“I want to inspire practice” – Dan Toma’s mission to drive corporate entrepreneurship

In September, Dan Toma, innovation thought leader and author of The Corporate Startup, will co-lead a 2-day masterclass in transforma bxl, on designing new growth strategies and ventures through corporate entrepreneurship and strategy innovation. Rebecca Weicht spoke to Dan for transforma bxl to get the insights on what to expect.

Hi Dan, tell us a bit about yourself first. How did you come to work on corporate innovation?

I come from an entrepreneurial background. I have founded a couple of companies but I have also worked with accelerators, before turning to corporate innovation. This was not by chance.

As an entrepreneur, I have always been wondering why the products that people love using and talking about are mainly created by startups. Especially, when the budget and the resources corporations can commit to new product development far outmatch those of startups.

So when I was offered to join a large telecommunications corporation, I jumped at the opportunity to find out the answer for myself. I guess shortly after joining this company I started thinking about the book The Corporate Startup.

In September you will co-lead a masterclass on corporate entrepreneurship and innovative growth strategies with Marc Sniukas. How did you two come to develop this workshop?

Marc and I got to know each other when he reached out to me via LinkedIn suggesting we meet for a coffee. At that time, I worked with Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy, Innovation and Research to help them implement their national innovation strategy.

Marc, who is based in Luxembourg, heard of my work with an accelerator there that was part of this implementation process. From that conversation, we’ve delivered a couple of workshops together but this masterclass will be our first in Brussels and Belgium.

What is your approach in disrupting the classical R&D / portfolio-oriented approach to innovation that corporates follow?

I’m not sure if we need to frame the conversation around disruption of the classical R&D approach to innovation. I think corporations still need R&D. What is missing is an holistic view of corporate innovation. An ecosystem view if you want.

Everyone needs to understand that R&D’s job is to take cash generated by mature business models and convert it in ideas and research. If the ideas and the research are not converted back into money they become waste – overhead to use an accounting term.

Here is where innovation comes in – the job of innovation is to take ideas and convert them back into money by the means of sustainable business models.

You’re doing a lot of writing – not just authoring The Corporate Startup but also blogging. What can we learn from you in the masterclass that we haven’t read in your writings somewhere else yet?

That’s a good question. My blog is oversimplified and I want to provoke with my texts to incite out-of-the-box thinking. I’m controversial on purpose :). In the workshop, you will get to learn what’s not written – and you will learn how to apply what I’m writing about! The workshop will also allow the audience to learn from Marc’s and my experience – and from the experience that other attendees might share.

Marc Sniukas has written The Art of Opportunity, where do you overlap on your thinking on corporate entrepreneurship?

If I’m allowed one single parallel between our approaches and books I would have to go for the use of evidence in decision making. Regardless if a decision impacts one single product or the corporate innovation ecosystem at large, it still needs to be grounded in data / evidence.  By joining our workshop people will learn exactly that: an evidence-based approach to all levels of corporate innovation.

Explain to us what kind of persona will come to the masterclass – who is it for?

The masterclass is for someone who wants to move the needle on innovation in their company. They don’t just want to talk about implementation but want to get inspired to do things. This can be an executive but also a product owner!

We are going to address the role of executives – the strategic role – in the masterclass, of course, but also what driving innovation means in terms of tactics – which is where, for example, product owners play an important role.

And what kind of pain points or challenges will they want to address?

In my experience, there are two reasons that drive corporates to become more entrepreneurial in their own right:

  • They are afraid that they will lose market share to a newcomer and are afraid that big and fast-innovating (tech) companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook will do what they are doing – these companies may know that they are slow today and want to address that, or
  • They are afraid of the phenomenon of “unbundling” which is that your portfolio is taken over in bits by emerging specialist startups and you lose market share to 1000s of small competitors each attacking a different aspect of your business.


Tell us in one line – what will I learn?

The masterclass will be very practical and focus on methods from the lean startup school of thought. Attendees will learn to apply techniques like validation of ideas, experimenting and going back to talking to customers.

Let me add and say that I like helping people and meeting them where they are, so the masterclass will feature hands-on suggestions and I would love for attendees to come with the questions that they want to have answered about their specific business. I want them to understand that this is a learning environment and know that others can benefit from their questions too.

And how will you go past the “lean startup for corporates” hype with this masterclass?

The masterclass takes the audience on a journey from product level all the way to ecosystem level. Showing how all parts are interconnected – and how just becoming good in one part is not enough if real sustainable impact is desired.

How will all of that fit into two days?

In the masterclass, we really want to inspire but more than with fancy words but through examples – there will be a lot of hands-on activities that you will learn. We will also encourage everyone to re-do the activities in their own office with colleagues – to go and work on the real thing! I want to inspire practice.

There will be high energy levels and I won’t talk a lot. There will be a lot of moving and you won’t be at the masterclass for the free coffee. In fact, I hope you will not be looking forward to the coffee and tell me ‘Oh no, it’s coffee break time again!’

To close, what would an ideal ‘corporate startup’ look like to you?

A company that is able to create a framework for innovation that turns ideas into action independently of internal variables. To me, that is a company that has a very good innovation management process and is able to continuously disrupt. A great example I sometimes refer to is the Wii video game console by Nintendo – and of course Amazon is great at innovating itself.

To learn more about the workshop and sign up, click on the link below👇

Dan will also lead a 1-day workshop on 28 May on corporate startups and how innovation can thrive in your enterprise. More info on 👇

Dan Toma

Dan Toma

Author The Corporate Startup

Dan Toma is an innovation thought leader and the author The Corporate Startup (Vakmedien, 2017). Dan comes from an entrepreneurial background. He has been involved with technology startups across the world and is an innovation community leader in Europe. (Read more)

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