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“You have to limit yourself to innovate faster”: tech entrepreneur Omar Mohout shares his secrets of corporate innovation Laurence Van Elegem - August 28, 2018

Organizing Innovation 739 Omar Mohout

As former tech entrepreneur, author, Professor of Entrepreneurship and nexxworks Innovation Bootcamp speaker, Omar Mohout is one of the most well-respected start-up gurus in Belgium. As Omar has recently written the book ‘Corporate Venturing’ with Dado Van Peteghem, I decided it was time to have a chat with him about what corporates can learn from start-ups about innovation. As always, he lived up to his reputation. It’s clear that it’s a subject that he’s very passionate about.

“Corporate venturing is a lot like dating”, he started our conversation with a quip. Very few of us will marry someone after just a few encounters. People might date a few people first, then find someone that seems to be right for them, date some more, maybe move in together, and at some point, they might decide to marry. Corporate venturing works just like that. Plus, it’s a numbers game. You need to talk to a lot of start-ups before you find the right fit for your company and then you sit down together and communicate … a lot, until you are sure that you want the same things and agree upon the way to get there.”

Omar went on by explaining how ‘thinking in terms of ownership’ is another common pitfall of corporate venturing. Just like you don’t own your boyfriend or wife, you cannot ‘own’ a start-up. This type of mindset is exactly what tends to kill the spirit of entrepreneurship, the innovation drive and the growth engine of start-ups. “Never think in terms of ownership, but in terms of collaboration”, he added.  

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The latter was a word that kept popping up during our conversation. Omar is a big believer in letting the outside world in through the collaboration with partners, start-ups, competitors and customers. “Today, we see a shift from competition on the level of products towards business model competition”, he explained.

“In a next phase, competition will happen between ecosystems, which are by definition built on collaboration. The most successful tech players of the moment - like Uber and Facebook - are all investing in API-based ecosystems: they allow third parties to use their platform software within their apps and websites, and for instance exchange useful data.”

These ecosystems builders perfectly understand that the more people go into your systems, the more value they will add to your applications, and the better you will be able to compete. “I firmly believe that our Day After Tomorrow will be built on this type of collaboration”, said Omar.

Mindset over method

When I asked Omar about his favourite innovation methods, he was quick to state that he believed mindset to be a lot more important than method. He continued to sum up two of the most important characteristics of that start-up mindset: experimentation, and - surprisingly - limitation.

 According to him, one of the common mistakes of corporate innovation is that companies tend to validate a solution before they go to the market. They’ve made a lot of assumptions about the market and are thus risking that it will not accept their product. Most start-ups, on the other hand, build a ‘good enough’ MVP (minimal viable product), then “get out of the building” - to quote Silicon Valley entrepreneur and father of the Lean Start-up movement Steve Blank – and test out the market as early as possible. They might launch a landing page, an app or open a pop-up store. Start-ups understand that the earlier that you receive customer feedback, the sooner you can iterate, pivot, improve and – in doing so – reduce the risk of launching something new.



More surprisingly, Omar explained that corporates have difficulty innovating because they are slowed down by their low horizon. Unlike start-ups, they do not have (financial) deadlines. Their budgets will not be running out in X months. So they tend to overthink innovation. Projects remains ideational, a pure assumption, for much too long. “To me, it’s key for corporate innovation teams that they organize themselves with limited resources which will oblige them to move fast and improve and deliver as soon as they can."

We ended our conversation on a more personal note, when I asked Omar about what he considered to be his biggest failure and what he learned from that. “I still make mistakes every day”, he stated very openly. “But if I had to choose one that had the potential to have a disastrous impact on my life, it would have been this one: when I was a lot younger, I put up some of my personal assets – like my house – as collateral for my company. Don’t ever do that. If a business angel forces you to use your house up as collateral in exchange for an investment, walk away. Work hard, very hard even, invest money, but don’t end up paying for the rest of your life because you exposed your personal life to your debts. Not one start-up is worth that.

We concluded the interview, talking about young people, and the advice Omar would have liked to give to his younger self. “I always advise the youth to try out entrepreneurship when they graduate. They are probably not yet involved in a serious relationship, they most likely don’t have children, or a house. In short: they have very little to lose and have the time and energy to build something new. That’s the perfect time to start a business. And if they do, I would tell them to make sure they have an advisory board: people with very complementary experience and knowledge that they do not yet have. They should surround themselves with people who can really help them push their company to the next level. Because those who will be building our future, are the ones who know how to collaborate.”

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Laurence
Laurence Van Elegem

Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and...

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