You don’t need a business plan to start a business. Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit are as important as a game plan for turning your idea into a product or a service that someone loves.

Grounded in years of innovation enablement work inside Citrix, a company that re-imagined how we work by developing tools that support collaboration anywhere, on any device, An Innovator’s Journey Map offers a glimpse into ups and downs of being in an enterprise incubator — an environment that aims to foster innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.


Along with a talented team at Citrix led by Diana Joseph, I design, manage, mentor and teach at the internal corporate incubator called SparkPark.

Our goal is to encourage internal teams to behave like startups in an agile, user-centered, and lean manner over the course of 3 months. I’m also a founding team member of the Innovators Program at the Citrix Startup Accelerator, where external startups go through a similar process. Over the years, I’ve advised a couple of such startups and taught a few entrepreneurship-related courses at Stanford and beyond after starting my own design consulting business.

Despite this experience of guiding others through the murky waters of the business world, I was surprised at my own pessimistic attitude toward incubators after being asked to explore the future of healthcare and IoT at SparkPark. When faced with creating a business from scratch this year, my collaborators from the R&D arm of Citrix and I started to wonder if our entrepreneurship muscles can be flexed in an incubator.

Can incubation really help frame the business opportunity and guide the team to a successful pilot?

In short, it depends. We proceeded with an open mind, and after months of customer discovery and validation, prototyping and testing, business modeling and pitching, our project culminated in a proof-of-concept being released in the app store as PatientConsult — a secure messaging app for medical professionals. So did Cubefree —a Yelp-like app for mobile workers. So did Evensity — an app for hybrid events.

But so many others didn’t make it to that stage for a variety of reasons that deserve a separate blog post, such as organizational readiness for their innovation, personal readiness to take the next step, to pivot, or to kill an idea, and most of all — it’s so damn hard to come up with something innovative that people love and want to buy!

After collecting feedback from an array of alumni, we’ve constructed an innovator’s journey map with its ups and downs of surviving the incubation phase at SparkPark. I hope that this map is equally useful for innovators who want to create ground-breaking, user-centered products without wasting years of their lives and investors’ money on the wrong idea, and for enlightened leaders who want to build organizations that attract and retain such innovators.