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This article was published on June 25, 2008

Big Companies & Stimulating Innovation

Big Companies & Stimulating Innovation
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

In the past I have been critical (Big Companies VS Small Companies on Innovation) and cynical (Catching Cats VS Catching Mice) about big companies trying to innovate. In general they do it all wrong. They say ‘If Apple can do it so can we!’ which sounds logical until you realize it sounds like ‘Elvis can make great music so why can’t we?’.

It is easy to be critical and cynical if you don’t provide answers. If we think that big companies can’t innovate, then WHAT should they do? How would they be able to innovate? Well, here are a few ideas:

Stop trying to do it yourself. You hire great managers, not inventors or entrepreneurs. If you want to innovate give some money to entrepreneurs and inventors. Don’t hire them because that will turn them into managers. Managers don’t innovate.

So how do you give money to entrepreneurs and inventors?
There are several ways of doing that. Here are two obvious and simple ways:

1: buy their companies and services
2: organize awards and hand out prize money

If you buy their companies make sure you pay them more than they ask. Don’t worry about paying too much. By spending lots of money and making these entrepreneurs filthy rich you will set an example for other entrepreneurs. Those other entrepreneurs will risk their lives, money and time coming up with stuff and dreaming of a great exit. Of the 100 entrepreneurs that take that chance only 1 will come up with a good idea, which you will acquire for too much money. The other projects won’t cost you a dime. It is a cheap way to invest in ‘Research & Development’ and virtually risk free. All you have to do is pay TOO much money to the one company you acquire and spread the rumor that you are eager to acquire start-ups.

The second option is even cheaper. Come up with an award, make sure the grand prize is worth the effort and hundreds of entrepreneurs will go to great lengths to join your competition. There is great benefit for all companies involved in the process. The big company makes a good impression, the smaller companies get a chance at fame and fortune and the winning company gets even more attention and a nice prize. Everybody wins.

Innovation Awards meetingThe reason I started writing this post is because we have a new sponsor: The Dutch Innovation Award organized by Accenture. We visited their offices yesterday and heard them talk about how hard it is for big companies to innovate, how eager they are to do so anyway and how hard it is to get bigger companies and smaller start-ups to connect. Not only were these people aware of the issues surrounding innovation they actually came up with a solution: the Innovation Award

They figured that the best way to stimulate Innovation and to get to know all these interesting start-ups in the Netherlands was to give them a prize. So they came up with this awards and are spending a lot of time and effort on promoting it and helping companies to join and compete. I left their big, shiny and expensive offices feeling optimistic about the future and hope that a lot of Dutch start-ups will enter the Innovation Awards:

I will certainly submit a few of our own ideas and projects even if it is just to get them above the radar for some of the bigger companies looking for innovative start-ups.

I hope you will submit your idea too. After all, you have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. You might even get the chance to set an example for all other enterprising entrepreneurs by selling your company and becoming filthy rich…