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Twelve smart ways to drive innovation from the top

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What's the secret to being a great, innovation-driving startup boss? A dozen entrepreneurs weigh in:

Allow for change and spontaneity

"Working hard to keep your company from becoming rigid helps to keep innovation flowing. The longer you have a business, the easier it is not to try new things – from payment systems to where an afternoon meeting should be held. Changing things up every now and again because of suggestions from your team shows you care about keeping your workplace full of ideas."

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Caitlin McCabe , founder and CEO, Real Bullets Branding

Take your hands off

"Hire great people and give them responsibility. Avoid micro-managing in favour of letting your team surprise you with their creativity."

Lisa Nicole Bell, founder and CEO, Inspired Life Media Group

Budget for innovation

"No one likes to ask for money, but when they have money as an available option, they are willing to go ahead and spend it on things they think will be worthwhile. As the boss, you can enable your team to take new ideas and develop them into profitable ventures. For example, tell them they can spend a few hundred dollars a month on any cool thing they want."

Danny Wong, co-founder, Blank Label Group, Inc.

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Flat organization

"Everyone, from the CEO to the intern to the secretary, should be pushed to always be thinking about how to make the business better. Reward those who speak up and demonstrate creative thinking. You never want someone in your office to be afraid to share their ideas. Foster that open environment where everyone has the confidence to speak up, and you'll find innovation coming to the surface."

Nathan Lustig, co-founder, Entrustet

Expose yourself

"Innovation is driven by exposure to new ideas, people and work. One of the keys to being an innovation-driving startup leader is to encourage yourself and your employees to constantly learn."

Doreen Bloch, founder and CEO, Poshly Inc.

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Keep time for actually working

"Especially in creative ventures, it's easy to quickly outgrow being able to work on the cool projects that led you to start the business in the first place – turning you into a cranky boss. It's good for your team to see you getting your hands dirty, but it will also keep you in touch with what you really want to accomplish."

Thursday Bram, consultant, Hyper Modern Consulting

Empower your employees

"Innovation starts with being encouraged to make choices. My employees are always responsible for their decisions, so they weigh them carefully, and when they don't like the possibilities in front of them, they often find ways to do things differently. They feel empowered because their choices matter, and my company benefits from their perspective."

Vanessa Nornberg, president, Metal Mafia

Open workflow

"Promote and encourage an open workflow. If you have an open workflow and hire the right employees, it creates an environment where you trust your employees. If employees fill like they have freedom to be innovative, they will, and that starts with their working environment."

John Hall, CEO, Digital Talent Agents

Opportunities knock softly

"Listen carefully to yourself, your clients, your employees, and the media. You might hear something that will create new ideas to execute. People who care about your business will constantly give advice. Listen to them, write down ideas, and execute the ones you are passionate about. Not only will people feel empowered, but you will be seen as the one with great ideas by being a great listener."

Nancy T. Nguyen, president and CEO, YMH, Inc.

Allow failure

"Let people explore and make mistakes. Be good with failure – as long as there is learning in the end."

Brent Beshore, owner and CEO, AdVentures

Rally a vision

"Without any brand equity, your startup will likely field mediocre talent – unless you're paying them too much or giving away all of your equity. But there is hope. Any team rallied around an articulated vision and stoked with sense of greater purpose can defy the impossible and achieve great things. Your job is to be both a coach and a cheerleader in one – a very inspiring personality."

Christopher Kelly, co-founder and principal, Sentry Conference Centers

Hire the right people

"In my experience, it is much easier to find the people who match our company culture, rather than trying to create a new company culture to match our people. As a leader, you have a set of inherent personality traits. Select people who gravitate to and respect those traits, and build a team around them. The innovation-driving culture will come from the people – not from a preconceived plan."

Lucas Sommer, founder and CEO, Audimated

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab , a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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