budget to make it happen but it could be a game changer for your business and others. Find a bright driven entrepreneur who has the intellect and self belief to throw themselves into solving it, let them raise money to fund it, commit to being a customer and provide insight. Hey presto, your problem is solved and there is a thriving start-up business which actually your organisation could have a stake in or choose to buy outright at some point.

Now I know it’s not quite as simple as that but the numbers of the ‘seeds’ who are desperately trying to break into the consumer market. Obviously there’s a sexiness inherent with a big consumer brand but also it’s a high cost of entry/luck market so why are they not working with businesses more? My belief is often they don’t understand the challenges or opportunities that exist so can’t pursue. Maybe think about showing them?

My final thought before cracking on with Friday is that despite my apprehension I really enjoyed the day not just for the impact I hope I had on some of those involved but also the chance to play in a world where agility is core, energy is high and there are no rules – it was a blast. If you get the chance to do something similar I HIGHLY recommend it!

P.S. To any of you who work in recruitment/resourcing/talent – check out one of the seeds. It’s called Traity and I think could prove VERY interesting!!

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The one with a game changer on entrepreneurs

There are some very smart people around….and thanks to the joy of the internet (specifically YouTube and Twitter in this case) we get quick and easy access to their thinking. Not that trawling through indexes in a reference library isn’t fun of course, but it’s a lot more time consuming!

The specific smart people I am referring to in this post are Marc Ventresca and Grant McCracken . The first is on staff at Said Business School in Oxford and the second is on staff at MIT as well as writing books & blogs.

Ventresca ran a session at the recent TEDx in Oxford, the subject of which was Entrepreneurs and it was through McCracken’s blog on HBR that I came to see this session on YouTube. For those who want more than my perceptions, it’s linked here.

The beauty of a TED talk is they are punchy. 20 minutes maximum and given the diversity of the audience rarely rely on a great deal of in-depth knowledge of the specific area. Ventresca opens his by asking people to reflect on the word entrepreneur and what it has come to mean. He goes on to give what has evolved into the mainstream perception of entrepreneurs, the way it has been ‘captured’ – those who take big risk for big reward, those who are endlessly persistent, those who do things no one else will do and those who are free from the bounds of convention.

Given this is TED the audience was likely littered with real entrepreneurs and he makes the point that often these people are not particularly interested in risk but are in fact passionate and persistent and achieve things in the worlds they are already in. Stop there for a moment…

This is where I got really excited (sad I know) because actually to me what he was describing was not just entrepreneurs but more importantly to me, given the context of my research and reading, he was describing corporate entrepreneurs. Not the maverick celebrity special few, but a definition and understanding that could apply to people within organisations.

The phrase he used that was particularly resonant was, “start with what they have at hand” to “turn what they have in hand to something more” but most resonantly for the consideration of corporate entrepreneurs “they do something in the world they’re in”.

The phrase he used is “System Builder” and he uses various examples to illustrate this but he summarises a system builder with these 3 comments:

  • They understand the elements around them
  • They combine those elements to generate new value
  • They do this by taking heterogeneous elements and assembling them

It’s in these 3 things that I started to think about the differences between corporate entrepreneurs and other successful business managers. I would imagine every successful manager understands the elements around them but the two things that maybe distinguish entrepreneurs is firstly the ability (or creativity in its broadest sense) to combine them but also the ability to recognise the potential in the difference between the (heterogeneous) elements.

Also, given how hard people seem to find it to recognise or admit they are entrepreneurial, without being in a start up or small business situation, this definition could be very powerful in helping increase the identification of relevant individuals within organisations, the growth of venturing within businesses and a return to economic prosperity…but I may be taking this a little far!

I do like smart people….a lot. Now I’m going back to reading more of them

N.B. Any errors in the transcription from the YouTube clip are mine and apologies in advance to Dr Ventresca if I’ve taken his words in vain!!

 

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The one where the plot thickens…and I ask for help

You may have got from my first post (it was there in the subtext) that I am experiencing a little anxiety about my research project. The project is a 10,000 word dissertation, fully researched and referenced. I do love that in a piece of work that is supposedly mine, that my opinion has no input whatsoever – unless it’s cited I can’t say a word!!

Also, I must say as an aside I would never make an academic. The reasons for this are numerous, but the primary one it seems my surname is far too prosaic – Jones. The bunch I seem to end up reading have weird and wonderful surnames which makes writing any bibliography a chore. If your name is Smith or Davies – please, get into academia, quickly!

The most difficult hurdle so far has been choosing a topic to research for the aforementioned. You have the WHOLE of occupational psychology and with frustrations about how specific an academic research question has to be aside, that is a whole lot of ‘stuff’ to choose from.

So what have I chosen?

Entrepreneurship. Specifically internal entrepreneurs (aka Intrapreneurs or Corporate Entrepreneurs). If you say entrepreneur to most people they think of Branson, The Dragons or god help us all sur’Alan … but my interest is not in these people. I am interested in those who achieve as entrepreneurs but within a corporate setting. They have launched businesses within businesses or they have launched whole new product or service areas. They have structures, processes, constraints, budgets, teams, governance and most critically for my project – bosses!

Which brings me to the source my of current highest anxiety… where the hell do I find people who are achieving as Corporate Entrepreneurs (you may see where this is going) if only there was a way to speak to people who knew people who knew other people – some form of network… If I could tell them what I was looking for and see if they knew anyone who would be prepared to be interviewed…

So (and this is the call to action folks) can I ask (ever so politely) that you have a think about the people you know and if any of them strike you as meeting these criteria – they have achieved as entrepreneurs, in a corporate environment, ideally working at Senior Management level PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know… I would only want to interview them and may there even be a beer/glass of wine/mojito (delete as appropriate) for those who help (that’s the incentive bit)

Yours sincerely etc

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