Five practical tips from Google, Uber and Pentland Brands – home to Speedo, Lacoste, Ellesse, Kickers, Karin Millen and others –  on how to how identify internal entrepreneurial talent and support them to drive sustainable innovation.

When we speak of entrepreneurs we often think about startup founders, but what about entrepreneurial individuals who work in large organisations? How can they be encouraged to think ‘outside the box’ or come up with new ideas? How do companies identify the right entrepreneurial talent and leverage that to their advantage?  

We organised a community event in London on ‘How to Nurture Internal Entrepreneurs for Innovation Success’. We welcomed global brands like Google, Uber and Pentland Brands – home to Speedo, Lacoste, Ellesse, Kickers, Karin Millen and other leading sportswear brands –  and invited them to talk about their innovation journey and how they identify internal entrepreneurial talent for sustainable innovation.

They shared with us their top tips for any organisation willing to begin their innovation journey.

1. Form blended teams.

Ideas can come from the bottom up as well as from the top down.
Bringing cross-functional teams together will generate fresh ideas and will unlock entrepreneurial talent. ‘You don’t have to know how to draw in order to be creative’, said Emily Haynes, Head of Incubation at home to Speedo, Lacoste, Ellesse, Kickers, Karin Millen and other leading sportswear brands. For example, Pentland brands brought together 60 employees from HR, manufacturing, R&D, finance and marketing and formed teams that pitched 9 ventures to their senior innovation leadership team. After just 2 months, 3 of these ventures collected enough validation to receive funding from the COO to go ahead. In fact, innovators do not work in silos, and intrapreneurs rarely have all resources needed to validated their ideas from day 1. So embedding them in cross-functional team is an easy way to empower them.

2. Align innovation with strategic direction.

How did Pentland brands secure committed time for their employees to validate new ventures on top of their business as usual jobs? They got their senior teams on board, that’s how. The innovation leadership team Chirag Patel – Chief Operating Officer, Pentland Brands, Gemma Carver – Digital & Innovation Director, Pentland Brands, Richard Newcombe, Global President, Footwear Division were all on board from the beginning and even took part on pitch day. When starting your innovation journey it is extremely important to involve senior executives and align any innovation programme to their key business challenges.
This will help drive the programme forward and get vital support along the way. While can be tempting to start innovation processes from an idea or a technology, solid senior support is only granted when any solution is responding to the most pressing challenges the business is facing. As any successful entrepreneur does, innovators start from the problems instead, and generate ideas from there.

3. Select and create a risk-taking workforce.

Corporate innovation requires stepping out of your comfort zone, exploring uncharted paths and preparing for pitfalls.
It’s part of the role of any senior innovation manager to change the working environment and ‘break down body armours. This will make employees become vulnerable and curious, qualities needed to drive innovation‘ said again Emily Haynes.
When Alastair Cox was setting up Google Creative Academy, Google’s lab for creating brands with their clients, he had to ask his team to abandon their business as usual mindset to start focusing on the problem clients were struggling to solve. He believes so much in this transformative approach to say that ‘true innovations comes from gratitude and generosity’.
Finally, innovation managers should select employees with the right innovation attitude by putting them as soon as possible out of their comfort zone. By doing this at the beginning of any innovation programmes, they will immediately identify who among the participant got the spark to be an intrapreneur.

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4. Define a set of shared values.

To have an internal formalised framework of values is extremely important to allow internal entrepreneurs to be agile and flexible enough to make innovation happen.
A set of shared values makes innovation feel less ambiguous, and empowers employees to take autonomous decisions and risks, knowing that they are doing the right thing for the company.
For example, Uber have demonstrated this when launching Uber Pool. The team knew well that customers (and drivers) satisfaction was a key value, and they have managed to launch successfully only by incorporating the right incentives for drivers to accept cheaper fares from multiple passengers.

5. Celebrate innovation success and learnings.

Setting incentives and rewards for entrepreneurial activities helps delivering a positive message to aspiring intrapreneurs.
For example, promotions may be tied to innovation results, so that employees can unleash their creative freedom – and in-house entrepreneurial talent can be retained.
Google’s Creative Academy celebrated even the smallest things such as ideas, experiments, or even failures resulted in learnings. By simply collaborating together as a team of employees out on a discovery journey, they boosted morale and celebrated personal initiative to foster innovation outcomes.

Good luck in embedding a culture of innovation and identifying your internal entrepreneurial talent, here are a few videos from our speakers!

Top tip on how to foster intrapreneurial culture and innovation from Emily Haynes, Head of Incubation at Pentland Brands, home to Speedo, Lacoste, Ellesse, Kickers, Karin Millen and other leading sportswear brands

Top tip on how to foster intrapreneurial culture and innovation from Alastair Cox, former Director of Google Creative Academy

Top tip on how to foster intrapreneurial culture and innovation from Robert Downer, Senior Programme manager at Uber UK.

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