Interview with Dan Toma
What got you interested in innovation?
I guess I was always curious. And curiosity tends to go hand in hand with the new. I started my professional life in entrepreneurship and founded a couple of companies. Only later I learned that what I was doing is called innovation. One thing lead to the next and I got interested in innovation done at scale – in multinational corporations or at county/regional levels.
Why The Corporate Startup book?
I started thinking about writing a book on corporate innovation back in 2013 when I was working as innovation manager for one of Europe’s largest telecommunication companies. My trigger was the fact that some of the startup methodologies I was trying to apply in this corporate context were failing – and I knew from my previous entrepreneurial experience that they work in ‘startup land’.
The ‘why’ behind this was my initial trigger. Also following some research and talking with people at various events across the world I realized that this was a recurrent theme all over the globe, independent of the corporations’ business line. And also there was no ‘handbook’ out there on how to manage innovation in this complex corporate context.
How do you think things will change in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation in the coming years?
We are living in very interesting times. In terms of startup entrepreneurship I think we are seeing the beginning of the data democratization era and this has the potential of disrupting many ‘traditional’ industries. Also we are seeing a massive shift in consumer preference – more and more people are environmentally aware and more interested in accessibility over ownership.
This latter consumption trend has been nicely capitalized on by various startups working on ‘anything as a service’ business models. Corporations are a bit slow to the game but none the less they are starting to take notice of these changes and have started to invest in this direction.
Specifically for corporate innovation I see a trend towards partnerships and collaborations. And not only with other corporations, but with startups too. Also it will be really interesting to see how many ‘traditional’ companies will be able to make the change from what they are today and how they do business today, to the world of tomorrow where the only constant will be continuous change.
Who or what inspires you most?
It is hard to give a concrete answer to this question. In general passionate and curious people. I love watching TED talks – it’s such an amazing way to learn about what’s happening in the world and above all how passionate people are having an impact in their area of expertise.
What’s your advice for large organizations to become excellent innovators?
Enabling innovation is not a Big-Bang type of event – it needs to happen continuously, with perseverance and discipline. Modern corporations need to understand that in today’s world, innovation is everyone’s job and that innovation needs to transcend product innovation and be implemented in other parts of the organization too (e.g. HR innovation or process innovation).
Lastly, innovation is a team sport and it can only happen when all the players in the company’s internal ecosystem strive for the same goal. If a large company is just investing in an innovation lab and hope they will be successful, they are in for an unpleasant surprise.
What is the most unique experience you have had as a result of your job?
I enjoyed every project I was on. But one in particular has a special place in my heart. In 2015 and 2016 I was working in economic aid in South East Asia, specifically in Vietnam. The project was really interesting as it had a strong social component to it. I was part of a team that was helping to develop the national innovation ecosystem of the south Asian country and then take the lessons learned and ‘export’ them to neighbouring countries in the region, ie Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos.
In this capacity I had the pleasure to interface with people from a variety of backgrounds. Together we set up training programs and together with local partners we created the regions largest acceleration program for startups.
What do you gain personally from being a public speaker?
My personal gain coming from interacting with the audiences start from the feedback I receive on the thought leadership ideas I have. Also very import for me is to learn more about the different experiences members of the audience have when applying innovation in their respective contexts. I enjoying seeing how innovation concepts are being tailored and applied in various industries as I’m a firm believer in dogma free world.