What we learn from visiting startup hubs around the world

Posted on 19/04/2018

This plane is going to Lisbon, the Pilot says out loud in the cabin. On the plane sits among others 25 entrepreneurial peeps from Vertical Strategy – on our way to Lisbon, one of Europe’s fastest-growing startup hubs to get inspired by the entrepreneurial vibe. Last year in Tel Aviv we were surprised to learn how the military background of many successful startups was paramount to their success. Startups are working in new ways, that we know, but how important culture, trust, and mindset is when creating a startup environment was inspiring to see in its utmost form – something that large corporations must find ways to copy if they want to move from “implementing agile processes” to “creating sustainable innovation capabilities”.

I’m sitting on the plane going to Lisbon, Portugal looking at the 25 young and excited people from Vertical Strategy. We are all passionate entrepreneurs but also ambitious business consultants. We help corporates infuse the DNA of a startup to accelerate growth and find the next big business opportunity.

This year we are taking the entire company to Lisbon to get a better understanding of one of Europe’s fastest-growing startup and tech scenes. In our daily work, we mix the soul of a startup with the muscle of a corporate in our quest to help large organizations become more innovative and embrace new (digital) business models.

But what is it that makes startups so special?

What is it that makes them strive in this fast-changing business environment?

We know already from our previous research and thousands of hours spent with startups and corporates over the past 6 years that some of the things that characterize fast-growing startups, is their continuous focus on customer insights, their rapid preto-typing and testing ideas with a live audience and their ability to work in short sprints with agile decision making. So obviously a large part of the secret sauce is a new and agile process to innovation and business development. One that many corporates are learning from and adapting these days. And with good reasons. In our work with large companies like Mærsk, Danske Bank, Grundfos, Novozymes, Lowrance, Airbus, Virgin, and others we have seen how new ways of working can accelerate the speed and novelty of getting new and successful innovation to market.

Last year our annual inspirational trip went to Tel Aviv in Israel

Here we met a series of startups and corporate startups incl. Coca Cola Bridge, Citi Bank innovation, Google labs, University of entrepreneurship and a series of startups. Israel has become one of the major tech and innovation hubs in Europe. But why is that?

During our visits to these interesting companies – large as well as small – we had an interesting learning that went beyond what is covered in the textbooks of rapid growth and innovation. Being a country in constant war brings a lot of uncertainty into peoples lives. For that reason, the perception of risk changes, and then so does the fear of failing. One of the most important characteristics of young entrepreneurs is their ability to take calculated risks without being afraid of failing and to have a structured process in place where their “mistakes” turn into valuable learnings and therefore leads to fast pivots. A cultural element where many corporates fail. Worst of all are those corporate cultures where people cover up their mistakes (or learnings as I like to call them) to not get personal disrespect from leaders and colleagues. And rather than pivoting to a new and better direction, the mistakes are amplified in a long game of continuously covering up until finally one day 4 years later the innovation is launched unsuccessfully and then forgotten about or blamed on someone else

The interesting learning from Tel Aviv was that many startups were formed out of people who had worked together in the military. In Israel, everyone has to spend several years in the military – both men and women. As people in the military has to build very strong trust in each other these small formations can go into the business space knowing that they would have each other’s back. A strength that has turned out paramount for building a strong and agile learning culture where failures are turned into valuable learnings which are then used to create great pivots or new opportunities and eventually leading to successful companies.

So one questions that have been on my mind for a long time is: How can we build cultures of small formations with large trust in each other and enough freedom to act within the mandate they have?

At Vertical Strategy we try to live by these principles. Setting up small teams of cross-functional competencies that would normally find it hard to work together and then infuse a culture build on trust and openness. In this way, we have been able to build small flexible squads of strategists, entrepreneurs, customer researchers and concept designers to approach difficult and complex strategic growth challenges for large corporates by applying a wide set of lenses to allow for creative yet structured problem-solving.

Hence we have in principle build small startup tribes that can take on corporate challenges and co-create with the internal teams of the companies we work with, to create an entrepreneurial process, mindset and DNA.

This year, as I started out, we are going to Lisbon. To visit what is currently one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial hubs in Europe. I’m overly excited to see what we will learn from this endeavor and how that will change our approach to corporate incubation, accelerated growth and radical innovation in the future.

Follow our LinkedIn channel for more information – we’ll be posting a lot of about our experiences in the next couple of days!