Intrapreneurship comes in many shapes and forms. We asked 5 of the 25+ intrapreneurs featured on stage during the 3 days of Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley to share their best piece of advice for other intrapreneurs.

We started with discussing the basic promise of intrapreneurship: why is it important?

Ezra Kucharz, CBS: “Intrapreneurship (or corporate entrepreneurship) is the promise of creating new businesses within legacy organizations.   Often innovation efforts are mislabeled as intrapreneurship.  Innovation is a tool of intrapreneurship but not Intrapreneurship in itself.  It is the launch of a business.  Legacy businesses that choose the intrapreneurship path have chosen to evolve with the marketplace and try to grow new products, revenues and markets.

In many cases these businesses are conducting activities adjacent to their core business but more and more they are exploring new opportunities. There should be one main principal of intrapreneurship; activities should be goal driven.  People within the organization should be able to articulate what the “moonshot” goal is; what are we trying to accomplish, articulated in very clear terms.”

janaki-kumar-sap-intrapreneurJanaki Kumar, SAP: “For me, intrapreneurship is about unlocking and harnessing the innovation potential within an organization, and to use this energy to transform organizations from within.

It is based on the understanding that there is an inherent intelligence within organizations embodied in the people who are on the ground.

A culture that taps into this inner intelligence, and empowers employees to suggest transformation ideas is the best position to stay relevant and continue to meet the needs of it’s customers. It has the additional benefit of increasing employee engagement and fostering a mindset of innovation within organizations.”

Rik Dryfoos (GE): “This may be stating the obvious, but it is important to remember that intrapreneurs are fundamentally employees who behave like entrepreneurs in the context of a large organization.

Intrapreneurship means creating an environment where it’s safe to take risks, fail fast and learn; where resource allocation and funding decisions are ‘evidence-based’; where there is an intense focus on customer needs and delivering outcomes that meet those needs; and where employees are encouraged to collaborate, experiment, and iterate instead of just driving towards a pre-determined end point.

It’s about being open-minded (instead of addicted to being right), asking the right questions, and having the courage to admit when something isn’t working.”

Some say it does, some say it doesn’t: does intrapreneurship work across industries?

Ezra-Kucharz-CSB-intrapreneurshipEzra: “I truly believe this promise and principal can be applied across any industry.  The key is the setting of a goal with tangibile and measureable metrics.  There will be multiple paths to a goal.  The goal is and always will be the objective.”

Janaki: “Businesses along a wide range of industries from media, to healthcare, to education, to name a few, are being disrupted at an unprecedented rate. A recent Harvard Business Review article stats that exectuves across a variety of industries expect their businesses to be disrupted in the next 12 months.

Why is this disruption so pervasive? The primary reason is that things that were expensive and scarce are now ubiquitous and free.

For example, cloud computing reduced the cost and difficulty of setting up data centers, and therefore the barrier to entry for startups to enter into an established markets.

Smart phones lowered the cost to consumers to access technology and increased their expectations around the experience. Social networks reduced the cost of gaining access to rich, actionable customer data. Big data eliminated the need for large mainframe computing devices. Internet of things reduces the cost to dynamically connect, manage and upgrade physical devices and structures.

Disruption can take many forms – technological, business and changing customer expectations. And so as in response to this trend, I believe intrapreneurship is just as relevant for B2B as it is for B2C. Having a mind-set of customer focus and innovation can benefit all organizations.”

rik-dryfoos-geRik: “We see it very similarly across industries. At GE, as the Digital Industrial company, we transcend many industries including: Aviation, Healthcare, Power, and Transportation… to name a few.  Today, we all face entirely new challenges.  Technology & market changes are faster than ever before.  New business models are emerging.  Customers and their needs are changing. Competition is disrupting the market in new ways.  And, we have to be able to adapt quickly. This means we need to be more nimble and flexible.  We need to be more entrepreneurial and collaborative.  And so, across all industries, intrapreneurship is critical to our continued success.

In the end, intrapreneurship is about a mindset and set of behaviors that are key to stay competitve in this new and rapidly changing environment – whether B2C or B2B.  

GE is largely in the B2B space and we feel so strongly about adopting an entreprenuerial mindset to drive innovation and the ability to deliver value to our customers that we have embarked on a cultural revolution to do just that.  The key focus is on the customer need or opportunity that we are solving for and the outcome that our customers want us to achieve.”

Allright… So, what’s your best piece of advice for other intrapreneurs?

Ezra: “The path of an intrapreneur is a rough journey.  It is not for the thin skinned or leaders who don’t know how to deal with adversity.  Most organizations will fight you and your team.  You need some level of autonomy, support from the CEO, an adaptive team and resources.  Make sure you have a clear goal set and that the CEO articulates that goal to the entire organization.

Also, don’t get sucked into the innovation trap. Innovation for discovery is the job of research teams. A new business launched by innovation as a tool is intrapreneurship.

The reality is- at times you will need to be a diplomat, insurgent, rebel, innovator and operator.

Janaki: “I will share David Kelly’s (innovator, founder of IDEO, TED speaker, and co-author of Creative Confidence) advice to my team when he visited us last year.

We had a conversation around innovation in unexpected places, to focus on the special responsibility innovators have in more traditional cultures. He offered 3 tips:

#1 — Don’t be a victim of over-planning

#2 — Overcome skeptical managers by double delivering

#3 — Stay at the cutting edge, no matter what

Keep the faith, and innovate. We cannot have it any other way.”

Justin-GrahamJustin Graham, Hearst Media: “Let me add three key lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Firstly, as Ezra mentioned, find a strong executive sponsor who believes in you that will go to bat for you.  Corporate antibodies will start swarming if you attempt to achieve something truly novel that may pull attention or resources away from the core business.  Mature businesses operate under rules, regulations, policies and procedures that are optimized to streamline operations and, as a by-product, will throttle innovation.

You’re going to need someone at the top who can cover for you and give you the freedom to operate.

Secondly, create a shared definition of success.  If your organization has a market cap of over $1B and only wants new products that will measurably move the quarterly stock price, you may not get much support for your great idea that only touches a small fraction of existing customers.

If your invention pioneers new techniques or technology that may have long-term strategic significance, make sure you’re aligned with the corporate vision; otherwise, your product may never make it out of the innovation lab.  The classic example here is Kodak’s invention of digital photography in 1975, which they never embraced because of the long term vision rooted in film and development chemicals.

Thirdly, make a list of your biggest risks and assumptions.  Then test them with free (or very cheap) experiments.  You shouldn’t need a huge corporate budget to determine if your ideas have legs.  Use the entire innovation toolkit – cheap prototypes, powerpoint mock-ups, fake front- or back-ends.

You’re almost certainly wrong about something – after all, by definition no one has ever done what you’re trying to do, so how could you be right about everything?

Lower the cost of failure (in both resources and time) and your executives will let you take many more swings at the ball before losing interest.

Rik: Building on what my peers said, I just wanted to add: don’t ever lose sight of your customers and their needs.

Disruption only happens when it truly solves for a customer pain point.

And often, the customer isn’t able to identify it on their own… and this is where a true intrapreneur flourishes.


Want to hear lessons learned, practical frameworks and personal stories from 25+ intrapreneurs?

Check out our upcoming Intrapreneurship Conference Silicon Valley: 3 days, 39+ sessions to attend and 175+ corporate innovators to meet. Don’t miss the #1 global platform for intrapreneurship for its 8th edition this fall!