5 Things We’ve Learned About Corporate Engagement

As we continue to learn and evolve at the Sprint Accelerator, I want to take a few lines to reflect on what we’ve learned since our first official engagement in 2012. It’s been just over 4 years and we’ve accomplished many things during that time:

  • Completed 3 accelerator programs working with 30 startup companies.
  • Launched several successful programs including the Mentor Network now in it’s 4th cohort, Intentional Collisions, Startup Corporate and more.
  • We’re ingrained in the KC ecosystem, hosting 350+ events, meetings & programs each year at our space in the Crossroads, as well as, attending and working within the community at large.
  • We love to talk about what’s happening in KC whether its hosting national and international guests here in KC or at speaking engagements where we are asked to talk about corporate engagement and innovation.

Those are just a few of our successes. It hasn’t always been easy (that’s a post for another day), but it’s been fun and important work. I want to share 5 things we’ve learned along the way on how corporations can effectively engage with their startup communities.

Find Your Internal Champions and Give Them Support

The most successful engagements start with an internal champion that understands and has a drive to connect with entrepreneurs and the community. Assigning someone to the task instead of taking the time to find the person that has this drive is the best way to achieve a mediocre result.

How do you find these people? There are lots of ways to find your internal champions, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask the community
  • Go to events and find out who’s already engaging
  • Talk to your internal network for references
  • Hold an information session or event

Once you find this person, give them the resources and flexibility to engage. This does not mean unlimited budgets or time. It does mean working with them to set mutually beneficial goals and supporting them to be successful.  Keep in mind, the passion of employees can be unlocked by giving them the ability to be your ambassadors in the community working with startups/engage while becoming more innovative themselves.

Don’t Go Alone

There are already great organizations in your community working to support entrepreneurs and you should be working with them. Partnering with local organizations is the easiest and fastest way to get plugged into your ecosystem. They can help you understand what is happening, make introductions and plug your resources into their program and events.

If you’re already plugged in, these resources are perfect for extending and growing your engagement. How you do this will be dependant on what you’re already doing. At the Sprint Accelerator, we work with amazing local resources like Pipeline, Enterprise Center of Johnson County, Digital Sandbox, Kauffman Foundation and many others to bring valuable content to our space. And now we collaborate with other corporations to extend resources and impact.  We believe this might be the greatest opportunity to support entrepreneurial growth in the region.

The City is Your Friend

We are proud to be based in Kansas City and we strive to make our city proud of us as well. Working closely with civic organizations has connected us with national and global networks while at the same time giving us the ability to showcase all the great things happening in KC.

Public and private partnership and collaboration is often the only way to solve the biggest challenges in our communities and grow local economies.  Our civic contribution should not stop at charitable giving and philanthropy.  Focusing on how we create a region known for supporting technology and innovation is equally important to both attract and retain top talent.

Fail Forward, Please

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” – Steve Jobs

As big companies with a focus on our own business objectives, it is easy to forget that things are changing at an exponential rate around us.  This is a learning opportunity if you’re engaged in experimenting and taking risks.  When things don’t go as planned or projected, we like to call it failure and point fingers at words like experimentation and risk.  Instead, we should be assessing what can be improved and iterating the product.  Not only is this important to keep in mind when we are finding what works for our corporations in your community, but engaging in your entrepreneurial ecosystem ensures that some part of your organization’s DNA will stay connected to these ideals.

Keep It About Business

With all this talk about giving, experimenting and risk it might come across as if we forgot about concepts like return on investment or achieving measurable results.  Quite the contrary, as the most important lesson we’ve learned is that aligning our efforts to our core business strategy is the only way this works for both sides.  Put your innovations out into the startup world to give them a chance to learn and iterate faster.  And, don’t forget, there will always be someone smarter outside your company.  Engaging with entrepreneurs to solve problems and choosing to be a part of the disruption or evolution of your industry is a way to bring the innovation and advantage back to your employees and business.

When I look at these five lessons in total I am reminded that the most important thing to say to any other corporate intrapreneur is Just Do Something.  As I said here, corporations can play an extremely important role in the startup community.  I look forward to what the next several years have in store.

If you want to know more about what we are doing, go to sprintaccelerator.com, follow us on Twitter or send us an email. And don’t forget applications are currently open for our 2017 Corporate Accelerator Program – apply today!

About the author: Kevin McGinnis