“Resilience is absolutely key to innovation”

Interview with Janet Bumpas, Program Director at ScaleUpNation

The third F&A Next takes place at Wageningen University on May 30 & 31. It is the place for the most innovative start-ups, investors, and corporate decision-makers in agrifood. Start-up veteran Janet Bumpas, is speaking at this year’s event.

Janet Bumpas is a start-up ‘veteran’. She comes from Silicon Valley, where she was involved in three different start-ups. She currently lives in Amsterdam where she is Program Director at ScaleUpNation, working at the intersection between corporates and innovative entrepreneurship.

What would you say is the best kept secret for success in a start-up setting?

“The critical skill which we see that needs developing at innovative new companies is leadership. That’s why a lot of our programs have a heavy leadership training component. In large corporates, it’s quite normal for senior managers to get a one-on-one leadership coach, but in start-ups it’s unheard of. Literally no one comes to us and says they’re really interested in the leadership part of our curriculum. But later they come to realize it’s one of the most valuable parts of the whole program!”

What are the disadvantages for corporates wanting to encourage entrepreneurship within their organization?

I don't think that there is a downside for a corporate to fostering an internal entrepreneurial mindset. In fact, without it, they decrease their ability to compete in the marketplace - both of the product and in the fight for talented employees. But it’s not easy. Even in start-ups, over time things get institutionalized and formalized and more bureaucratic. Some start-ups of around 10 years old are now facing the same challenges as large corporates and they have to work hard to bring that entrepreneurial spirit back into the company.

What are the advantages for innovative people within large organizations?

“Well for a start, most of the start-ups will likely go bust. Also, if you are a corporate entrepreneur you have a wealth of resources a start-up entrepreneur does not have. For example, you can tap into R&D, you’ve got various channels available, and a wealth of other corporate resources such as brand and distribution. The challenge for a corporate is to leverage all these assets and move fast enough to compete.”

“Entrepreneurs are hidden throughout an organization”

- Janet Bumpas, Program Director at ScaleUpNation

How do you promote a start-up mentality?

“Entrepreneurs are often hidden throughout an organization. The challenge for the corporate is to unlock and unleash this potential. Senior management must set a vision, but then let the innovative teams take the lead in finding solutions that will achieve that vision. Also, senior management must provide backing for the small innovative team as these will, by their nature, break a lot of rules. Finally, there needs to be support from the internal eco-system at the corporate: HR, finance, legal, procurement, sales, marketing and communications, which the internal start-up has to engage with.”

Where do you start, once you set up a corporate accelerator program?

“An innovative team doing lean start-up and design thinking can’t succeed on its own – they need the support and alignment of the organization. If senior management does not provide backing and cover from them, they will get bogged down in bureaucracy. These are small teams that have no revenue and want to break all the rules and maybe even disrupt some corporate products. Without senior backing, the corporate anti-bodies will definitely resist.

“For example, one of the first groups I speak to after launching an accelerator is the legal department. I once got into hot water for making an un-branded, fake experiment (which is a classic lean start-up technique) which alarmed legal as they did not understand what I was doing and were (understandably) worried about the implications on the main brand. Now I know that it is so much better to engage the eco-system, especially legal, early in the process to get alignment.”

“Resilience is absolutely key to innovation”

- Janet Bumpas, Program Director at ScaleUpNation

How does the innovation landscape within corporates in Europe compare with that in the US?

“I used to think the US was further ahead, but I was recently at a conference in Stockholm and was amazed how many large European companies have very well-developed innovation programs. Sure, a lot of them are struggling, but this is not easy. You have to engage in order to make progress.”

What would you say is key?

“Entrepreneurs are not only launching new innovative products, they are changing the cultures of entire organizations. That’s tough. But it can also be really rewarding. If you want a safe route, become an accountant! Artists, musicians and entrepreneurs are people who go from failure to failure and half the game is just not giving up. Resilience is absolutely key to innovation. And if the roller coaster ride doesn’t kill you, it’s incredibly fun!”

Robotics and corporate innovation are the central focus of F&A Next 2018, the event for innovation in the food and agri sector. F&A Next brings together large corporates wanting to innovate and start-ups that need financing, advice, and clients. Buy your ticket now for F&ANext 2018 on May 30 and 31.