There are people within established organisations who are drivers of innovative change; creators of new products or service lines; and leaders of entirely new business ventures spinning out from the core. But who are they? And what did they have to do to succeed?
In March we hosted the Corporate Entrepreneurs London community in a crowded venue in Central Working Victoria.
We were joined by three intrapreneurs, telling their stories of change.
- Maria Lodetti, Senior Manager in the User Centricity Team of Mars Inc, talked about how the user-centricity movement at Mars has really created grassroots change in mindset and the approach she has adopted for engaging with different parts of the organisation.
- Jean-Baptiste Limare, Admiral Group PLC and Head of Veygo, shared his experience of starting Veygo from within the Admiral Group and critical success factors for intrapreneurial ventures.
- Erik De Kroon, ex-VP at WorldPay Futures and now CEO of Yordex, spoke of his journey at WorldPay where he launched and took to market a new online payment service.
Through their case studies, we have learned the top five things every corporate intrapreneur and innovation manager should do:
1. Create an internal movement
Most influencing is not top-down, but horizontal, so corporate innovators shouldn’t forget the role of champions from all corners of the organisation to build a genuine community.
Instead of updating processes, protocols and digital transformation at first, it might be more effective to change how people think to start from a small group and leading by example.
A shift in mindset is more likely to spread through the whole organisation in this way, especially if supported by positive results and quick wins. Communication within the group and then engaging with a broader corporate community is key to reduce confusion, spread the message and influence change. A well-integrated organisation would then allow for a smooth adaptation of innovative cultural changes.
2. Find a Mentor
Mentors and advisors are invaluable for intrapreneurs just as they are for entrepreneurs — especially if they are the right people from the broader organisation. Intrapreneurs work in an organisation with many smart, experienced and influencing professionals from all areas of the company; this is a key advantage of being an internal-entrepreneur and something to be harnessed.
Just as startups need mentors and advisors because they need expertise and credibility, corporate entrepreneurs need mentors to help navigate the internal politics, master the expectations of executives, be aligned with key company metrics and, last but not least, gain access to the vast resources available within a large organisation.
Moreover, a mentor gives a corporate entrepreneur justification and confirmation of their work, which helps in bringing forward new and original propositions for the organisation.
3. Embrace the responsibility that comes with autonomy
When large companies eventually give intrapreneurs the autonomy and the resources needed to delve into new ventures, corporate entrepreneurs are allowed to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions in a safer environment.
This might often mean feeling alone, swimming against the tide while having the eyes of the entire organisation suspiciously staring at them. The truth is that the entrepreneurship journey is never an easy one, whether it’s outside or inside a large organisation. It’s just a different taste.
In return, and often overlooked, is the responsibility to give back.
However, corporate entrepreneurs have additional responsibility — and reward — of sharing their successes with the rest of the organisation. This means celebrating the trust and opportunity that has been given to them, to boost the morale and narrative of the organisation while shaping it for a new direction.
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4. Own the narrative upwards
Having the ear of senior management and having their trust means that you are able to explore the full potential of the opportunity at hand, and drive it to the direction that’s best for the company.
It is important to own your narrative of why you are committed to making the impact you intend and the strategic value of that for the organisation.
They say that as an entrepreneur, you never stop selling because every opportunity is one to tell the story of why you are doing what you are doing.
As an intrapreneur, it’s the same. You should be telling that story, all the time: focus on the key metric you are impacting, and make sure people know why you are doing it.
5. Carve out your own product environment
Very often the dependency on the core organisation might undermine speed and impact.
Depending on what industry the organisation is in and its size, reducing dependency on the core organisation, such as central IT, can be difficult and sometimes not even possible. But the principle of striving towards being self-sustaining as much as possible can be the difference between getting the market traction needed to validate the proposition, or not.
Some of the speakers, for example, solved this by using external agencies to develop and launch an MVP, while relying on their companies core strengths and functions.
And finally, what are the advantages of being a corporate entrepreneur?
It might look like launching a new product or doing an internal startup from within a corporate is super difficult.
And it is difficult, just as for any new venture.
But working as a corporate entrepreneur in a large organisation can be a huge accelerant. Intrapreneurs have the unfair advantages afforded to them by the resources, cash, credibility and access to customers of an established organisation.
Corporates provide more regulatory cover, larger amounts of data and potentially easier routes to market, which put these new ventures at a great advantage compared to similar startups without the backing of bigger companies.
Utilising these resources in the right way can give intrapreneurs the momentum needed to gain traction much faster.