12th batch, 12 weeks, 12 teams.. another high-quality FDays® batch ended last week and once again we had a tremendous portfolio of high-tech projects stemming from various research institutions (Fraunhofer, DLR/Helmholtz, RWTH Aachen University). The biggest challenge for us as program managers, mentors and coaches still lies in coping with the heterogeneity of technologies, targeted industries, business models, project maturities, ambitions and human-beings. Just to give you a flavor: logistics, photovoltaics, digital laboratories, cyber security, e-mobility, IP design automation, 3D visualization, MedTech, BIM and much more. All entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs share the aspiration to convert their technological capabilities into market impact, a willingness to learn and being challenged by their peers and customers. But apart from that, they are all different. And I truly believe, herein lies the strength of FDays® and the excellence of my fellow coaches: to make the very best out of this heterogeneity and unlock the benefits. We all know the potential of cross-industry innovation and the positive nature of spill-over effects between teams when facing similar challenges. And we managed to generate these effects, although there is still room for improvement. However: this is not my point here. Rather, there is something else many teams share and which is still a crucial black box that we are struggling with: the dependency of intrapreneur teams on their organizational context.
For those teams, who enter FDays® as already founded entities, it is plain simple. They are an independent, yet small team fighting for survival and reaching product-market-fit. We have some top experts, such as Timo Friesland, Elisabeth Raes, or Christian Rüther, who help them with team roles, alignment of goals and motivations, team cohesion and more. You feel from day one that they entered an accelerator for being accelerated. However, most teams entering FDays® are either in a pre-seed phase, or pure intrapreneur teams (e.g. working on a licensing deal for their research institution). These teams are embedded into an organization that we hardly know and the teams’ “freedom to operate” from an organizational perspective is not transparent. In most cases, we start accelerating the teams on the project side (customer pain, business model, product development, etc.) and then recognize after the first days – or sometimes even weeks – they are not really able to accelerate. Something is holding them back. And without having real data, I would assert that for the large majority of these teams their intrapreneurial environment is holding them back. It is not that they are lacking commitment. It is not that they are too busy with additional projects. It is not that they lose motivation, since the first customer interviews are not as successful as expected. Rather, whereas a startup team can easily decide to do this and that, the intrapreneurs cannot. They are simply not in charge of their own project. There is a boss and a surrounding organization providing the resources and bearing the risk of the project. From a startup perspective, they are the investors (sponsors) of the team and their entrepreneurial endeavor. Unfortunately, they are not seen as such by the intrapreneurs. There is no signed term sheet. Too often, we, as coaches, have to trigger the first real discussion between the research institutions’ management and the intrapreneurs about the future of the project AND of the team members driving the project. And in many cases, the acceleration eventually happens after this meeting.
So, why do teams and their management not talk to each other? Drawing from experience, these seem to be the dominant reasons:
The project is not part of the management’s articulated strategy
Lack of trust between management and the team
Lack of understanding of the entrepreneurial method and approach by the management
The team follows a hidden “spin-off agenda”, while underestimating the management’s power to stop them ultimately
We are trying to tackle this problem from various angles: raising the “commitment bar” for applicants, working on a “FDays Executive” concept that incorporates the bosses into the accelerator, enhance our team and stakeholder coachings, etc. However, we are happy to hear your thoughts on how to bridge the world of intrapreneurs and their bosses.
//by Thorsten Lambertus