Martin Gaarn Thomsen (ISS)

“If we were starting all over, what would we do?”

‘Back in 1901, we were a startup of twenty night watchmen in Copenhagen,’ says Martin Gaarn Thomsen. ‘Companies like HP, Apple and Google all started in a garage. If we were starting all over, what would we do?’

ISS, which has 500,000 employees offering facilities services such as cleaning, catering, technical services, maintenance and security for customers around the world, has just launched an innovation unit it is calling “ISS Corporate Garage“. Here, employees get the chance to leave their regular jobs temporarily – with fully-paid back up – to explore, test and modify new ideas, working with clients, entrepreneurs and specialists.

This separate business unit has first-year funding of about US $1.4 million and a core staff of four, plus external entrepreneurs. Twenty or thirty employees from across ISS’s countries and business areas are invited for a stint from four days to six months to work on ideas.


ISS is full of people with ideas, and site managers have the power to innovate. The problem is that with a business the size of a medium American city, protocols and budgets were slowing things down.

‘The garage idea is testament to this whole thing – it was not from the executive group management,’ says Martin. ‘It came from Thomas Zeihlund, an employee who was frustrated about all these great ideas that took too long to scale. He heard about other corporates doing this and challenged the executive. We loved the idea.’

‘We know there are a lot of people within and outside our industry who are trying to disrupt it,’ says Martin. ‘This is creating an environment where we take people out of their day jobs, put them together with entrepreneurs, companies from the outside and a small team running the garage, to focus on doing that inside ISS.’



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