Want Innovation? Let your employees work at a startup.

20 Ideas in 20 Days — Day 8

Big corporations are eager to infuse innovation and entrepreneurial thinking into their cultures. Startups are often desperate for specific skill sets but unable to afford experience.

A Startup Fellowship Program

Both problems could be solved by creating a startup fellowship program. Here’s how it would work. Let’s say the corporate venture arm has 6–10 companies in it’s portfolio. These companies deliver a wish list of the skills and expertise they believe will help them rapidly move forward.

The company launches a selective, funded program where experienced employees, interested in working at startups/learning about new technology are shared with the portfolio company for a year.

The salary of these employees is co-funded by the startup and the corporation. Additionally, the employees receive a small amount of stock options from the startup to make sure everyone’s interests are aligned (they can have a vesting period equal to the time frame of the program).

The corporation gets an employee who gains skills in problem solving and innovation, first-hand knowledge of the adjacent or potentially disruptive market and who may be able to help facilitate a deeper strategic relationship down even after they’ve completed the program.

The startup gets an employee with more skills and experience for less cost and therefore an improved chance for success. Additionally, they onboard a person with first-hand knowledge of the investor company’s resources and how to access them.

What If the Fellows Leave to Join the Startup?

Actually, this might be a benefit and could be integrated into the program so at the end of the term the fellow and startup can mutually decide to make the transfer permanent (the employee would move fully to the startup’s payroll at a negotiated rate).

If the employee decides to remain at the startup, the company still benefits from having a friend inside and the increased value of the company — basically they continue to get ROI from the training and investment in that employee if they are working for a portfolio company.

However, I suspect that most people in the program will choose to return to the larger corporation. The ambiguity and instability of startup life are not the ideal environment for most people.

Post Fellowship Integration

In order for the program to succeed, the Fellowship recipients will need to have a clear career benefit from participation. Ideally, they will be reintegrated into their functional areas, in a position where they can share what they’ve learned and potentially lead a new project or initiative. This allows the program to create a viral effect with the Fellows spreading innovative thinking and a bias towards action throughout the company.