TMC makes it possible to do business safely!

Written by Cassandre Verriest, on 27 February 2020

Programs like intrapreneurship, incubators, hackathons, and corporate seminars abound in attempts to instill an innovative spirit within companies. However, sustaining the momentum they generate over the long term seems challenging. TMC has set an extremely ambitious goal: to turn its engineers into entrepreneurs... with the security of indefinite contracts. And to give their ideas the freedom they need to flourish, TMC is willing to let them go so they can become completely independent startups if necessary. How does this materialize?

For TMC, it's the entrepreneurial spirit coupled with personal development that fosters a positive and original emulation, thereby enhancing the quality of work performed.

Its founder, Thijs Manders, is convinced that engineers have untapped potential for innovation, partly due to their aversion to risk-taking. He aims to turn these often timid specialists into ambitious entrepreneurs who overcome technological barriers.

The concept of "employeneurship", a neologism coined by TMC, was born in 2015 after unanimous employee voting to engage in transforming their work methods: thinking and acting like entrepreneurs while enjoying the security of indefinite contracts. This hybrid proposition aims to allow employees to develop the proactive and innovative abilities typical of entrepreneurs, while mitigating the risks associated with entrepreneurship. It's what one might call trying to have the best of both worlds.

If Thijs Manders wanted to encourage his engineers to dare to undertake, he knew it wouldn't be easy. From the outset, he offered each employeneur the opportunity to be mentored by a coach to help them develop their personal skills, analyze and neutralize their weaknesses, and capitalize on their strengths. Today, 30 external coaches mentor the employeneurs. This coaching is part of the YOUniversity program developed by TMC, which enables individuals to train and create their own "yourney" to develop their cherished talents.

On this note, our two interviewees share the particularly striking experience of one of their colleagues, Mark Robinson. Mark was incredibly talented but struggled to express himself in public. His coach challenged him to "look beyond the boundaries" through training and action. Presentation after presentation, Mark developed strong oral skills to the point of hosting a TEDx talk. Today, Mark has started his own coaching business, helping clients become effective speakers. One thing is certain: the example is powerful! What an evolution!

But how do they manage to maintain the fervor and energy of entrepreneurship within the context of long-term salaried employment within an organization?

Being an employeneur at TMC means being able to participate in two main types of projects: consulting missions that TMC delivers to its clients and the construction of a startup. The company wanted its employeneurs to feel free to undertake whenever and however they wanted. Each is free to start alone or in a team, on a project they are passionate about developing. The Entrepreneurial Lab is a dedicated space for these budding entrepreneurs, equipped with all the technical and management tools necessary for their project. Indeed, employeneurs are often engineers eager to deepen their knowledge in often specialized technological fields. This incubator is therefore nothing like the ones we are used to visiting in companies or schools! The shelves are full of tools, and models and prototypes of robots litter the floor. Several teams and mentors, who provide valuable advice to the entrepreneurs, can be found there.

Employeneurship goes far beyond a team and a space dedicated to innovation. Employeneurs can dedicate up to 50% of their working time to their startup project and receive a fixed salary every month. This freedom of time and mind allows them to be more creative, productive, and committed to their entrepreneurial project! But how does it work in practice?

Each employeneur has an indefinite contract and a base salary that can be supplemented through individual participation in results. For each consulting mission, the hourly rate is negotiated, and the individual margin is calculated taking into account the base salary and the expenses incurred by TMC for the mission and the consultant. The cost and revenue structure is transparent.

On this point, our interviewees Lotte and Noortje explain that there are two schools of thought: the "freelancers" who seek to maximize their financial profit, and the "challengers" who prefer to reinvest their share of the profit in personal development projects, training, entrepreneurial projects, or as an additional budget for the community they engage with at TMC. Both profiles are present and complementary within the same team. They add that regardless, the profits at the end of the month will be equitable. Each contract is therefore personalized to accommodate the personal preferences and wishes of the employees.

This salary model is a boon for entrepreneurs and allows them to engage confidently in their project. Furthermore, TMC takes no stake in these startups, neither during their incubation nor once they have matured and left the company. Projects that can benefit TMC's activity are closely examined, and TMC has preferential conditions to purchase user licenses or products developed by the employeneurs. Once they leave the company, TMC loses these preferential conditions, but our interviewee confides that many entrepreneurs who have taken off continue to offer promotions to TMC as a token of appreciation to the company that helped them grow.

What does this bring to TMC?

While it may seem costly at first glance, the concept of employeneurship has proven to be profitable for Futurice in the long run: its value lies in the training, well-being, and engagement it generates among TMC employees, who in turn impact the value delivered by TMC to its clients. As for former employeneurs who leave the company to fully focus on developing their startup, they become true ambassadors who contribute to the overall attractiveness of the company. TMC thus benefits from an expanded network and a very positive image for its employees, but also for its clients.

Today, about 2% of employeneurs whose entrepreneurial projects mature decide to take flight. But for Lotte, there is no need to have necessarily mature projects. It is enough for the collaborator to have the desire to undertake, to be creative, to be interested in new areas, to ask new questions, and to put themselves in the shoes of others to become more efficient, and above all, to be more committed. Exploring new territories according to each person's preferences is TMC's motto.

It's all about challenge at TMC: when, at the end of the interview, we visit the premises with Lotte, she introduces us to a team of engineers developing a connected beehive. They have already sold more than 10 but don't feel ready to launch. Lotte, on the other hand, who firmly believes in their project and would like to see them fully develop it, casually asks the team, "When are you going to quit?"