A Bootcamp That Works Your Innovation Muscles

March 20th, 2020


4-min read

What can a startup teach a giant multinational company? 

That’s exactly what global insurance giant QBE asked itself. And, when they dug in, they quickly realized they were especially eager to learn lean business practices and generate the innovations that spring from a startup mentality. 

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. With 12,000 employees around the world, QBE found that quickly moving one person’s bright idea from inspiration to market was harder than anyone imagined. 

Ted Stuckey, Managing Director of QBE Ventures, broke it down:

“How do you connect a globally distributed workforce in a way that someone with an amazing idea in Australia finds an engineer in Wisconsin who helps them prototype, prove the concept, and ready the idea for executive review. People work in silos. They don’t naturally reach out to others to create great solutions.” 

The challenge for QBE was to create an internal process that easily found great ideas generated by their staff and got them to market quickly, keeping QBE on the cutting edge.  

QBE teamed up with Techstars and selected Techstars Innovation Bootcamp as just the program to drive the transformational change they were looking for. 

Innovation is a Muscle

Innovation is a mental muscle that can be developed through training and exercise, and Techstars Innovation Bootcamp provides the necessary workout to drive not just one-time inspiration, but long-term transformation. 

QBE needed to fundamentally change the way its people solve problems and develop new ideas. But to get there, both senior leaders and staff had to experience how impactful lean business methods could be. It’s one thing to talk about innovation; it’s quite another to live it. 

Designed as a high-touch, customized experience, Techstars Innovation Bootcamp teaches corporate teams how to rapidly advance new business ideas. With coaching from Techstars staff and entrepreneurs from across the Techstars network, QBE teams learned new techniques for innovation, and then dove into real-world application of the theory by actually taking ideas from concept to viable business model and pitch. 

Want to learn more about how it works? Read the case study.

Learning to Innovate

Too often, brief programs that tout transformation feel great, but turn out be little more than theatre, a few inspirational days that may make participants feel good, but fail to create actual change. Not so with Techstars Innovation Bootcamp. 

The first step was choosing an actual business problem that QBE wanted to solve—creating real stakes for the participants, whose solutions stood a chance of being actually implemented. 

During a three-month ramp up phase before the actual Bootcamp, dedicated Techstars staff helped QBE leaders work out a key business challenge—in this case, building more customer-centric products and solutions. They also spent this time learning important mentorship skills.

For QBE leadership, this involved a shift in their thinking, from manager to mentor. “Corporate leaders are used to giving their opinions,” said Carley Hart, Techstars Innovation Coach. “However, in this situation, they are trained to guide and ask questions based on their expertise.”

They experienced the power of mentorship from the other side as well. A selected group of entrepreneurial experts, including business operators, investors, and advisers, flew in to mentor QBE leaders. This combination of mentorship training plus the experience of being mentored by experts was pivotal. Stuckey watched these lessons sink in, and make their impact felt: “We knew exposure to seasoned entrepreneurs would empower QBE senior executives and staff to change their way of thinking and how they approach problems and opportunities moving forward.”

Learn more about what makes a great mentor: read the Techstars Mentor Manifesto.

Three Days of Accelerated Innovation

With mentorship skills growing and a real business problem demanding solutions, QBE staff were ready to see what they could do. It was time for an Innovation Bootcamp. 

Forty-three QBE staff from departments across the company came together for three busy and exciting days. Under the guidance of newly-trained QBE mentors and veteran Techstars entrepreneurs, they learned cutting edge methodologies that drew from design thinking, early stage ideation, and proven lean business best practices. Then they ran with these methodologies, quickly shaping their new business ideas into viable business plans for QBE. 


Demo Day

QBE teams pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges at a formal Demo Day, capping off the Bootcamp. “At the end of those three days, we want teams to have the expertise to pitch and confidently tell leadership: ‘Based on talking to customers, and based on doing market research, we think this is an idea the company should move forward with,’” said Hart. 

Two ideas emerged as winners of the Bootcamp — and everyone came away poised to keep innovating. That’s a real win. 

After the Bootcamp, the Innovation Continues

Innovation at QBE hasn’t stopped just because the Bootcamp is over. That’s the whole point: once both staff and leaders experience this agile way of moving from problem to solution, they want to do it again and again. They see that it works, and they’ve gained the skills to keep driving forward, themselves. 

After the Bootcamp, Techstars surveyed participants and learned about the continuing impact for QBE:

  • There were two Bootcamp winners, with one idea elevated to executive leaders and now in prototyping.

  • Bootcamp participants report using the lessons they learned in other projects they are working on.

  • The program, as hoped, started breaking down cross-functional silos. When surveyed, participants repeatedly mentioned the exposure to cross-functional teams and senior leaders as one of the aspects they liked best. 

  • The Bootcamp (optional to attend) attracted a gender diverse participation, with 48% women. 

“So, were our goals met? I would say absolutely,” Stuckey said. “The momentum is real coming out of it. Some of this stuff has gotten woven back into other streams of work that were already underway, which is really cool.”

Interested in joining the global platform for innovation? Learn more about Techstars membership and accelerator partnership opportunities.

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