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Finding the boundaries: Joost Korver on being an entrepreneur in a corporate environment

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Despite his entrepreneurial and innovative instincts, Joost Korver enjoyed a 20-year corporate career in senior leadership roles in the energy sector before making the change to entrepreneurship. A mentor at The Collider with a record of start-up investment, he describes himself as a ‘corporate entrepreneur’. He told us that, though there are challenges, corporates and start-ups can collaborate successfully.

What sort of challenge has it been adapting from working for large multinationals to start-ups?

I feel fortunate – I’ve had a great corporate career. But I was seen as an outsider because of my drive to build businesses and test boundaries. I was told I’m ‘too entrepreneurial’, that I wanted to move too quickly. There has always been something entrepreneurial in me!

 

So, I joined Bravehearts, an angel investment group. My colleagues are not corporate people at all, and we invest in start-ups. I’ve learned a lot by investing, and it’s given me the confidence to become an entrepreneur myself, but it’s been a gradual transition and a tough journey. A start-up looks great from the outside, but suddenly you have no income, and there’s nobody calling. You’re starting from scratch. When I started as an innovation consultant, I thought that because of my network, people would call. But it doesn’t work like that! You need a product, and to position yourself well in the market.

 

I got going, slowly, but I also realized that consultancy wasn’t scalable. So I started other businesses, which in turn taught me that you can’t do too many things simultaneously. I wasn’t focused on one thing. It was a process of trial and error, and risk-taking.

What initially led you to join the gas industry?

I started in energy because of the opportunities it offered. I see myself as a global citizen and I’ve always been internationally minded, so I joined BP’s management traineeship programme, and I did several jobs in different countries within a couple of years. I moved into the gas industry because it is important that we transition to cleaner energy. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a cleaner solution – it’s not renewables, but that transition is a long process and LPG is an important stepping stone.

What made you shift away from multinationals and into disruptive start-ups?


The underlying reason was more flexibility to explore my possibilities. Part of my thinking was that I’ll be able to make a bigger impact because I’ll make my own choices, choose my own investments, plan my own time. That was the core reason.

Your recent roles have been mentoring-focused.

Yes. It’s always great to help others, not just because you’re helping them, but because you’re also helping yourself. You’re learning, too. That’s why I’m so happy to mentor at The Collider – you can really help a team or individuals on an innovative product, and you learn a lot yourself. It’s a two-way street.

Tell us about your 8Ps of innovation.

When I became a Global Innovation Director, it was a huge learning experience, completely new to me, and there were a lot of challenges. It was a global role involving a lot of travel. Not very sustainable!

I was contemplating how I could make more impact in the organisation, and I realised that what I was learning was interesting for other corporate innovators. So I devised a methodology, the 8Ps of innovation, to help people make an impact in their organisations.

 

Many companies, even start-ups, are too internally focused. It’s important to know what’s going on outside. What are your competitors doing? What new tech is being developed? What kinds of new businesses are emerging? You can learn a lot. The larger companies don’t have structured approaches to looking outside to innovate. To drive change, you need a good methodology and structure.

 

How have The Collider and other tech transfer initiatives impacted your industry?

If you think about the tech/energy sector, renewables may not appear to be moving very fast, but it’s still disruptive for the traditional oil companies. New tech development can help. With LPG, for instance, knowing exactly how much gas is in cylinders can help transform the industry. New tech is making it viable for LPG companies to connect all tanks and cylinders with that data, which was impossible before. This offers so many logistical advantages, and that’s just one example. Companies that invest wisely and adopt the right tech will be the long-term winners.

What have been some highlights of your experience with The Collider?

The most interesting thing with The Collider is that we help tech at a very early stage. What you see going through the programme has to be iterated; when you start going to market, you start to see what problems can be solved with that tech. The product you’re developing based on that tech is often very different from what you first thought. That’s what I most enjoy – that process. Knowing that you’re helping with real problems in industry.

 

The Collider is evolving, always reinventing themselves. It’s a great network in an important ecosystem, which is why I like to be part of it. It’s a great opportunity to test your tech, and a great connection with entrepreneurs and the corporate ecosystem. If you have the tech, at some point you have to sell, and The Collider puts you in front of those people.

How has the pandemic affected the consumption of gas, and start-ups in that industry?

I’m not part of an LPG company anymore, but it must have had an impact on consumption.
Companies have been closed, which will have made a significant negative impact, but there’s been more domestic consumption because people have been at home. But the most important thing that’s happened in the last year is that LPG companies have needed to set themselves up differently. Before, it was unthinkable to work from home, to not be in the office. But that enforced change went relatively smoothly for most companies.

How can disruptive start-ups and multinational corporations bridge the gap and work together?

It needs a focused approach. I’ve learned in the last couple of years that it’s difficult for corporations and start-ups to collaborate. They work at different speeds, with different mentalities, so it must be set up in the right way. Start-ups need to be careful they’re not getting pushed back by corporate procedures, and develop the right solutions, in the right way, for the corporates. The fit is important. It’s better to not move forward than to try to achieve something that’s not possible.

Any advice for a budding entrepreneur wanting to launch a disruptive start-up?

Focus on the problem you want to solve, and go with the solutions that can solve it. Be 100% focused on making that work. It’s easy to get distracted, but to make a big impact, you have to choose wisely and be focused. Looking back on my early career, I was all over the place!

 

The tech is critical, along with 100% passionate founders. When I see proposals without a clear, cutting-edge tech focus, I lose interest quickly. Outward-looking organisations that can continuously innovate internally will be the most successful.

 

 

This interview is brought to you by The Collider, a venture-building programme that works hard to bridge the gap between science, corporates and entrepreneurship. This innovation project