Being part of the Thomson Reuters Incubator’s journey – An intern’s perspective

by Fenja Persello

Returning from a few months backpacking in Central America, I was looking for a challenging project to work on until university would start again in September. That’s when a job post from Thomson Reuters (TR) caught my eye. The TR Zurich Region Lab was looking for an Ecosystem & Marketing intern to join the team that launched the new Thomson Reuters Incubator. With this initiative, they seek fitting startups in the Fintech, Regtech, Legaltech and Newstech area to engage with, offering free office space, access to some data and tools, free mentorship across the vast subject matter knowledge within TR’s organisation.

As the start of my internship coincided with the launch of the program, the tasks and projects I could work on emerged along the journey of the incubator. If I had to structure all activities during my internship, I’d list three core areas.

Firstly, a considerable part was to engage with external stakeholders. For example, I had to think of measures that effectively communicate the program’s objectives and value proposition. These aimed to support the attraction and self-selection of suitable startups by differentiating the TR program from other incubators and accelerators. It was striking to me, how close our own project resembled the entrepreneurial mindset of lean startups: The TR incubator was the first of its kind in the company, so there was no blueprint that fit exactly TR’s structure and the program’s objectives. In consequence, the team decided to take a lean approach and look at it as a minimum viable product to be tested and co-developed by internal stakeholders and residents.

This leads me to a second core area: working with the various internal stakeholders of the incubator. Inarguably, resident startups benefit most from participating in the program when they are working closely with a corresponding business unit of Thomson Reuters. Also, the variety of subject matter expertise, ranging not only on industry topics but also for legal matters, marketing and more, is set to be a great pool of expertise for incubator residents. However, since potential mentors are not part of the incubator core team, it was and is crucial to communicate why the incubator program has been launched and even more, how they could engage in it. A central insight for me here was that it is utterly important to involve the business unit early in the application process, to ensure that they are substantially interested in collaborating with a specific startup before admitting it as a new resident. If such a collaboration leads to first mutual success it is also important to let other stakeholders know about the progress and the learnings. This helps to build credibility and interest in the program, which, as all transversal corporate initiatives, always must prove itself to sustain the support it needs to be continued.

As a third core area, I identified handling the operations behind the incubator:  Starting at establishing processes that allow startups to learn about the program and apply for it. As soon as we got applications, we had to make sure to review them and answer to requests in a timely fashion. Once a new startup has been admitted after passing several evaluation rounds, where we had to balance efficiency, speed, and internal engagement, we had to kick off introductory meetings and processes. As soon as some basic infrastructure was built up, we continued to facilitate meetings between internal stakeholders and incubator residents.

As for the mentioned processes described in the paragraph above and beyond, I was always welcomed to bring my ideas and suggestions to the table. On top of that, I experienced the trust, that I could implement them in the way that I figured made the most sense, given the context. Being exposed to such a diverse group of people, starting at the engaging Thomson Reuters Zurich Labs team, to the inspiring startup residents and TR employees from various departments was a tremendous occasion to learn about new topics. I met people that shape the next generation of TR’s products and services, benefited from educational sessions where my colleagues kindly set some time apart to transfer knowledge, and I could engage in social cross-corporate initiatives that aim to support tech education especially among women and the next generation. All in all, it was an intense, insightful, fun experience that let me get up easily in the morning.