Lessons in Fueling Corporate Innovation & Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Ian Bergman is a Partner at Alchemist Accelerator and Head of AlchemistX, the company’s corporate and government services division. As a self-described general-purpose nerd and corporate innovation agitator, Ian loves working at the intersection of emerging tech startups and the innovation needs of established organizations.
Ian is an investor, advisor, and proponent of strong startup ecosystems worldwide, who loves rolling up his sleeves and digging in on whatever problem is fascinating to someone today.
I want to start this piece with Alchemy - A seemingly magical process of transforming or combining elements into something new; taking something of perceived low value and transforming it into something invaluable.
At Alchemist, we believe that it is through community that true alchemy occurs. Fear transmutes into excitement, visions into reality, and loneliness into connection. The secret is that this magic can be replicated through deliberate action, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
A lot goes into building a thriving innovation ecosystem, but here I want to write about a set of relationships that are so important and yet are often overlooked: The structured, high-bandwidth connections between entrepreneurs and corporations with the talent, capital, and motivation to help early startups succeed.
At Alchemist Accelerator and AlchemistX, we live and breathe startup-driven innovation. And I believe engaging in discussions around entrepreneurial ecosystem building is important, and perhaps even more so in today’s challenging macro environment. Startup ecosystems are communities that can form a vibrant flywheel when powered by a mix of talent, capital, entrepreneurial spirit, experience, and challenges that need to be solved, illustrating that a few simple acts can go a long way in building enduring connections.
What we do as innovators is challenging. With every generational improvement in fundamental technologies, with every shift in how consumers worldwide engage with the industry and each other, it becomes increasingly impossible to keep up with the pace of change in the world around us.
This leads me to corporate innovation, and why I do what I do at AlchemistX: because when it’s impossible for any one person or organization to keep up with the change around them, the simple answer is to engage with the folks who are driving that change. So often, that’s the entrepreneurs–the founders–who make up the innovation ecosystem.
In observing various ecosystems, and with experience through our own work at AlchemistX, we’ve identified five important lessons for you to consider:
1) That the deployment of capital by corporations helps them learn and stay ahead of the curve
2) That corporate buyers help fuel, refine and prove the sustainability of new innovations
3) That talent flowing in and out feeds healthy ecosystems
4) That it takes deliberate action to start things up – these things don’t just “happen”
5) That simple engagement models are best, as they enable participation
When we’re talking about what keeps startup ecosystems going, we often talk about flywheels – and in my experience, sustainable startup ecosystems are powered by a few things:
Academic institutions and the pipeline of energetic talent they generate
Previously successful entrepreneurs who are giving back with their experience, stories, and capital
Investors and an innovation support network of incubators, accelerators, service providers, and more
Transparent regulatory frameworks that allow for experimentation, risk-taking, and change
- And the one that is so often overlooked: The engaged corporate buyers and corporate innovators who help early-stage startups validate their product and business model, gain first commercial traction, and scale to success
This last one works in both directions. Just as established organizations depend on access to a healthy innovation ecosystem to stay current and competitive, the innovators (the startups) depend on those larger organizations to be suppliers of talent, capital and buying power. I’ve seen the power of these connections in my career.
In my hometown of Seattle, one could argue that the now thriving startup ecosystem was created out of the incredible talent aggregated by Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, and Amazon… These people built a deep understanding of problems in the world and then flowed out to start new companies that sought to solve these problems. Then they went right back to their former employers to act as first customers, to help them get the product just right.
We’ve seen examples of this in places such as Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Toronto, and Paris, where global and domestic brands gather to workshop new ideas, hack against new technology, and ensure they remain competitive for years to come.
We also see this emerging in places such as Doha, Edmonton, or Houston, where local powers are deliberately building the bridges that are going to help startups grow.
Within our own community, we work to create deliberate moments whereby corporations and founders come together to generate better results in their regions and find success. And I believe that by following these lessons, and with the right commitment, oversight, and time you can bring strong ecosystems to life anywhere in the world.
AlchemistX is the corporate and government services division of Alchemist Accelerator. We partner with industry-leading corporations and governments, take the expertise and tools that have helped make Alchemist startups so successful, and bring them to specialized programs around the world. Alchemist has become a critical hub connecting enterprise founders, VCs, corporations, and mentors.