The New Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
The last century generated some iconic entrepreneurs. Henry Ford and others like him built companies organized around efficient, predictable and highly directed employee systems. Reshaping our business landscape and focusing on technological infrastructures has forced all of us to think differently about innovation. We are transitioning from an employee society to an entrepreneurial one – something business guru Peter Drucker predicted decades ago.
In today’s world, everyone has a different image of what defines an entrepreneur – for some, it’s a millennial tech-unicorn; for others, it’s a local small business owner. This article explores the concept of entrepreneurship today and how it’s being expanded to businesses of all types and sizes.
We asked TEC speaker Jared Smith, co-founder of marketing solutions provider Incite and producer of 55 North, the award-winning conference at which entrepreneurs explore business relationships and participate in cool immersive experiences, to share what he thinks about the new entrepreneurial ecosystem.
TEC Canada: What does it mean to be “entrepreneurial” today?
Jared Smith: I think what has always defined an entrepreneur is the willingness to tackle problems and to be resilient in the face of failure. However, because of today’s tremendous rate of change, companies are embracing the concept that entrepreneurship needs to live in organizations of all sizes. It’s no longer a trait reserved for start-ups. Large and even public companies are trying to figure out how they can embed that culture into their own organizations. Everyone is concerned about what technology means to their future. What’s interesting is that they are creating small entrepreneurial or “agile” teams whose sole role is to disrupt. The purpose of these teams is to tackle problems or create something that could potentially put the company out of business or harm existing infrastructure. The company is forced to innovate to meet the risk.
TC: Is there tension between the people hired to be entrepreneurial and disruptive, and those who are in traditional employee roles?
JS: Absolutely. The tendency when these innovative teams are embedded into an organization is that they are squashed by the more traditional guard. I’ve heard the entrepreneurial teams described as a virus entering the business ecosystem; the tendency for any ecosystem is to try and destroy a virus. As a result, we are beginning to see parallel organizations, where people are being set up as separate teams on separate floors with little or no contact between them. Another trend is for larger companies to lease space in a start-up hub. For example, one large Alberta financial institution has set up a team in a start-up hub to study block chain. They also have an incubator to support innovation in their own business.
TC: What is the benefit to an established corporation of taking space in a start-up hub?
JS: It’s becoming recognized that new entrepreneurs, many of whom are millennials, need an ecosystem around them. They need space in coffee shops and access to artists and culture, scientists, and different kinds of thinkers and thought leaders. Immersing these people into environments where they can get that is critical. Most start-up cultures are trying to create that environment or ecosystem. It’s just creating spaces where like-minded and diverse innovators can convene, whether it’s online or in person, to share ideas.
TC: Can you provide an example of what the start-up ecosystem offers to business?
JS: There is one event hosted by a start-up community in Victoria called F*ck Up Night. They host events with major CEOs and executives who share their greatest failures. The event was initially intended to provide value to start-ups, but soon organizations of all sizes started showing up because there were fascinating stories of entrepreneurship. The interesting part is, unlike the way we are conditioned to talk about failure – which is to wrap it in a bow and share the lessons – the model they use is to let each audience member figure out the lessons they can derive from that story.
TC: There is a lot of talk about disruptive innovation being led by tech entrepreneurs. But when it comes to leadership, we’ve seen some disasters in the tech sector — Uber comes to mind.
JS: True. I would say that the best entrepreneurial teams maintain adherence to some traditional values, especially around leadership. For long-term success, it’s essential to have leadership with a foundation of authenticity, integrity and the ability to listen to others. If leadership lacks those traits, there will eventually be some cracks that will impact growth and sustainability.
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