Collaboration is Key to Entrepreneurial Success

John Stayton’s presentation to the Marin Business Forum this month, ”Collaborative Entrepreneurship: How Networks of Small Companies Can Do Big Things,” offered some valuable insights about startups and building small businesses as part of a collaborative community.

John is Director and Co-founder of Venture Greenhouse and Assistant Professor MBA in Sustainable Enterprise (Green MBA) for Dominican University of California, and he knows a lot about sustainable business and innovation. John took the title of his presentation from a book by former Haas School dean Raymond Miles entitled, “Collaborative Entrepreneurship: How Communities of Networked Firms Use Continuous Innovation to Create Economic Wealth.” His basic premise is that collaboration is vital to innovation, and innovation today is driven by small business. By their very nature, small businesses have fewer staff and less managerial hierarchy, and so each staff member is more accountable and therefore more creative. Since the end World War II, 95 percent of serious innovation was the product of small business, which typically get 24-times more output per R&D dollar.

What gives small business its innovative edge is collaboration. Clearly, smaller companies can’t outspend their bigger competitors, so they need to build networks of resources to fill in the gaps and expand operations. Technology has been a boon in this regard. Social innovation and breaking down walls to collaboration with new Internet and telecommunications technologies, and the new generation of Millennials raised on Facebook and Twitter are raising the collaborative bar as they bring social media practices into the workplace.

Examples of business collaboration are everywhere. John cited a few examples, such as Share Exchange in Santa Rosa, a business cooperative where local entrepreneurs can share a collaborative workspace which also allows them to share ideas and insights. Acer Computer is another interesting example of collaboration, which is made up of a series of independent companies operating under the same brand. Even those in the audience had their own collaboration stories. One printer in the group explained how he was working with a web design firm and a photography firm to create a virtual marketing agency.

As Darwin pointed out, survival of the fittest is really survival of the most adaptable. It’s not a matter of being the strongest or the smartest, but the most adaptable to change. Since no one operates in isolation, adaptability is interdependent, so adaptability often translates into those most successful at collaborating with their peers. Collaboration and innovation are the keys to business success; survival of the most adaptable. John also cited the Pareto Efficiency, which states that as businesses evolve they tend toward commoditization, which means lower profits. Innovation is the search for new profit sources and larger profits, and happier customers. And the cycle of innovation continue to accelerate, so the only way not to be left behind is to innovate with the aid of collaboration.

To demonstrate the power of collaborative entrepreneurship, John had the audience break up into small groups to discuss their common barriers to growth, and come up with their own collaborative solutions. There was a profound energy and buzz as a result, and a number of those in the room identified different means to collaborate to address their own business needs.

That’s the mission of the Marin Business Forum – to offer a networking venue that promotes collaboration. John’s presentation was not only informative, and it’s likely that many of those in attendance used the networking opportunity to forge some new professional relationships.

Thanks to John for an inspired presentation. We will keep you informed about our speaker for our December gathering. Be sure to watch this web site or join our group on LinkedIn – Marin Business Forum.  We hope to see you in December.