Stories about big buyouts of small businesses regularly inspire future entrepreneurs to keep working hard to bring their business ideas to market. But aspiring founders and small business owners aren't the only ones gaining inspiration from these success stories. In fact, large businesses are increasingly taking note of the methods startups use to come up with ideas and motivate their workers. Here are a few ways big brands are taking a startup approach to the work they're doing.

Startups Inside Companies

Every big corporation has employees with great ideas. The more businesses can encourage those employees to share, the better the benefits for everyone involved. Instead of risking losing their most innovative workers to startups, businesses like GE and MasterCard are launching smaller enterprises within their larger corporations. These efforts are designed specifically to encourage new ideas and reinvigorate old processes. In MasterCard's case, there are dozens of mini-companies inside the large corporation, including a digital magazine platform called ShopThis, which allows customers to order products directly from the online publication.

Working with Incubators

One of the best ways big brands can ignite that startup spirit is to work in partnership with a nearby incubator. Incubators are designed to help startups turn their ideas into workable businesses through training and providing support. Some of the latest incubators give startups access to partnerships with these larger corporations that they wouldn't have otherwise had. BCG Digital Ventures takes that a step further with its DV Torque program, which seeks to give entrepreneurs access to senior decision makers at major firms. Participants will be able to tour some of the most established companies in Silicon Valley, as well as partner with established entrepreneurs in making deals. Big businesses can benefit from these partnerships by learning from their much smaller competitors.


One of the most popular ways for businesses to encourage innovation is through the use of "labs." From Google to Intuit to fast food restaurants like Wendy's and Dairy Queen, large corporations are setting up innovation centers within the framework of their main companies. These labs are where big businesses test out new ideas, managing user testing and setting up training workshops where employees learn to market, sell, and troubleshoot these products. Instead of taking ideas directly to a business's leadership team to quickly shoot down, teams can refine their innovations and gather market data, then present them to management while using their research and development as selling points. Many of these labs are specifically tailored toward research and development of tech-based projects. Wendy's and Dairy Queen both use their labs to create and test tech related to app-based ordering and payment. Since these types of technologies are new to fast food chains, these companies can use their labs to make sure their apps are bug-free and secure before taking them to market.

Leaving Campus

Retreats have long been a way for professionals to recharge and learn to work together as a team. However, in recent years big brands have taken a cue from startups in the way they handle their corporate retreats. Instead of playing golf or gathering in cramped meeting rooms, businesses now strive to make each retreat as productive as possible. Instead of using retreats as rewards or getaways, businesses now see them as great opportunities to pull employees together in a distraction-free environment for brainstorming. Some businesses are even using them to take employees through a tour of their own manufacturing plants or client facilities, which lets them see the work they do every day through different eyes. This unique approach mimics the way startups gather ideas, whether through isolating themselves for brainstorming sessions or by learning as much as possible about the process required to bring a product to market or serve clients.

Startups set a great example for businesses of all sizes. They've taken unique approaches to motivating employees and conducting user testing. By following the lead of these innovative companies, big brands can reinvent themselves and reach customers in new ways.