At Techstars, we talk a lot about “cultural transformation” and how we can support large corporations’ core objective to become more innovative and agile.  As corporations strive to innovate in order to survive, creating an entrepreneurial culture has become a critical advantage.

The truth is, large corporations can learn a great deal from startup culture as it relates to fostering a more adaptable, nimble, and entrepreneurial mindset. The benefits and competitive advantages run deep. But what exactly is an entrepreneurial culture and how do you foster it, so that your organization can thrive?

This New Future

To better understand the how and why of fostering an entrepreneurial culture, we talked with our in-house expert on the subject, Carley Jacobson. Carley is our Innovation Coach at Techstars, and she runs Techstars Innovation Bootcamps, which are designed to stimulate cultural transformation and drive an entrepreneurial spirit.

Carley works with organizations looking to make business model shifts or explore new opportunities. “At the heart of a business model shift are shifts in customer needs and in global trends,” Carley says. “To seize these new business opportunities, organizations need to transform their cultures so they’re prepared for a new future.” These organizations may be hoping to become more entrepreneurial—more adaptable, lean, and resourceful. They can see what they want to become, but aren’t sure how to get from here to there.

Creating an entrepreneurial culture is step one in driving innovation at your organization; helping you to attract and retain top talent; managing a workforce that is entrepreneurial, global, and often remote; and truly changing entrenched systems that are no longer working for you.

The Opposite of Business As Usual

There are a lot of reasons why your corporation might feel the need for a more entrepreneurial culture. Carley pinpoints triggers like competition, new business opportunities, shifting customer or employee needs, and more. Corporate leadership may respond to these changes by creating a new vision or setting a lofty goal that will help realign the corporation with these changing situations.

“Internally, cultural transformation to a more entrepreneurial way of doing business involves shifting attitudes, relationships, and best practices to help an organization reach this new vision,” Carley explains.

Fundamentally, cultural transformation is the opposite of business as usual. It means shaking up not just what you do as a corporation, but who you are, and the attitudes and perspectives that all the people in the organization—from the CEO to the newest hire—bring to their work.

Angling For Success

If this sounds big and amorphous—it is. And it can be hugely challenging for any organization, especially a large one, to change direction in this profound way.

Carley suggests that in order for it to succeed, transformation to an entrepreneurial culture must come from many angles within the company:

  1. From the top down: This is where cultural transformation starts. Leaders must provide the will and create the space for the organization to make a shift to becoming more entrepreneurial.
  2. From the bottom up: The real shifts start to happen on a small scale, team by team, project by project, as these new entrepreneurial values are assimilated into day-to-day functions.
  3. From outside perspectives: The company brings in outside thought leaders and experts to support cultural transformation. Employees learn from perspectives that are outside the organization in order to truly understand what an entrepreneurial culture looks and feels like.

For large corporations that are facing disruption from new technology and fast-moving startups, and that want to attract and retain top talent, transformation to an entrepreneurial culture is a crucial part of the package.

Want to hear more from Carley and other experts in creating an entrepreneurial culture at your corporation? The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Techstars are partnering on a webcast: “How to Build an Entrepreneurial Culture” on Tuesday, July 23 at noon Eastern Time, featuring Carly Jacobson, Tim Sackett, and Steve Cadigan. Register, attend, learn.


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