Sharing Startup Team Building Experience to Accelerate Tech Transfer from National Labs

“What’s the toughest team situation you’ve ever faced?”

You might expect a question like that from an MBA or a newly minted manager – but in this case, it came from a researcher from one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) national laboratories. He was part of a group of scientists selected to participate in DOE’s Energy I-Corps, a program designed to accelerate the transfer of science and technology out of the national labs into the market.

I was part of a panel that spoke to the fifth cohort of Energy I-Corps about building startup teams to drive market adoption of their technology. Our panel represented a range of startup experiences –

  • Sally Hatcher, a founder who had a successful exit,
  • Tom Teynor, a CEO who was hired to deliver a successful exit (and did),
  • Kyle Andrucyk, a VP at a growing startup has served in several critical leadership functions,
  • Me, a startup veteran who successfully transitioned with the team post-acquisition and grew into a core leadership role.

Three of us are already getting started on our next ventures.

I want to share five themes from our Q&A session. They can apply to leaders in every type of organization:

  1. “There are two people in this relationship, and I can only change one: me.” It takes situational and self-awareness for a person to know when her vision or values are not aligned (and will not align) with her manager’s. A focus on what she can change about herself – rather than about the manager – leads to more rewarding outcomes.
  2. A company’s value proposition to its staff matters. This is especially important for early-stage ventures when financial compensation may not be competitive in the market. Firms that attract the right people think about what their team members value and structure an offering accordingly. Then they ask their star performers to help close the deal.
  3. Empowering team members to take on more responsibility builds trust, creates ownership, and shapes leaders. It shows team members that their leaders trust them, and the team members reciprocate that trust. When people own their actions, they start to own the output – the corner of the company that they are building. Leaders exist at every level of every company, and they’re watching how their seniors behave as an example.
  4. Leaders who understand their team’s ambitions position their collective team and its members for success. Each team member offers a unique portfolio of skills and harbors a unique set of ambitions. Leaders who understand these dynamics can empower their people in ways that are meaningful to the individual and productive for the team.
  5. Growing startups season staff quickly. A year in a growing startup can be like two or three years in an established company. Growth drives opportunity, and people who are willing to solve problems that advance the business take on a lot of responsibility quickly. Their age often hides the depth of their experience.

It was an honor to participate in this panel. I learned a lot from the other panelists and from the questions that the cohort members asked. I’m looking forward to seeing how the cohort puts this knowledge to work to change our world for the better.

If you’d like to learn more about how to build organizations and teams that deliver on business objectives, visit the Homecourt Partners website or reach out to me directly. Thanks to Shelly Curtiss, Interim Executive Director of the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, for her invitation to join the panel.





Jane Pater Salmon