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On this page, you will find the best-known intrapreneurship examples from the leading organisations driving corporate innovation and empowering intrapreneurs.
Intrapreneurship is on the rise, more organisations are now empowering their employees to act entrepreneurially within the company to launch more innovation projects, faster and more efficiently. In turn, there are more intrapreneurship or internal innovation programmes out there like Ingenious by Nestlé, Bizlab by Airbus or Sky Labs by Sky that serve as platforms for intrapreneurs to flourish. Google’s 20% or 3M’s 15% policies are widely known initiatives that have been empowering internal innovators for a long time. In this page, we will explore the top intrapreneurship examples which prove internal innovation generates high ROI and tangible growth.
But before we start. What does intrapreneurship mean? Intrapreneurship is about applying the same entrepreneurial methods, mindsets and skills that startup founders use, adapted to the way established organisations work. Intrapreneurs are able to use their in-depth knowledge of their company to come up with and execute innovative ideas that drive strategic growth and transformation for their employer.
In this page we uncover 5 intrapreneurship success stories from Google, Airbus, Sony, BASF and Vimeo.
Gmail is often given as a shining example of Google’s involvement with intrapreneurship. With their legendary 20% time policy allowing employees to utilise part of their work hours for personal projects, Paul Buchheit took that chance to create Gmail, which went on to become an important piece of Google’s lineup.
It is probably one of the most notorious and successful intrapreneurship examples in the world.
Google’s Gmail, launched on the 1st April 2004, was the first true landmark service to emerge from Google since its search engine debuted in 1998.
Paul Buchheit started his career at Google in 1999, becoming the company’s 23rd employee. He had been working in the development of a web-based email that could also provide a search engine within the already existing email service. However, the idea to include a search engine within Google’s email service was doubted strongly by many within the company. Most thought it was a bad idea from both a product and strategic point of view. In addition, there was worry amongst company brass about stretching Google too far beyond search, making the service publicly available.
But these worries dissipated when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Founders of Google, decided to support Buchheit with his project.
Gmail didn’t just blow away Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, the main free webmail services of the day, but it went on to become a dominant email service.
Today Gmail has reportedly more than 1.5 billion global active users, it has gone from a small experiment to becoming a key service of Google’s product offering.
Moreover, Gmail, and the way online advertising worked with emails, eventually helped shape the Google AdSense advertising programme and set the foundations for Google’s online advertising service to generate $147 billion in revenue in 2020.
Vimeo is an exceptional example of how an Intrapreneur, Anjali Sud, transformed its companies’ business model inside out and went from being the Marketing Director to the CEO of the company. Increasing sales by 54% in a year, Anjali Sud changed the struggling online video platform to a successful SaaS business.
Vimeo was a smaller and in some way cooler cousin to the online video platform YouTube. The platform attracted 100 million unique visitors per month, focusing on a more sophisticated video offering targeted to a more savvy and influential audience.
When Anjali joined, Vimeo was losing money, with annual revenue under $40 million, and was looking to build a subscription service to rival the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. However, Sud had a vision for the company’s future not in Hollywood hits but Silicon Valley plumbing. Her plan was to shift its focus from entertainment to entrepreneurs.
At this time, Sud was the Director of Marketing and understood the opportunity to offer a one-stop platform for businesses to shoot, edit, store, and distribute video, akin to what Squarespace had done for websites.
Intrigued by the idea, and willing to explore a potential alternative avenue for the future of the company, Joey Levin, Chief Executive at Vimeo, gave Sud a small team to test her idea.
This gamble paid off. In Q4 2020, Vimeo posted sales growth of 54% YoY and net subscriber growth of 25% QoQ, which led it to raise $450 million over two funding rounds in the last year alone. As a consequence, Vimeo shut down the subscription video streaming division in 2017, and made Anjali Sud the CEO.
Back when gaming consoles were first being developed and marketed, Sony was not interested in entering this industry. It’s hard to believe this considering that today, gaming accounts for 29% of Sony’s revenue.
Ken Kutaragi is the intrapreneur behind the launch of the first Sony’s PlayStation in December 1994 in Japan. It eventually became the first “computer entertainment platform” to ship over 100 million units, doing so in under a decade.
Ken Kutaragi was a forward-thinking engineer at Sony. In the late 1980s, Ken was watching his daughter play a Nintendo Famicom game console, and was impressed by the size of the potential that existed within video games.
He tried to talk his senior managers into exploring launching a game console, but Sony’s executives had no interest in the idea. Still, Kutaragi wanted to investigate this further and secretly worked with Nintendo in the development of their NES system.
When Sony’s executives found out, they were furious, and they wanted to fire him. Luckily, Sony’s CEO, Norio Ohga, decided to sponsor Kutaragi’s idea and agreed to partner up with Nintendo to create the Nintendo Super Famicom. Eventually, Sony developed their own gaming console, the PlayStation, and initially shipped 100 million units in under a decade.
Ken Kutaragi eventually went on to become chairman and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, a newly created division created after the success of his initiative. He oversaw the launch of two additional iterations of the game console, ending his career with Sony Playstation 3. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people of 2004 in Time magazine and the “Gutenberg of Video Games”.
His initiative has been so successful that Sony sold 525M units by 2018. As per 2021, games and network services represented the highest share of revenue for Sony corporation, totalling 29% of the entire 8.9 trillion yen revenue of the Japanese conglomerate.
When developing new corporate innovation within an organisation the size of Airbus, maintaining the opportunity for internal-people-only is no longer a viable option. Expanding the generation and deployment of ideas to innovators outside the organisation can pose a great benefit.
Mina Bastawros is an intrapreneur representing one of the recent successes for the European multinational aerospace corporation’s efforts in fostering innovation.
Airbus was opened to different idea creators and inventors around the world by Crowdcraft, a crowdsourcing and crowd staffing platform to find solutions to technical challenges. The platform connects problems to problem solvers, seeking to reduce work time and cost through more efficient ways for buyers to access goods and services.
So who is the intrapreneur behind this platform that would open Airbus to external innovators and change-makers across the globe? The man responsible for this is Mina Bastawros. His aim? “To design the aircraft of the future with the people for the people.”
Mina Bastawros’s journey began with a company-wide call for ideas to shake and disrupt Airbus, Dreambig, where he joined a team of like-minded individuals to come up with groundbreaking ideas. Airbus offered direct sponsorship and funding from the HRO, CTO and DTO to the most promising ideas.
Throughout the whole process, from ideation to execution, Bastawros saw Crowdcraft as an internal start-up or venture, with sponsors in Airbus being treated as investors.
Crowdcast has been a great success, the platform helped achieve 61% cost savings and 59% time savings compared to traditional new product development methods. Since then, Mina Bastawros has been offered a new challenge within Airbus Corporate Jets as a Strategic Marketing Director. He has now furthered his career in Airbus as VP of Creative & Digital Marketing.
Intrapreneurship programmes are a great leeway to make innovation projects and ideas happen. This happened in BASF and its intrapreneurship programme, Chemovator, where BOXLAB Services became the first corporate spin-off in the organisation.
Mischa Feig and Lisa Ruffin are the intrapreneurs behind the spin-off, which now operates as an independent startup on the market with BASF holding minority shares.
BOXLAB Services is a fast and easy service solution for replacing damaged packaging and labels in the chemical industry. Their service provides a sustainable and transparent alternative to supply chain processes reducing waste, costs and complexity.
BASF gave Feig and Ruffin the perfect opportunity to develop their idea to improve supply chain processes. A key element of this was providing them with a safe start-up environment, through Chemovator.
Chemovator is the internal incubator of BASF, available for all employees with innovative ideas that will transform the industry. It offers a safe space to test and validate new business ideas, products or innovative services and turn them into investable and scalable business models.
Throughout the process of working within Chemovator, the most challenging part of creating BOXLABS Services, as Mischa Feig explains, was the balancing act between the team’s venture with a startup mentality on the one hand and BASF as a large corporation on the other.
The Boxlabs team managed to prove the relevance of their business model at the programme and, today, the company’s customer base already includes more than 70 warehouses in 10 countries.
BASF has benefited highly from its optimized label and packaging processes and is glad to see 7 other intrapreneurial teams working on the development of new ideas to follow the successful example of BOXLAB.