Learn about the importance of corporate entrepreneurship and how to embed it into your organisation.
The Need for Corporate Entrepreneurship in Your Organisation
Lessons From a corporate entrepreneur
Corporate entrepreneurship, or intrapreneurship, is becoming increasingly more important as it provides organisations with new avenues for growth.
To remain competitive and excel in today’s world, large organisations need to create new propositions, products, services and business models. They also need to optimise and evolve the way they bring existing products to market.
Many corporate leaders and executives now realise that achieving this requires a level of entrepreneurialism which is often lacking in their workforce. The lack of entrepreneurship should come as no surprise as large organisations don’t usually hire droves of entrepreneurs, nor would they want to.
However, sparks of entrepreneurialism are still important. As such, organisations must create a more entrepreneurial culture and enable individuals who are more inclined towards entrepreneurial. Developing this type of culture is essential for driving successful innovation.
Why is corporate entrepreneurship important? And, how does this journey begin?
Jean-Baptiste: Corporate entrepreneurship usually starts with a sense of urgency.
For example, Veygo is an intrapreneur venture from Admiral Group PLC and provides flexible, short term or temporary car insurance. Our company offers insurance so people can drive cars they don’t own, such as a friend’s or a family member’s car.
The Veygo intrapreneurial journey started a few years ago. In 2015-16 most traditional motor insurers noticed upcoming trends like autonomous driving and its potential impact the industry.
We thought the consequences could be radical as autonomous and AI-driven vehicles could significantly lower the risk for insurers to underwrite against and threaten most insurers’ business models.
This sparked an urgency to look for new revenue streams. At that time, I was in charge of a small team already exploring the problems of car sharing through a partnership with a P2P car rental company. So, this put me into the perfect position to have a lot of discussions about on-demand mobility and innovation.
I initially looked into two areas:
- Insurance for car sharing, i.e. for people to drive a car they don’t own
- A collaboration with a startup in the field of P2P car rental
The collaboration with a P2P car rental company eventually came to an end, but insurance for car-sharing stuck. From here, Admiral was able to slowly build a separate business by first engaging with an agency to help create an early version and then continuing to work on the brand in-house.
I read extensively about The Lean Startup method as well as other key innovation books like The Innovator’s Dilemma. These books provide important insights into different processes for corporate entrepreneurship and allowed me to successfully launch our new venture.
How to launch an intrapreneurial initiative?
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How can you convince senior executives and stakeholders to support corporate entrepreneurship?
Jean-Baptiste: I helped the group CEO to understand how we’d manage risk and eased their concerns that at the outset, it wouldn’t be too high. It was important for them to realise that I had a sensible, action plan with clear milestones as this allowed our CEO to have confidence in me. It’s key to take the process bit-by-bit.
To gain their confidence, I had to show them a track record of “making things happen” and my previous ventures. I also needed a good enough understanding of how to deal with key stakeholders and their concerns.
Having some understanding of essential innovation frameworks, methods and models helped a lot, because I could build my credibility by referencing different frameworks and ways of thinking.
What I was trying to do was to make senior executives think, “this person has a good reputation with a sensible plan, and he isn’t asking for a lot, which means I’m not taking a huge risk. It’s probably enough to at least start on this journey.”
What are the “unfair advantages” of a corporate entrepreneur?
Jean-Baptiste: I believe to successfully launch a corporate entrepreneurship project, you need to be willing to learn and have a track record of previous achievements. You also need a positive attitude toward risk.
- Firstly, I was willing to put time into reading and learning, which I found super useful.
- Secondly, I already had a good track record of making things happen and working on different projects.
- Thirdly, I was willing to take a risk. When I launched Veygo, I gave up my previous team and career track, which isn’t typical in the corporate world. Most senior executives want to keep growing their territory and path. Your remit gets bigger, better, and keeps growing.
Taking the risk by leaping into corporate entrepreneurship is also about showing others that you’re truly committed and willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
I remember how the tone of conversations changed when people asked me, “What about your existing team?” I could see them realise that I wasn’t just talking about a new product, but a whole new venture.
How does an intrapreneur balance business-as-usual (BAU) work with entrepreneurial work?
Jean-Baptiste: It takes hustle, hard work and drives to make a vision come true as it’s often necessary to combine your day job with an intrapreneurial side-hustle.
I had to make choices and think about how to gradually start working less on my previous work and more on Veygo activities. I had to establish a plan to show enough proof that Veygo was a real opportunity before I could switch to Veygo full-time.
During this period, I definitely worked more and had to put in the hours. I was working weekends and evenings, but I knew that later down the line, the rhythm might change, and I’d eventually be able to step back a little bit and breathe. But when you start, it’s high speed and high intensity.
What are the key skills required for corporate entrepreneurship to succeed?
1. Mental stamina
You need to have the ability to always confront a new problem and find a solution — even when you’re effectively in the dark. The ability to say “let’s go there; let’s try that.” It takes a lot of mental energy and resilience not to give up.
2. Strong storytelling
You have a vision, and you need to convey this vision, which means you need to tell the story. My story focused on how things could be so much better if we were successful. Look how much happier and better things would be if they tried this. This was a key part.
You need to be able to look at the situation from many angles and be multifaceted enough to launch something new. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from reading books such as The Lean Startup and the Innovator’s Dilemma. These books were really useful as I could recall different stories, ways of working and routes to success, which helped me to apply the tools and frameworks practically.
4. Active listening
I learned to listen more and to help people help me. Leadership style becomes completely different after you’ve started and your story has convinced people.
What were the key success features of your corporate entrepreneurship journey?
1. Minimise dependencies on the core business
For example, getting the go-ahead to launch with my own separate IT team was important for the success of Veygo. At Admiral Group, development capability could then be more centralised and shared across certain projects. But having my own IT team meant that we could offer not just a product, but an intrapreneur “venture”. No matter how small, I could make autonomous decisions about product development, which was critical as the concept was an online platform.
2. Get ring-fenced autonomy
If you want to succeed, you need to be “ring-fenced”. Or, in other words, able to work independently and have some protection. Celebrate when you make £1,000, even if the group wouldn’t even notice such a small amount.
3. Don’t lose sight of the customer
In early 2018, we had to push ourselves to remember to love customers. When customers can buy without talking to you, you can quickly lose sight of them. And, if you want to improve the product, you need to stop rooting your growth in customer insights.
4. Don’t forget quality
We initially misread the Lean Startup by thinking that speed should be the priority and quality can come later. After two years of using this approach, we were never sure if subpar results meant the customer didn’t need the product or because the quality wasn’t great. Quality has to be part of your culture from the get-go.
Final Takeaways on Corporate Entrepreneurship & Innovation
An organisation wanting to innovate should understand the importance of corporate entrepreneurship. A corporate entrepreneurship strategy empowers, enables, nurtures and rewards those who have the ability and willingness to explore, test and validate new ideas.
Be brave despite the uncertainty and bring your organisation with you on the journey.
Despite the many processes, frameworks, tools and models that support and underpin innovation management and activities, at heart, sit the individual employees who are willing and able to work in a different way to drive real change.