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Pioneers Insights: How Intrapreneurship Breeds Corporate Innovation From Within

Implementing a sustained culture of innovation in a corporate takes much more than a budget and an innovation department. Involving employees in creative tasks about which they are passionate, as well as encouraging them to share and implement their innovative ideas, helps not only to generate new ideas and solutions but also increases the acceptance of innovations within the company.

This is becoming a fairly accepted concept, but the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ that’s problematic for most corporates. Many companies engage in multiple initiatives and projects, spending a lot of money on ‘innovation’ – but most often the result is a stand-alone project rather than a sustained innovation culture. While external innovation – new ideas, specialists or startups from outside the company – is usually essential, internal ‘intrapreneurship’ opportunities can make an equally critical difference to retaining that competitive edge. And these opportunities are often overlooked.

So, what is an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are creative, motivated, proactive employees. They are eager to operate what amounts to their own startup within an organization – solving a specific problem or developing new products and markets. In the most open-minded cases, these don’t necessarily have to relate to the company’s traditional core business.

But Intrapreneurship isn’t something you can just build – you have to recognize it within the organization. It’s people being intrinsically motivated to actively change existing systems. Intrapreneurship represents a bottom-up approach to driving innovation internally.

Companies have to make sure to incentivise their employees and to implement a dynamic innovation process to keep up with the new challenges of this competitive, digital business world. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

How To Start An Intrapreneurship Program

Find the Intrapreneurs

The most important asset and resource are the Intrapreneurs themselves. Therefore, the initial focus should be on clearly identifying passionate people who are driven by a deeper purpose. They should have problem-solving skills, think outside the box and enjoy being challenged. An Intrapreneur should also be highly adaptable and thrive in a different environment. At this stage you also need to define the possibilities for releasing them from their ‘day job’ for a period of time, and clarify this with their management.

Match the right teams

The next step is to put these internal innovators together in the right teams. Like a startup, an intrapreneurship team should consist of people with different roles: It needs the ‘crazy’ creative person, the hands-on operations person, someone with the right technical expertise, the ‘marketeer’ pitching the idea to others and of course someone overseeing the whole project. Adding external mentors, who can share advice and insights, is a good idea. There should also be coaches who guide the teams and support with experience.

Define the use case

“Fall in love with the problem, not the solution,” should be the mantra at this stage. Before actually trying to solve a problem, teams have to understand it. A workshop can be used to define innovation topics and select the best for the program. This can be either done in small teams or by a crowd rating method, which involves even more people within the company selecting the best ideas. That broader engagement can also push a cultural change towards innovation. Innovation software can also be used to manage crowd raters.

Get to know your customer

To find the best solution for any use case, first innovators have to understand the target group. Who are they, what do they want and what are their biggest pain points? To get more insights on customers, Intrapreneurs must get out there, get to know them and simply ask them. Qualitative interviews help a lot to explore target groups. They can learn to think like a customer with Stakeholder and an Empathy Mapping.

Start prototyping

This done, Intrapreneurs should try to imitate and prototype the solutions they have in mind (and probably on hundreds of post-its). Whether it’s a click-dummy, a pop-up store, a first web application or a test day with first customers, they should get out there and take the first steps to realize your idea. The goal is to create a first prototype: it doesn’t have to be perfect nor market ready, but it should already include the essential functions and characteristics. The first customers should understand and experience what makes a solution unique and special.

Demo Day

It’s time for the final ‘go or no-go’ decision directly from the key decision-makers in your company. This day is the most important one for every Intrapreneur team: having all decision makers right in front of them and pitching their business models. A demo day is also what makes an Intrapreneurship program so special: no lengthy decision processes and intercompany bureaucracy – one pitch, one chance to get the funding approved and work on a Proof-of-Concept. And this is where us, Pioneers Discover as an external consultant can come in to prepare the teams for a perfect pitch, manage operations for the Demo Day and brief the internal decision-makers.

Despite the contributions external consultants can bring, Intrapreneurship is an innovation process that comes from within. It’s not a stand-alone project which will end up in some folder and will be forgotten about – it will incrementally change the innovation culture of a company.

Intrapreneurs – creative people who get empowered and supported by an organization – could be the next big thing for the world of innovation. Small teams can change a whole company culture, and we’re excited to be playing a part in establishing and scaling this business trend.

If you’d like to learn more about how we work with corporates from all industries throughout the world, read more here or contact us on discover@pioneers.io