If you're a budding entrepreneur, it's hard not to applaud the sentiment behind Project Warhol, a $2 million dollar fund aimed at helping employees transition new ideas into businesses, services, products, etc. by assisting them with the investment and support they need to make it successful.
The initiative is the brainchild of Next 15, a digital communications group that owns seventeen marketing businesses that span across various industries and services, from digital content to market research to public affairs. Next 15 agencies represent everyone from Amazon to Facebook to Spotify, so they clearly have an incentive to keep their creative juices flowing. Its 1,610 employees span 39 offices and 15 countries.
Staying at the forefront of marketing technology innovation is the aim for many companies, and Project Warhol is one of the ways in which Next 15 plans to do so. Not only does Project Warhol allow Next 15 to keep abreast of the latest breakthroughs in martech, but it also allows them to continue to invest in the people and ideas that will revolutionize the industry. In many ways, it is also the ideal opportunity for first-time entrepreneurs, giving them the help they need to avoid common pitfalls of start-ups, guiding their business plans and helping them succeed.
"Like a lot of companies, we are challenged by how technology is changing our industry," explains Tim Dyson, Next 15's CEO. "Every industry is being disrupted in one shape or form. We wanted to look at how we might disrupt ourselves from within." Sure, going to executives and getting their input is great, but Dyson knows there are better ideas living within the Next 15 group. Project Warhol was born out of that belief: tap into all the great ideas in the business and figure out how to get people to bring their ideas together, and you'll be able to disrupt the existing business model.
An Idea Borne of Culture
Next 15 subscribes to the Jim Collins way of thinking: put good people in the room, give them simple parameters, and it's amazing what can come out of that. "The people do matter and the framework does matter," says Dyson. "A lot of what we do is to give talented people the freedom to do what they need to be doing." If Next 15 doesn't do that, Dyson believes, the organization will be crushing their ambition and their talent. "We don't want to play that game."
A company without Next 15's particular philosophy and core ethos would not be able to make an initiative like Project Warhol a success. The group strives to be a meritocracy, without literal or metaphorical corner offices. Dyson even refers to Next 15 as "counterculture." You can only have something like Project Warhol if it's a natural extension of the way you run an organization. If Next 15 was a traditional hierarchical structure, Dyson doesn't think a Project Warhol-like initiative would work. The junior people in the organization wouldn't bother submitting concepts, and there's a good chance the organization would lose out on the best ideas a result.
How Project Warhol Works
Employees with potential ideas are asked to submit a description of the concept, how it works, viability and why it deserves support. Once submitted, an investment panel consisting of Next 15 board members and agency representatives, reviews the concept as employees personally present their idea; if approved, the project will move to stage two. The project and employee will then be paired with a business mentor in order to develop a comprehensive business plan.
How, exactly, do you ensure that the right ideas win out? To select its judges, Next 15 management didn't simply go with the most senior people in the organization; instead, they put up a diverse team selected on the basis of actually being good at judging such a competition: a panel defined not by job title, but by skill and expertise. To foster participation, Next 15 went out with a net and cast widely for ideas, with the transparent expectation that the launch of Project Warhol was going to be a learning exercise for everyone involved. Dyson and his team want ideas that judges could interrogate and provide feedback, so that contestants could re-submit after some fine-tuning. "The ability to refine the ideas is part of the process," explains Dyson.
In many ways, the competition is just the beginning. Next 15 plans to create an open database so employees can go in and look at most of the submitted ideas, not to mention the accompanying feedback on each, so they can see how the process works. "We want to remove as much of the fear [of submission] as possible," says Dyson.
Project Warhol started as a beta test with some of Next 15's employees. On the back of that success, Next 15 has decided to widen the scope by giving it a wider launch. The goal is not only to foster the innovative spirit of their employees, it's also to generate a better understanding of the market and what is out there. In effect, it's a type of market research -- getting your people to think about what should come next and asking them, "If you could launch something that would help our customers, what would it be?" It's that type of intrapreneurship that is positioning Next 15 well for years to come.