Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Big Companies that Act Like Start-Ups

On a chilly winter Saturday, looking for any opportunity to rid myself of cabin fever, my six-year-old, Catherine, and I headed up the street (well okay, we drove — it was cold!) to our favorite neighborhood destination, The Waban Library Center, for a robot demonstration aimed at 6 – 11 year olds by professionals from iRobot. As a Career Adviser at Babson, I follow iRobot.  Founded by MIT Engineers.  Publicly traded on NASDAQ.  Market cap close to $850M.  $487 million in revenue.  500+ employees.  Locations in MA, CA, UK, China and Hong Kong.

Along with about 75 others, Catherine and I witnessed iRobot’s startup culture in action.  Yes, that’s right, I referred to iRobot, one of the world’s leading authorities on mobile robots, as a startup!  Four passionate iRobot professionals (including Lisa Freed, STEM Program Manager and Glen Weinstein, EVP, Corporate Development)  brought the company’s mission to life:  Build Cool Stuff.  Deliver Great Products. Make Money.  Have Fun.  Change the World.  Some of the smartest roboticists in the world, in sweat shirts and jeans, were on the floor with children playing with their cool stuff!


  • First the well-known Roomba — the magic disk that works its way around a room to vaccuum — we watched as it precariously maneuvered its way around a table top with its responsive navigation technology allowing it to make more than 60 decisions per second.
  • Next was the Looj (a definite Father’s Day gift for my dad and husband!) which crawls on its own through gutters using a high velocity, four stage auger to break apart clogs.
  • Then, the really cool stuff — First Look — used by soldiers and emergency responders — a light weight, compact robot sent into dangerous environments to observe and investigate hazardous situations keeping its operator out of harms way.
  • And the best for last — the multi-mission PackBot which climbs stairs, navigates narrow passages, and sends real-time video, audio, and other sensory data, while operators stay at a safe distance.  It’s used for bomb disposals, surveillance, reconnaisance, detection of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials — the jaws of kids and grownups alike dropped!

For me, the best part was seeing the joy and enthusiasm of these entrepreneurs, who couldn’t get enough of playing with the PackBot!  They lit the room on fire with their curiosity, sense of play, innovation, creativity, passion, boundless imagination, and drive to change the world.  Everyone was encouraged to touch, learn, play, create, explore, and question.

Depsite its longevity, market cap, global presence and size, iRobot looks, feels, and acts like a tech startup.  Alas, it is true that big companies can be entrepreneurial!  So, how does a student find these gems?  Entrepreneurshares, a mutual fund I’ve blogged about before, is one way to start.  Founded by Babson’s Joel Shulman, the fund invests in organizations focused on entrepreneurial culture, organic growth, and aligned compensation, because these factors trump corporate bureaucracy on a regular basis and significantly outperform peer benchmarks.

Shulman and his team have identified 15 attributes which they use to evaluate the degree to which they feel a public company, like iRobot, is “entrepreneurial.”  See the list below from his web-site.

15 Attributes that Define Entrepreneurial from Non-Entrepreneurial Companies

1. Organic growth opportunities
2. Above average ownership stake among key stakeholders
3. Low SG&A
4. Above average return on invested capital
5. Sustainable growth
6. Manageable debt
7. Active strategic alliances/partnerships/licensing
8. Aligned executive compensation packages
9. Low executive turnover
10. Transparent governance
11. Long duration of key managers
12. Low or no dividends
13. Family involvement
14. High EBITDA Margin %
15. Other significant stakeholder relationship

If It Works for Investors, Why Not Job Seekers?

So, if these tools can be used by investors to identify entrepreneurial companies, why can’t they be used by entrepreneurial job seekers to do the same?  Check out ENTIX’s holdings on Babson’s Bloomberg Terminals in our very own Cutler Center for ideas on target entrepreneurial companies.