Takeaways From the Conference on Building Venture Studios: Alloy 2020

by Emily Brungard - Marketing Analyst

What do you call a group of 700 of the most accomplished innovation leaders, builders, investors, and venture studios?

We call it Alloy — the premier conference on building venture studios. High Alpha Innovation’s Alloy conference took place at the end of September, and there was no shortage of quotable wisdom, trajectory-changing takeaways, and world-class speakers. The two-day virtual conference’s lineup included business leaders like Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa, and Art Bell, founder of Comedy Central; as well as other leaders from some of the world’s most innovative companies. If you couldn’t join Alloy 2020, view recordings from the conference here.

During Alloy, venture studio operators came together to share their perspectives and tips on a variety of studio formation and operation topics. These are our takeaways from luminaries like Hamet Watt, T.A. McCann, and Scott Dorsey.

Venture Studio Essentials with Kristian Andersen and Elliott Parker

Kristian Andersen, Partner at High Alpha, and Elliott Parker, CEO at High Alpha Innovation, sat down for a fireside chat around venture studio basics. Kristian expressed his views on the difference between venture studios vs. startup studios, noting that venture studios are able to invest capital in the companies that they create.

“If the main thrust of a venture studio is to help companies move faster, you have to think, what are all of the timelines that I want to accelerate? You want to accelerate your timeline to product-market fit, you want to accelerate your timeline to ramping up your salesforce, you want to go faster across every dimension,” Kristian shared. “Fundraising is slow, it’s arduous. Raising the money in advance of starting the company enables companies to go a lot faster.”

Kristian shared his core non-negotiable for High Alpha’s venture studio: “You can’t outsource everything to the studio.” You need great, external talent that joins new companies as a founder. At High Alpha, that talent makes the product, sells the product, and serves customers from within the new company. “At the end of the day, all that matters is talent. You can build the most phenomenal platform, you can add every bell and whistle, you can have bountiful supplies of capital — but if you don’t marry the right co-founder or early executive team with the right idea, it’s all for naught.”

Launching a Venture Studio with Hamet Watt and Scott Dorsey

Hamet Watt, Partner at Share Ventures, and Scott Dorsey, Managing Partner at High Alpha, joined Alloy for a discussion on launching their venture studios. 

“The biggest reason I started a venture studio is because it’s so much fun — it’s my life’s purpose to start companies. I’ve realized that the innovation model for company building hasn’t evolved as much, so this started as a personal mission to explore that.” After meeting with entrepreneurs at IDEO, Google Ventures, and Idealab, Hamet settled on the venture studio as the best way to build companies and drive returns.  “I looked at some of the great features of the venture capital model, as well as the entrepreneurial model, it felt like venture studios combined the best of both worlds.” 

Scott and Hamet’s discussion brought to life a few key points:

  • Bringing founder DNA into a corporate setting enables big companies to think about problems in a new way.
  • Having support as a founder is key — bouncing ideas off of others, collaborating on big problems is a must.
  • Consensus isn’t the best option when it comes to company building. “You have to intentionally hack yourselves to push yourselves to the limits of creativity in order to set yourself apart from the competition.”
  • Venture studios make innovation safer, according to Hamet. “There are so many challenging things about being a founder, which is why a reimagining of the company building model is so important, especially for those in financial situations where the stakes of failure are even higher.”

Share Ventures’ focus on life and work has led to collaboration with organizations as large as the U.S. Army. Hamet’s tips for venture studio success revolve around the ability to listen for problems without concern for what others might think or say. A bias for action is what drives success in a venture studio — and it’s what brings so much value to corporates who might be stuck (or even unaware of) a problem.

“Corporate + Venture Studio Success Stories” with Robin Fleming, Alfredo Banes, T.A. McCann, and Sheila Stafford

Leaders from two industrial powerhouses — Fortive and Cummins — joined Alloy for a discussion about their corporate venture building partnerships. 

Alfredo Banes, Director of Digital Transformation at Cummins, and Robin Fleming, CEO at Anvl, have worked together to develop the Anvl platform through a corporate partnership with Cummins. “Not only were we leveraging it as a commercial product, we were also using it inside of Cummins to build up safety culture.” Anvl was launched as a result of a corporate partnership between High Alpha Innovation and Cummins. A key factor for success in the Anvl and Cummins relationship is the division of labor between Alfredo and Robin, where Alfredo navigates the structural layers of Cummins while Robin builds a product that fixes a specific safety problem.

“My role was to remove barriers,” Alfredo said. “One of the smartest things I did was engage with [internal team members] on a concept level.” By working directly with stakeholders, Alfredo was able to get leaders at Cummins on board with the solution they were building ahead of time.

As a startup with a Fortune 500 company as customer number one, Anvl focused on user design early and made several visits to frontline workers. The Anvl program was live from day one, and needed to work for workers immediately. They worked closely with Cummins to understand the needs of workers, build great user support channels, and to build a roadmap for years to come. Enterprise-grade customers require enterprise-grade MVPs, and Anvl leaned into that.

T.A. McCann, Managing Partner at startup studio Pioneer Square Labs, began working with Fortive in April. Sheila Stafford is the CEO of TeamSense, a company geared toward safety for hourly workers that was created by Fortive. Fortive’s rationale for working with a startup studio came from a lack of action — they had plenty of ideas, but none of them turned into standalone businesses. Fortive also leaned on Pioneer Square Labs’ expertise in decision making. In the span of just a few weeks, the PSL team took the TeamSense idea from Fortive and launched a new company. “We wanted to figure out how to move fast,” Sheila shared, and working with a startup studio was the best solution for Fortive.

Alloy featured 12 different panels and presentations from innovation leaders across the globe. If you’d like to learn more about Alloy, or watch this year’s videos, visit Alloy2020.com