YEC innovationSuccessful startups specialize in thinking outside the box. Agencies today must have new and creative ideas flowing in (and out) of their businesses in order to stay ahead of the competition. These entrepreneurs offered their advice for keeping innovation a priority.

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), 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.

1. Consider Offline Options

Not all startups should, of course, but many of us work in the online world. Often our clients, communication and even our team are all online. Our team tries to find ways to make an impact offline, too. How can we create value or build ideas that people can pick up, touch and interact with?

-- John Meyer| Lemon.ly

2. Avoid Getting Caught up in the Details

Too often companies get caught up in the details at an early stage. This often leads to discussions that focus on why something won't work instead of why it will. The details will never be clear at this stage. To truly be innovative, it's imperative to think in an open-minded and creative fashion. Once the idea starts to take shape, you and your team can dig in and figure out the "how."

-- Chris Hunter| Phusion Projects

3. Bring in Outside Agencies

We have worked with PR and marketing agencies for the last 18 months. They consistently bring in new ideas, often inspired by their work with other clients or the insights they can provide simply from living and breathing the fashion space. We focus on our customers and our product, and having an outside perspective always keeps us fresh.

-- Aaron Schwartz | Modify Watches

4. Have a Roadmap

Picture being new to an area and trying to find your way to the city, but you're out in the country without a roadmap. You know the direction you're supposed to be going and the end location, but you just have to figure out the best roads to take to arrive to your destination. Some might take you longer, others might take you in the wrong direction, but just don't be afraid to try a new route.

-- Andy Karuza | brandbuddee

5. Facilitate Communication

Environment can play a large role in team creativity. Even the most creative people cannot flourish in a space that is not conducive to creativity. Making the space open and allowing for constant communication is key. When employees have the ability to talk and bounce ideas off others, they are able develop thoughts that can be put to use and weed out potentially weak ideas.

-- Manpreet Singh | Seva Call

6. Shuffle Staff

Every organization self-embeds a wealth of talent unrelated to staff members' official duties. I've found that shuffling staff relationships reveals hidden talent and brings new, no-cost and creative insight. A dish washer/combat veteran, an executive/woodworking hobbyist or salesman/Ph.D. candidate all augment creative solutions. Shaking things up from time to time brings out these talents.

-- Jay Wu | A Forever Recovery

7. Conduct Hackathons

One of our best sources of innovation is internal company hackathons. These allow team members complete freedom to build new features and innovations into our product. Today, I am proud to say that more than half of our developers are actively working on projects that were started at a hackathon.

-- Robert J. Moore | RJMetrics

8. Meet With Potential Competitors

Today they aren't your direct competitors, but one day they might be. I feel it is good to meet with other entrepreneurs who are in a very similar industry so you can see where they are headed. If you pick up signs that they are heading towards your market, you can at least be prepared for it, plan ways to make it very difficult for them to succeed or differentiate yourself.

-- Derek Capo, Next Step China

9. Consider New Applications for Technology

As a co-founder of a startup in the augmented reality field, I am always pushing our team to stay ahead of the competition with innovative ideas. "Thinking outside of the box" is an everyday task. As we grow, we’ll continue to think of new areas where our visual discovery technology can make an impact. We challenge both ourselves and our partners to come up with new ideas every single day!

-- Jessica Butcher | Blippar

10. Live in San Francisco

Being exposed to so many ideas keeps me on my toes, and that keeps the company on its toes. I am more inspired and excited here then I am back in our head office. That keeps my head in the game and keeps us innovating and staying on top of the latest trends.

-- Andrew Angus | Switch Video

Originally published Jul 26, 2013 1:00:49 AM, updated December 05 2014

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Startups