"Tales from the Trenches" - the personal side of corporate ventures

"Tales from the Trenches" - the personal side of corporate ventures
SparkOptimus TeamKatja Knox
Written by
Katja Knox
The SparkOptimus Blog Team
March 7, 2023

Lights – camera – action!

In January, Hidde Van Manen, Rutger Planken, Willem Schüngel and Anke Le Guével sat down to broadcast our first ever live interactive panel conversation, coined "Tales from the Trenches".

The goal: to openly and honestly speak about the failures, frustrations and issues when embarking on a corporate venture project, and share personal stories and insights on strategy, governance, team setup and incentives. Over the two hour broadcast, the four Business Model Innovation experts covered a multitude of topics and took questions from the audience.

The premise

As it often happens, the concept of "Tales from the Trenches" was conceived during a conversation between two peers on the inner workings of a project – what worked but specifically, what did not work.

“When talking with like-minded people in similar roles, I experienced a high level of energy flowing with great stories being shared.” Said Planken. “Most of them were about the hard work and efforts required as well as epic fails. After such a conversation with Hidde, we both thought it would be a worthwhile experiment if we could get those stories to be shared with a wider audience.”

Van Manen agreed: “My inspiration came from the conversations I have on this topic with my various clients. Time and again, the same questions and challenges arise. It struck me that there are so many nuances and particularities to get from ‘theory’ to ‘success’.”

“There is no silver bullet, and a great deal depends on the people involved. Many of my clients struggle with innovation, because it is their passion but it can be tough in a corporate setting. They can feel alone and without support. This insight led to the idea of talking with people about the personal side of these business adventures.”

"One of the things we really connected on was that innovation is critical in the long term, but also recognizing that it's actually very hard"

The conversation

You can watch some of the highlights of the four panelists sharing their experiences and answer questions from the audience on this blog as well as read some of their insights below.

Van Manen kicked off the conversation: “I think one of the things we really connected on was that innovation is critical in the long term, but also recognizing that it's actually very hard. And to do it in a corporate context is very complex to get it right. The personal side of it can sometimes be quite a struggle.”

Schüngel concurred and added his observation from his long career leading numerous corporate venture projects: “What we've learned the hard way is that there's no one-size-fits-all - so unfortunately over the course of my career I've seen too many companies who have tried to apply these innovation methods and principles and put people and processes in place… but they haven't really cracked their ‘why’ yet. So they have people running around but they're not necessarily running in the right direction.”

Throughout the discussion, the panelists shared practical examples of venture projects they were a part of - some that were successful and some that were not. Planken for example looked back at his time at a leading independent navigation and map technology specialist, who in his opinion took a very productive approach into the concept of corporate innovation.

“One example that pops up in my mind is when I was when I was working for TomTom.” Planked said. “I think it was 15 years ago when the company already saw that the business model that there were extremely successful with was about to slow down. I still recall that the CEO said to us ‘Listen, here is significant money - I want you guys to build me nationwide traffic information on a global scale; do whatever it takes.’ That was one of the strongest examples that I encountered because there was a very strong intentionality.”

And when a member of the audience asked for advice for new starters in the venture adventure, Le Guével offered some very tangible counsel.

“Disruptive innovation is system innovation. It's not about changing a few parts; it's about making a new whole affecting all the parts.” Said Le Guével. “What really worked for us is to have a community of venture leaders; to have them learn from each other, mentor each other. That is very valuable support, people being able to talk to other people in ventures. They run into similar issues and problems.”

Great advice indeed - and especially poignant when it comes to corporate venturing. Openly sharing what worked, and more importantly what didn’t work among a community of peers is one of the most powerful sources of experiences, knowledge, and ultimately, learnings.

"Does the owner of the customer relationship buy into what you're doing?"

Over to you

At SparkOptimus, we always aim our events to be as interactive as possible. During the panel conversation the audience was asked their opinion on the topics the panelists covered - so we'll finish with the question that was the premise of the whole broadcast. You can watch Van Manen ask the question below - and if you want to let us know what you think, you can drop him a line here!

Looking for more inspiration for your venture journey? Why not read our article series on Corporate Venturing here.

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