How can you launch a startup (or startup mentality) within a larger org? 4 technologists debate

You might need to think more incrementally to get higher-ups onboard with your idea. And check in often to make sure everyone's on the same page.

Philly Tech Week 2020: How to Build a Startup Inside Your Organization panel.


Can you build a startup inside another company?

While a project spinning out into its own company has happened time and time again in the startup world, four technologists from Seer Interactive, The Motley Fool and Arable Ventures discussed how the ideals and attitude of a startup can exist inside a larger company or corporation during a Philly Tech Week 2020 presented by Comcast event Tuesday morning.

Lisha Davis, founder of Arable Ventures, a boutique consulting and advising firm and former head of Vanguard’s Innovation Studio, said the biggest difference between startups and other companies is usually the access to resources. But user focus, testing and learning, and the speediness of a startup can be established in a large company, she said.

“Startups are very resource-constrained, and their team is very lean, so they don’t have the luxury of building these super large, overladen, feature-type products,” Davis said. “But their orientation is very much towards learning and validation, while large corporations tend to be focused on delivery and scale.”

So how do you know if it’s time to create a “startup” within your organization, or at least adopt some of its thinking? And what does that look like?

Jordan Dipietro, growth manager at financial advice company The Motley Fool, said it can boil down to looking at what your company has to offer right now. Does it have the cash flow or capital to launch a new product? Is leadership onboard? It can be a huge leap of faith to pour resources into a new project, he said.

“So trying to think more incrementally, I think, will help people get onboard with your idea,” he said. “Is there a way, if your idea is at zero and you need to get to 100, is there a way to get to 20, to 40, to 60, and prove in some things in the interim?”

That can happen by showing signs of progress, like launching a website or making some revenue, which will make it easier for leadership to give it a green light, he said.


Often, when Lisa Devieux, associate director of data strategy at Northern Liberties-based digital marketing agency Seer, is building new products, she’s got her eye on the “ideal stage” of the product. But she could be encouraged to instead think of the minimum needed to accomplish the same goal, she said. What could be pushed out that would accomplish the majority of your goals?

“Is 80% good enough to accomplish a lot of those efficiencies or revenue streams before, without necessarily needing those last 20 or 30%, thinking about the time and investment needed to get there?” she asked the panelists. “Is that last bit really needed to make it perfect versus something that could go out and then be iterated on after that?”

That also allows the opportunity to see results, she said. Her colleague Ethan Lyon, a data engineering lead at Seer, agreed.

“We’re technical folks, and we love to just keep adding and adding and adding, and sometimes we can lose sight of the overall goal we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “It’s really a part of the innovation team to boil that down and look at the kernel and see what we actually need here.”

Also good to keep in mind, Lyon said, was understanding which clients a product will work for in order to figure out if it’s worth investing the time and resources. And having check points along the way will keep the team focused.

“It will prevent you from developing the biggest, bad-assed thing possible and then no one cares,” he said.

Watch the entire conversation below:

Subscribe to our Newsletters
Technically Media
Connect with companies from the community
New call-to-action