How to Leverage a Successful Startup Incubator to Create Corporate Innovation

Innovation. It is a challenge for new and established companies alike. Some companies--like Google and Apple--have built entire brands in the idea of innovation and adaptation. This ability to adapt and shift may be essential in the cut-throat, eat-or-be-eaten world of the tech industry in Silicon Valley. But what about less sexy, more reliable industries? What about industries necessarily constrained by regulation or strict legal boundaries? How do those businesses innovate?

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you have heard your customers clamoring for you to innovate.

Faster. Better. More. It’s like the driving, distant drumbeat of a marching army.

There is good news. Regardless of your industry or your business model, you can leverage a crossover that exists between legitimate startup incubation and corporate innovation to improve your products and services and how they are delivered to your market.

Here are some tips:

1. Provide a “Safe Zone”

Innovation is messy. It is a creative process. Filled with fits and starts, this organized chaos doesn’t often merge well with an established or defined business structure or culture. It is important to create a space for innovation to happen.

This process is more than just creating a new department/division/team or building a new building. It takes a physical space, but even more important, it takes a psychological and emotional space. But then the question becomes, "How?"

2. Consider the Startup Incubator

Your company is not alone if it struggles with innovation. Most companies aren’t in the business of innovating. Most established businesses don’t think of startup incubators as a resource for corporate innovation, but there is a natural harmony that exists.

At The Venture Center, when a new idea comes through our doors, we have a specific process by which we nurture it and help the startup founder to develop a viable and scalable business model in bringing it to market. Successful startup development is also a systematic and strategic process. The best incubators are in the business of disruption. Strategic disruption. 

This process is the same whether you are developing a new business or creating a new product or service. So it makes sense for business partners in the community to leverage the expertise of the startup incubator. The businesses who recognize this value build strong alliances with legitimate incubators like those in the 1776 Startup Federation.

3. Leverage Community Resources

An incubator like The Venture Center, or the other top incubators in the global Startup Federation, provide a rich opportunity for the discerning business leader. Successful incubators--those that create viable, scalable businesses--are in the business of creating and nurturing systematic innovation. They develop best practices and a methodic approach to what can seem like the uncertainty of innovation. Smart business leaders recognize this opportunity and leverage these types of resources in service of their organization.

Statistics tell us that most new startups fail. The conscious startup founder fails strategically. Healthy startup innovation in a community creates a "gravitational pull" for key technical and creative talent. As successful companies are developed and grow in the communities, they bring top talent to the area and help retain talent. As startups fail, a vibrant environment keeps the talent associated with those failed initiatives engaged and connected in the community.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to create massive instability to provide new and exciting services and products to your market. You can partner with the best innovators in your community and leverage their expertise to the benefit of your business. The startup community and the established business community have much to offer one another when it comes to areas of crossover such as innovation and talent retention.

For additional reading on the subject of how corporate innovation dovetails with entrepreneurism, start with Steve Blank’s article on the Future of Corporate Innovation.