by Eric B.

VSE has revamped Novotorium (Novo), a venture studio for purpose-driven entrepreneurs. In other words, Novo is a business that builds businesses, providing growth capital, organization design, product design and development, and a talent network to support its ventures.

Using new legal and financial instruments, Novo enables distributed and decentralized business building, and equips entrepreneurs to grow ventures on purpose.

A purpose-driven business is one in which the organization makes purpose its North Star. The organization is unbundled or differentiated from that originating purpose. Much like in biological processes, cells differentiate and eventually reorganize into whole subsystems, like organs, of the larger entity in which they are contained, the whole human body.

At Novo, purpose is unbundled using Holacracy, a decentralized management and control system. Holacracy substitutes the conventional management system of a startup and therefore alleviates some of the riskiest dimensions of a startup, namely co-founder conflicts. Holacracy is simply a set of rules that keep the organization pointed towards its purpose.

In a joint interview, Gary Baron, VSE’s founder, and Kayla Sheely, contributor and partner at Novotorium and VSE, spoke about the history of Novo, its new innovation bootcamp, and the goals of VSE.

How did the bootcamp come about?

Baron: Novotorium needed to take what was learned from some of our failed investments and apply it to what’s next. Novotorium 4.0 focuses on attracting purpose driven individuals and using new dynamic equity and economic models that distribute risk and reward among all stakeholders. Bringing together the right resources at the right time with this latest pivot Novotorium has shifted its focus to the right people rather than the right ideas.  A well developed team will lead to good process which will then iterate to ideas that get traction.

Using learning from previous iterations we are creating a talent funnel where people can put their abilities to the test. That’s the bootcamp. The startup/early stage bootcamp curriculum focuses on evolving ideas, testing assumptions, and learning about and working in the distributed authority system, Holacracy. The bootcamp allows us to observe first hand the talent and interaction dynamics of individuals as we consider further time and money investments. It also allows us to build a pool of potential talent to actualize future ideas.

Why is Novotorium the right place for this, and how does it fit with VSE's aims as an organization?

Baron: Novotorium has the benefit of funding opportunities from VSE. There’s also the existing business’s operational capacity and diversity at VSE. Novotorium’s evolution into a venture and innovation studio allows it to operate unencumbered from any VSE operational legacy or processes. Meanwhile, Novotorium can still adopt and leverage what may be useful from VSE.

All VSE entities are looking to support multiple bottom-lines, beyond just profit, including ones that have positive social impact. VSE is looking to create diversified and complementary revenue streams to induce synergy and cultivate innovation. An individual coming to VSE can choose between two environments. With its focus on people VSE is working towards becoming a DDO (Deliberately Developmental Organization)  as showcased in “An Everyone Culture” by Kegan and Lahey. 

What kind of people are you looking to attract into the bootcamp?

Baron: There are lots of smart, driven people with great ideas but that is not enough. We are looking to attract and engage individuals who are Purpose-Driven entrepreneurs and looking to show up to work differently and make an impact. They may be seeking resources, domain expertise or just looking to work with others holding similar motives and needs. They must be drawn to a self directed environment where a meritocracy of ideas requires them to decide what comes next.

What are you doing at VSE, and across its brands, that is different from other businesses?

Sheely: Mainly VSE and Novotorium are seeking out individuals and companies that are purpose-driven. We don’t want people working here because it pays the bills. We are already a passionate group of people. We’re drivers of our ideas and truly believe in the purpose of the business. Some enough to assume some of the risk and invest either time and or money.

Baron: Considered together, the structure and culture of the enterprise are also unique. We use Holacracy, a distributed authority system that brings clarity, discipline and autonomy to work. And again I’ll say that VSE is working towards being a Deliberately Development Organization. Here we look at daily challenges people face as growth opportunities instead of personal shortcomings.

What are some of the successes at VSE and Novotorium that you are building on?

Baron: Our evolving Expert Platform business and all of its supporting infrastructure has been a  major driver of our success. Data Analytics using BIG data methodologies is becoming more relevant to helping us understand and act upon opportunities in our data. Our digital marketing engine and innovation programs are evolving nicely. Agile and Lean project management methodologies are well entrenched in how manage our work and Holacracy further extends that mindset in how we all work together..

What's next for people graduating the bootcamp?  

Baron: Bootcamp participants are helping to define that as part of the curriculum. We are using a lean and agile approach for the curriculum’s development. Included in the bootcamp is the Lectica LDMA, a proven assessment tool that helps users gauge critical thinking capacities and capabilities and engage in a learning environment determined to extend and expand those abilities. We are finding this development mindset highly engaging and useful in creating cohesive and supportive teams intent on driving toward purpose through personal growth. It’s a win all around -- participants want more of it.

Sheely: It also depends on the bootcamp member. An ongoing relationship might form between a founder who goes through the bootcamp and Novo. Novo can continue to accelerate the new business and nurture growth. We are bringing new members in to help round out the Novo team and increase the value of what we can offer to new businesses and future bootcamp members.