Champions of Change

Intrapreneurs are starters who champion change inside established companies.

These skilled and determined people are often salaried employees who want to enjoy their job more. They do this by reinventing how they work at a company they trust. While intrapreneurs shake things up in more controlled environments, they share a similar innovative spirit with entrepreneurs building their own company. They challenge the status quo for larger companies smart enough to listen.

Companies that recognize the value of intrapreneurship stay ahead of the market. They do so by not falling too far behind the innovation curve. Smart companies go further by emboldening intrapreneurs. They do so with trust, resources, and a culture that encourages their passionate employees to get weird.

This sounds cool, but there’s a lot of moving parts when steering a cruise ship (large companies) compared to a little speed boat (startups). Add the fact that no matter how big a company is, change is hard, everyone fears it, and advocating for change is more difficult with more branches on the decision tree. As if it’s not complex enough, new ideas will always feel risky to those in power as well. This makes climbing the ladder of progress painfully slow and poses a quagmire for intrapreneurs: constant oversight and a lack of action can lead to burnout.

Intrapreneurial burnout usually translates into employees leaving the company or choosing to play it safe. When conformity sets in, intrapreneurs lose their edge and misinterpret the market. To avoid this hazard, intrapreneurs must keep making a ruckus and companies must help preserve innovative vibes by motivating intrapreneurs with action.

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Big, small, old, and new businesses can all do more when the people they trust find fresh ways to collaborate throughout the community.

Shifting the perspective, it’s good for entrepreneurs when more inspired intrapreneurs are connected throughout an ecosystem, but collaboration with intrapreneurs requires a long-term approach.

One reason is that intrapreneurs can be hard to identify within a startup community. Many intrapreneurs are also quick to say they’re not entrepreneurial, which makes it even harder to uncover these hidden leaders. If you’re a founder able to connect with these unicorns in the balloon factory, be quick to encourage their fresh ideas. Show interest in their latest innovation and invite them to where other entrepreneurs are gathering. Everyone is entrepreneurial to some degree, so the more intrapreneurs feel innovative energy, the more they’ll participate within the community.

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Are you an intrapreneur? If you shake things up and fuel positive change in an existing organization, You Don’t Need This Book is as much for you as it is for students, side hustle enthusiasts, or entrepreneurs building new companies. Another interesting read is Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin. There’s an entire section focused on championing new ideas into existing companies.

Entrepreneurs need intrapreneurs, and intrapreneurs need entrepreneurs. Intrapreneurs stay innovative by learning from entrepreneurs who are building what’s next. In exchange, intrapreneurs offer entrepreneurs established wisdom and access to customers. Intrapreneurs may not always be the decision makers, but they can still share resources, feedback, and meaningful introductions. This elevates entrepreneurs and fuels more profitable initiatives led by intrapreneurs.

Such shared momentum translates into existing companies getting more excited by profitable progress and often converts to an increase in their company’s community involvement. Companies become more willing to reinvest in intrapreneurship and ongoing innovation is liberated by an entrepreneurial mindset. As more existing companies thicken their connectivity within the startup community and entrepreneurial ecosystem, more ways to collaborate will emerge. Over time, the rising tide of intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial activity compounds into community-driven partnerships that raises all ships through layered economic growth.

Exploring Education

Educational organizations are key actors within entrepreneurial ecosystems. As a community builder, collaborating with students and leaders within educational organizations has been enlightening.

While I’ve always enjoyed exploring the intersections between entrepreneurship, innovation and education, it feels like I’ve been thinking and talking about the future education a lot more lately.

Perhaps it’s my Regional Rep role for an educational program like 1 Million Cups? Maybe it’s how many caffeinated community builders I’m supporting, who also work in this space? Blunt thought provocations from Naval Ravikant keep me on the edge of my seat and having a daughter who’s about to experience the classroom for the first time has to play into my heighten curiosity as well. It’s clear that my interest in education does not emerge from a single source. It’s the collective interactions. It’s my interest in accelerating others. It’s wanting the best for my little startup that pays in love. Even deeper, it’s an optimistic enthusiasm for our future.

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I’m envious of students who are being encouraged to explore their entrepreneurial spirit so much earlier. I only regret two things from my experience in college: not starting a business and not understanding the value of an engaged network.

Our connected era and the rising cost of higher education seems to be signalling a cultural shift. It’s less about earning a piece of paper so you can work for someone else. The future of education feels more like providing a safe space to explore knowledge, social interactions and what creative activities feel like play to you, but look like work to others.

We learn, earn and then give back. My hope is that we can inspire future generations to go beyond what we think is possible. Can we leave behind parts of the system that feel like day care and replace them with curricula that reward pure wonder, initiative and skills that help more people evolve ideas into reality? Outside the classroom, can we celebrate life-long learning and those who break down barriers so more people are set free to push past the status quo?

As Greg Horowitt said in our conversational jazz, without order nothing can exist, but without chaos, nothing can evolve. Let’s build for the sake of our future, by never fearing unicorns in our balloon factories.

Weekend Sprint

We just wrapped up Startup Weekend Iowa.

This was an online event, so our organizing team compressed what is normally a 54-hour, localized, in-person hackathon… into just 26 hours of people talking, typing, working and connecting together without the barrier of location.

Thanks to our own Wizard of Oz, virtual interactions were seamless and I was set free to creatively facilitate this high stress, no risk experience. It was energizing to have 25 participants and 15 mentors connecting to build two companies that pitched head-to-head for esteemed judges on demo day. This was a statewide event for Iowa, but the international element was in full effect as we also had new friends teleporting in from Canada and India to participate. While most of the event was hosted in a private platform that we called “the venue”, here’s a YouTube link to “the stage” where our keynote kickoffs and demo day were live streamed.

These weekly reflections, which I’ve been calling Roasted Reflections, are purposely timeless, but I share this brief event recap because it reminds me how easy it is to build when only a few people decide to work together. Yes, in-person gatherings create more random, serendipitous interactions, but I continue to marvel at how new interactions can be so efficiently ignited through these online interactions.

This was actually my first Startup Weekend experience! In the past, I convinced myself that my career portfolio was too full to build yet another new company. The infrequency of a local event and the anticipated time required were also factors in my past decisions, but now I realize, this combination of considerations led to a misguided assumption.

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You hear this tweetable thought often, but smart people change their minds all the time.

Startup Weekend can be a place where participants come together to build a business idea into reality, but it can also be a wonderful chance to catch up with friends, learn a new trick, mentor people exploring their own entrepreneurial spirit and/or simply observe some magic in action.

As one of the organizers and lead facilitators, I enjoyed a front row seat that allowed me to commentate the weekend while helping two teams build ideas into reality.

The energy of this weekend sprint was remarkable, but I noticed something as we all sat back and virtually celebrated demo day over a few brews during afties. It felt like the last day of summer camp. Everyone had been working alongside each other and while closing things down felt bittersweet, you could tell everyone appreciated the opportunity. This group had done something they were proud of and there seemed to be an unspoken premonition that Startup Weekend was not the last time these starters, makers, doers, and dreamers would come together to collaborate.

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Building alone is easy. Find friends to make it fun.

Threaded Thoughts

Let’s talk tactics. Here is a simple technique to absorb, translate, and share the (audio)books you read.

Start with one tweet, then reply to that same tweet over and over again. The result is a thread (sometimes called a tweetstorm) that combines your key takeaways and gives you a single link to share your collective thoughts.

Here are a few examples…
Tribes – Seth Godin
We Are All Weird – Seth Godin
This Is Marketing – Seth Godin
Free Prize Inside – Seth Godin (ideal for intrapreneurs)
The Icarus Deception – Seth Godin (great for students)
Startup Community Way – Brad Feld & Ian Hathaway
Think Like A Freak – Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
The Hard Things About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
Angel – Jason Calacanis
The Almanack of Naval Revikant
BONUS THREAD – Big Thoughts in Little Tweets

Why is this helpful? If you’re thirsty to learn from (audio)books, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed as authors bombard you with knowledge. Passively enjoying (audio)books is fine, but this organizational exercise forces you to slow down, which reduces the numbing effect. In short, crafting concise tweets that are all connected forces you to feel the experience.

Another benefit to sharing threaded thoughts, is that each public post draws out more focused contemplation. I’ve found this technique makes me think deeper, use words carefully, and has actually made me a better writer. Such value is compounded when the entire thread can be retrieved with one link.

Lastly, this exercise generates accountability. When this exercise becomes a habit, you spend extra time with that first tweet, knowing it may become be the foundation for a neat collection of thoughts. As the thread expands, you’ll feel momentum that keeps you listening/reading. If progress stalls, the lingering sense of an incomplete project may bring you back to finish the literary journey. If you must get through something quickly, just craft a smaller thread, but include one post that lists the page numbers for areas that caught your attention. Such a hack is still better than nothing.

To be clear, this exercise is not about pirating content or echoing knowledge like a parrot that sounds smart. It’s about sharing a meaning narrative while leaning into what resonates for you, knowing you’re creating a relic for others (including your future self) to enjoy as well.

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Tag me on Twitter if you try this! I’d love to follow along and will definitely chime in if you experiment using You Don’t Need This Book.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Social architects around the globe have worked to establish frameworks that can be applied to support long-term, generous, and community-driven collaboration. They have done this alongside government, educational institutions, entrepreneurial support organizations, and economic development groups. Along with societal constructs to guide economic development rooted in entrepreneurship, innovative community builders have stabilized our ability to communicate by adopting a common language that makes universal collaboration possible.

To communicate how a community collaborates to support entrepreneurship, the term “entrepreneurial ecosystem” was coined to describe the people, organizations, resources, conditions, and, most important, the complex interactions between everything in a business environment. The scale of an entrepreneurial ecosystem can be local, statewide, regional, national, or worldwide, but the primary focus must remain: the success of entrepreneurs.

Like an ecological system found in nature, each part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem plays into the continuum of economic development. As a conglomeration of interdependent parts, changing one aspect can affect other features. With so many moving parts, complexity science helps us understand and communicate how entrepreneurial ecosystems work.

In their 2020 best-selling book The Startup Community Way: Evolving an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway use complex adaptive systems to explore how a systematic, holistic, inclusive, positive-sum, and long-term mindset unlocks entrepreneurial ecosystems to thrive as one. There are many other thought leaders (e.g. Johannes Pennings, Daniel Isenberg, Victor Hwang, Greg Horowitt, Lolita Taub, Dell Gines, Steve Case, Naval Ravikant, Wendy Guillies, Philip Gaskin, Andy Stoll, Cecilia Wessinger, Arlan Hamilton, Yancey Strickler, Marc Nager, Scott Resnick, Laís de Oliveira, Seth Godin, etc.) and exceptional organizations (e.g. Kauffman Foundation, Techstars, Revolution, Center for American Entrepreneurship, Forward Cities, Right To Start, Global Entrepreneurship Network, etc.) that continue to guide this collaborative approach to economic development. In short, when you win, we win. The sooner a community comes together to support what works while leaving outdated ideas behind, the sooner it can flourish.

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Have you seen Brad Feld’s remarkable contribution inside You Don’t Need This Book? Brad inspires us all to think big and it was an honor having him riff on such an important topic within my new book!

As you’ll read more about in YDNTB, a genuine commitment to inclusivity is where the magic happens within an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Complex systems rely and thrive on diversity. Identity diversity (e.g., gender, race, and sexual orientation) paired with cognitive diversity (e.g., experience, background, and perspective) invites everyone to participate. Along with radical inclusivity, equitable policies provide an environment where entrepreneurial traction is easier to find. As expanding connectivity diversifies, the ecosystem matures and long-term growth becomes more sustainable. When members of the community are successful, they are free to give back and this cycle continues to fuel positive change.

With enough people who care, healthy ecosystems can exist anywhere. No matter the environment, thriving ecosystems trust that a rising tide will raise all ships, allowing entrepreneurs and the people who support them to prosper. Such an inclusive and collaborative approach sets a tone for the broader business environment, strengthening economic development and our society overall.

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Wanna geek out on this together? Perhaps your ecosystem is thirsty for a fresh perspective? Let’s pour some virtual coffee and explore innovative ways to collaborate!