Nurturing entrepreneurs is the key to continuous tech success, even if some of them leave
Tech is a creative field, one that attracts ambitious people with a vision for the future. So it should be no surprise to tech leaders that many of their employees have their own original ideas and might want to launch their own startups someday. Rather than be put off or threatened by that, leaders should embrace and cultivate those innovative ambitions, working to nurture the next crop of entrepreneurs. Sure they might leave one day, but even if they do, there’s potential benefit for both parties.
“First, if you treat that person well and support their idea, there is a good chance they will end up in a field related to yours, so you now have a synergistic relationship that strengthens your brand,” says Alexander Bachmann, CEO of Mitgo, an IT innovations company, startup incubator, and investor network. “Second, even if the person starts a wholly different company, you now have a broader network, which makes both of you more successful. You also gain a positive reputation, which attracts better talent.”
And if they feel valued enough, they might stay longer than they otherwise would have, adding value to the venture and perhaps becoming leaders in-house.
To make their workplaces nurturing to aspiring entrepreneurs, leaders need to create what Tecla founder and CEO Gino Ferrand describes as a “culture of innovation.”
“Innovation is all about forming original concepts, methods, or products,” he wrote for Mexico Business News. “In the workplace, a culture of innovation supports employees as they think creatively and nurture ideas with big potential.”
Ferrand cited the example of Google’s 80/20 policy, which encourages employees to spend 80% of their time on their core tasks and 20% on innovative side projects. Several of those side projects have hit the big time and become moneymakers, including Gmail, Google News, and AdSense.
Nurturing in-house talent will help tech companies compete as demand for developers grows and candidates have their pick of potential employers. They’ll naturally gravitate toward places that allow them to stretch their wings and build new skills. If they feel fulfilled in their work and that their contributions make a difference to the company’s success, they’re more likely to stay and work their way up. Internal trainings and company-paid continuing education courses will enable employees to stay on the cutting edge of industry developments, a boon to their resumes and the organization. These driven employees are always eager for the next opportunity to develop their skills.
“That’s a big part of what we hear from technology professionals — they want to be put on different teams or different project opportunities outside of their own organization to gain that experience,” Megan Slabinski, a district president for management consulting firm Robert Half, told InformationWeek. “It’s a resume builder and it creates job security.”
Before They Start
Leaders placing themselves in the shoes of employees or potential employees is not a novel idea, but it’s one that’s especially relevant in a competitive hiring environment. The companies that attract the best talent will be the ones that demonstrate a clear path to success and career enhancement.
“Growth is also essential in building an engineering culture, and it can take many forms,” McKinsey advises. “Top engineers don’t want to just bang out features; they want to experiment with new code, become better developers, and follow passion projects, such as reducing tech debt or optimizing systems.”
Recruits want to meet and share ideas with current employees. They’re the ones who will give a more realistic picture of what day-to-day work in the organization is like, and having employees participate in hiring shows leaders respect their opinions and value the leadership qualities they’re developing. Recruits will also take note of the amount of trust placed in workers.
McKinsey surveys of global executives and HR personnel indicate that very few companies are prepared to address the gaps they have in terms of tech talent and that hiring developers will be a big challenge in the next few years. To even get talent in the door, organizations will need to show that they’ll nurture the aspirations of future entrepreneurs.
Founders and CEOs have the hunger, passion, and vision to drive the company’s success, Bachmann says. It’s their fortunes and careers on the line, after all. Finding and developing those qualities in employees is equally important.
“Companies of any size can build up their internal teams in a way that makes them excited to come to work and feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves and will be encouraged to innovate,” he says.
Hungry, passionate employees will influence the direction the organization grows in, taking ownership and making it their own. At Mitgo, that’s not just a metaphor. The company introduced an employee stock ownership program in 2021, allocating 15% of its shares to C-suite and midlevel employees, “giving them a real stake in the success and direction of the company.”
Nurturing entrepreneurial mindsets in employees will keep a steady stream of fresh and relevant ideas flowing and keep stagnation at bay. Technology is always advancing, and quickly, and companies that don’t nurture entrepreneurship risk being left behind. If fostering that top talent means losing some entrepreneurs to founding their own companies, that will just make the organization more attractive to up-and-comers with big dreams of their own. It creates a cycle of creativity and talent development.