Corporates in Luxembourg are hiring entrepreneurs to share skills with staff but not for the reasons you might think.
When entrepreneur Hélène Delamare-Gutton became project leader at the EYnovation acceleration programme, it was the first time in years she had worked for someone else. For her, entrepreneurship was part of her DNA. But, she said, it can be taught, and teaching the tricks to EY staff has been part of her new role.
“We help startups to grow from local to global by providing them with our expertise,” the marcom expert explained. “At the EYnovation programme, we build an internal community. We have coaches who are our managers and senior managers working for key clients in technology, media, telecommunications and fintech.”
Many of these coaches have spent their entire careers in the big 4 milieu and though they have counted innovative entrepreneurs among their clients none will have ever run their own business before.
So, why the sudden shift to startups?
On the one hand, “it’s part of our strategy to motivate our people and give them the desire to stay a long time with us,” Delamare-Gutton said, explaining that the rapidly-changing world of new technology, media and telecommunications and the thinking outside of the box mindset of startups captures the imagination. On the other hand, the programme helps identify and harness the solutions offered by startups to future-ready their own activities.
“In the coming years, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence means a lot of tasks will be replaced by robots. We have to be prepared for that,” she explained. The programme, which has been running for three years in Luxembourg, does not require the coaches to be entrepreneur experts, Delamare-Gutton stresses.
But they must be aware of the key startup steps in order to “introduce the good ideas at the right time regarding strategy” as they coach them over a six-month period. The entrepreneurial spirit the relationship creates is critical for aspiring partners. But, not only. Delamare-Gutton said she is increasingly approached by colleagues lower down the hierarchy, among them millennials, wishing to support the programme. The intrinsic value it brings is particularly important in providing “interesting and diverse projects” to keep the newly recruited millennials engaged, she said.
Photo: EY Luxembourg. EYnovation programme project leader Hélène Delamare-Gutton
Further along avenue JF Kennedy, and on the other side of the road, is the office of serial entrepreneur Warrick Cramer. He was hired by Vodafone Procurement and tasked with finding a way to prepare the company for the change ahead by working with innovative entrepreneurs.
In September 2017, he launched Tommorrow Street, an innovation programme focused on identifying innovative small suppliers at series A+ level and taking them to the next level. “You can imagine a small company coming in, doing a million revenue, wanting to deal with this big organisation. There’s a big mismatch in terms of just even language and context about what’s achievable,” Cramer said, adding that in the past these small players would have been deemed too risky and rejected.
“How do you build that bridge together?”
Cramer constructed the concept of Tomorrow Street around that problem and in so doing, kicked up another question. “How do we take everyone on the journey? It's good to have an innovation programme and centre with people coming through but you still have to train people to deal with the companies coming in.”
There was a lot he needed to work on, not only the nuts and bolts of startups but changing mindsets about fundamental parts of entrepreneurship, such as the language of failure and risk.
“That is one of the first hurdles as an organisation we had to start to overcome and retrain people. I'm not saying we want everyone to fail but it's about thinking around having it more confined, smaller, bitesize chunks so people can take a bit more risk and manage that risk,” the entrepreneur explained.
Similar to EYnovation, his full-time team members do not have startup backgrounds but are extensively trained through real-life scenarios through which Cramer coaches them. For the CEO, the most important skill for the job of working with startups, besides the approach to risk and failure, was empathy.
Photo: Anthony Dehez/archives. Tomorrow Street CEO Warrick Cramer
“Taking a step back and putting themselves in the shoes of the startup,” Cramer said, adding: “I try to get them to understand the stress that startups go through, the hardships, the risk they’ve had to take. I get them to understand it’s very lonely.”
Vodafone staff are also included in the process, to ensure the startup brings real value to their activities. Again, they do not have entrepreneurial backgrounds but attend meetings and calls to accompany the startup along the journey. “I initially thought I would get a lot of resistance,” Cramer said, adding that the reality has been the opposite.
“It highlights the fact that people know and understand they have to change their way of working to be future ready and learn new skills,” he said. Like at EY, millennials are among the programme’s biggest supporters. “I find it stimulates them because they love projects, to make change and they love to champion something,” the CEO explained.
What if they create their own startups?
With all of this exposure to inspiring innovative solutions and different work cultures, what is the risk to corporates they will see their staff take the leap of faith and establish their own startup? EY has only seen a small number of its staff leave to found companies but for Delamare-Gutton, this is not a risk. “The real risk is to do nothing” and lose them anyway, she says.
Cramer, meanwhile, would applaud any colleague who chose that path as a result of exposure to startups at Tomorrow Street. “I see that as super positive. If you can create a culture like this within your organisation where people think about innovation and want to be entrepreneurial, it means you create a culture where it's very collaborative and any entrepreneur knows you cannot create a business on your own,” he said.