A few weeks ago, I was on a panel with Microsoft Ventures and Providence Fund in Seattle, discussing corporate innovation and the key ingredients that make it successful. There was a lot of talk about process, strategy and financing.

So, when I claimed none of these elements matter if the innovation culture isn’t right, the audience was a little taken aback.

As a tech entrepreneur and former startup CEO, I recall being told by a friend and mentor that having the right culture to foster innovation is the only long-term sustainable competitive advantage within your control. To this day, I believe her advice to be true and that without this practice, my business would have never been successful.

We strive to follow this philosophy at Itron Idea Labs, an organization within Itron with a startup edge that focuses on new business opportunities and accelerating innovation. In addition – and arguably more importantly – Roberto Aiello, our leader, not only supports this belief, but promotes it.

When seeking new team members, “culture fit” is key. By culture fit, we don’t mean whether or not you’d grab a drink with us after work. When we go into an interview, we’re not looking for someone who looks or acts like us. Instead, we’re looking for someone who fits our core values. These are some of Itron Idea Labs’ common core values for our entrepreneurs:

These values work like our personal Pledge of Allegiance, repeated day-in and day-out, at every single monthly meeting. But this isn’t for effect—repetition is the key to instilling important thoughts, missions and values into yourself and your teammates around you in a way that lasts. And when this happens in an unsolicited way—when those core values shine through during selfless, sincere behavior—that is the most encouraging.

Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) are at the core of Itron Idea Labs and they drive the culture in the group. Everyday EIRs support each other through sharing research, finding resources, helping with customer discovery or anything that can help forward the mission of Itron Idea Labs to innovate faster, so Itron can stay ahead and our people can stay excited!

What are your thoughts on culture? Would you like to learn more? Let me know in the comments!

MK Khan
Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Itron Idea Labs
Musaddeq Khan (MK) is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Itron Idea Labs and a serial tech entrepreneur in Atlanta. He was also the founder of Verdeeco, Inc., dubbed iTunes of Smart Grid by Greentech Media.
MK has worked with startups like Bractlet and 1Efficiency and is adviser and mentor to startups and tech entrepreneurs.