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01 Oct. 2018 | Comments (0)

At the upcoming Innovation Master Class, taking place in Palo Alto December 6-7, 2018, Maureen Rinkunas, Innovation Systems Designer, Specialty Products Division at DowDuPont will be speaking on Thinking Like a Startup – Lessons from Accelerating 100+ Companies. She will be sharing insights gained from having coached over a hundred companies at a startup accelerator, and from bringing that startup thinking to DowDupont.

I interviewed Rinkunas on common mistakes and powerful strategies for building a startup culture in a large enterprise; advice when partnering with startups; and the value of inclusion for innovation.


Are there common mistakes or misguided assumptions you have seen in the attempts of large companies to maintain a startup culture?

Leadership of many larger corporations assume that the easiest path to bring startup culture into their organizations to hire externally, recruiting talent from startups.  Not surprisingly, this strategy often fails to have “viral” impact. 

Too often this talent is sequestered away in innovation labs or placed on teams that exist outside of the traditional structures of the organization.  While this can be an effective way to help create agile teams not weighed down by traditional bureaucracy, this approach positions startup culture as something outside of the norm, rather than a mindset that should be embraced across the organization. 

Hiring talent from startups can be a powerful strategy to drive real change but only when that talent is integrated into existing team structures and empowered to lead by example.  Using new hires as change agents creates experiential learning opportunities for the rest of the organization and helps pave the way to innovation at scale.


What practices would you advise (or advise against) when a large enterprise is partnering with a startup, in order to best leverage the strengths of each?

The first thing you need to learn when working with startups is to stop being too nice. Most corporate cultures espouse politeness as a virtue but that same spirit can be detrimental to startups that benefit from open and honest feedback. If you know that discussions are not progressing towards some sort of partnership, be direct and let the startup know. Startup founders are working with short runways. A lost deal is typically not crucial for a large company, but too much time spent nurturing a relationship that has no path forward could lead to failure for a startup.


What do you see as the most “disruptive” business/technological developments on the horizon? In what processes or sectors should businesses be looking to “disrupt themselves”?

Much emphasis is placed on scanning the landscape for technological developments, and having an understanding of the key developments within your industry should be considered table stakes. If you look at how large incumbents have been disrupted in the past, it has been less about technology and more about embracing new business models. BMI Lab’s 55 patterns that emerged from studying over 250 successful companies and their underlying business models is a great starting point to explore business model innovation.

Conference Board research has had similar findings about innovation extending far beyond STEM.


In your experience, what is the importance of diversity and inclusion in innovation? Can you give some examples of the impact? The Conference Board’s Signposts of Innovation research has noted the value of diversity in a culture of innovation.

To borrow from the venture capital world, it’s all about unique deal flow. For too long, venture capitalists have invested in startups that match a certain pattern (and founders that fit a certain mold). A savvy investor seeks out under-represented startup founders because these individuals have fresh ideas and perspectives.  These founders are able to tap into new markets that have largely been ignored and give a voice to end users that, while a minority, represent increasing buying power.

Corporations do well to take a similar approach to finding fresh voices. I had worked with a large hospital network to uncover pockets of innovation. We hosted a series of workshops on lean innovation that were open to anyone within the organization. Some of the most promising ideas came from the nursing staff who were improvising solutions to day-to-day problems and from security guards who spent their time observing how various stakeholders experienced the hospital.


Hear from Maureen Rinkunas and from innovators at Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, Xerox, Cisco and more at the next Innovation Master Class, taking place December 6-7, 2018 in Palo Alto, with curated Silicon Valley site visits in a pre-conference tour December 5.

  • About the Author:Joan Greco

    Joan Greco

    Joan Greco is the program director of The Conference Board Innovation Master Class, the Customer Experience Conference, and the Women's Leadership Conference, and has served as program director for ot…

    Full Bio | More from Joan Greco


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