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Octopus Live Lab 2018: nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit

4 May 2018

One of the most exciting things about life at Octopus is the way that the entrepreneurial spirit is cultivated and celebrated. While some companies talk about encouraging employees to think like entrepreneurs, Octopus gives people the opportunity to actually be entrepreneurs.

That was the central premise behind the creation of Octoden, set up 15 months ago to give Octopus employees the platform to develop their own ideas and pitch them as businesses. But there’s another key ingredient for those employees interested in discovering how to turn an idea into an opportunity: Octopus Live Lab, the most recent one took place on 25 April 2018.

Embracing entrepreneurship

Around 35 employees from different Octopus businesses met for an all-day offsite where they were able to take the first steps in exploring how to plan a business in a safe and open environment.

Richard Wazacz, CEO and co-founder of Octopus Labs, explained the thinking behind Octopus Live Lab: “We’re here today to encourage our colleagues to develop their entrepreneurial spirit. It’s at the heart of what we do and what the Octopus founders Chris and Simon get really excited about”.

“Octopus Live Lab is all about learning stuff, testing, asking questions, there’s no right or wrong. We’re encouraging people to explore ideas and be intellectually curious in a safe environment.”

Richard Wazacz, Octopus Labs

After a quick scene-setting introduction from Richard, the room was introduced to several different top-level concepts where friction had been identified:

  • Pension management for the self-employed: with more than 4.8 million self-employed people in the UK, how could technology help to create an intuitive frictionless experience for self-employed people to start taking pensions seriously?
  • Digital will and asset management: Will writing is scary and old-fashioned. Can we create intuitive, frictionless, technology to help catalogue what assets we own, while automatically then using that data for key documents like divorce or death
  • Revolutionising toy ownership: Children grow out of toys, but the toys are still in perfectly good shape. Could the toy business model be brought into the 21st century, through shared-ownership or subscription services?
  • Food wastage: Restaurants throughout London throw away tonnes of food every day, meanwhile 30% of London schoolchildren are eligible for free school meals. How can we use technology to reduce food wastage and redistribute it to where it’s needed most?
  • Rental deposit scheme: Young professionals and graduates in London find it hard to afford the average rental deposit of £3,500 (five weeks’ rent). Is there a way to create a business that fronts the rental deposit, charging the renter a small monthly fee?

“Octopus wants to give everybody – no matter what their department or role, and no matter how long they’ve been here – a chance to have a go at working together on some cool new ideas.”

Jess Farrow, Octopus Labs

Participants were encouraged to choose the idea they felt most strongly about, and then divided into teams. But before they started brainstorming, they were introduced to the Business Model Canvas methodology that Octopus has used to launch a number of successful businesses and products, including Octopus Choice.

They were also introduced to a number of valuable tools that would help them to create everything from websites to customer-led surveys, all with the aim of giving them the framework needed to build a workable business plan and to deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for their idea. After spending the day working through their canvas (only pausing briefly for a working lunch), each group prepared for their five-minute presentation to the room.

Drew Barrett is part of the Octopus Energy Investments team and has been involved in Octoden since launch.  “For us, having entrepreneurially-minded people that test stuff is really valuable from a commercial sense. It’s a fast-paced environment at Octopus, so we thought it was important to let people take a day away from the office to be given the chance to think a bit more creatively. We’re hoping that when everyone goes back to their jobs they’re able to put into practice some of the things they’ve learned and use some of the tools we showed them.”

“Today was all about giving Octopus employees the chance to be entrepreneurial, to challenge some big ideas and to understand what it takes to build a brand-new business.
The results were really impressive.”

Richard Wazacz, Octopus Labs

Octopus is prepared to back budding entrepreneurs at every step. Colleagues that come up with an idea with the potential to be turned into a business opportunity will be given the opportunity to turn that into a job.

Alternatively, if the idea doesn’t fit within the Octopus strategy they will be encouraged to start their own business, but with the added comfort that their job at Octopus will be waiting for them should they decide to come back. Fostering this type of safe environment, where failure is considered a natural part of the process, gives people the ability to pursue their ambitions, without feeling constrained or under too much pressure to succeed.

Richard summed up the day: “Octopus is an entrepreneur-led company, so days like today are at the heart of what we do. Everyone worked incredibly hard and the energy in the room was great, the pitches we got were testament to that. I’m hoping that out of all the Octopus colleagues here, at least a handful of them now feel encouraged to start developing a business idea of their own, and that they’ll feel more confident, enabled and empowered to explore it more”.

“Great day, I enjoyed every minute of it. Big thanks to Octoden for organising such a great event. Looking forward to the next round.”

Konstantinos Dimakos, Octopus Labs

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