Why intrapreneurship is important for big business

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Photo of young people at work before a whiteboard to illustrate intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship means major corporates can act with the speed and flexibility of a start-up, says Peter Sayburn, co-founder of Market Gravity, the proposition design consultancy

The way big businesses discover and implement innovation is shifting. Venture teams, accelerator panels and internal ‘incubators’ are bringing a start-up mentality to corporate organisations.

Big business is embracing this concept of ‘intrapreneurship’, an entrepreneurial approach where teams and individuals are driving new venture ideas from within.

Intrapreneurship, or corporate entrepreneurship, has been adopted by some of the world’s most successful companies, such as 3M, GE, Intel and Xerox, for several years. But only recently has this concept become widespread as others realise it is a good way to maintain relevance and keep the company agile, customer-centric and innovative.

Intrapreneurship can be defined as an entrepreneurial activity within a large, established business, usually to address a new market opportunity or develop a new way of doing things, outside the normal scope of activities.

Intrapreneurship is also a change of mindset: thinking like an entrepreneur, seeing new opportunities, being completely customer-driven, making the most of limited resources, and above all moving quickly.

Flexible working

Within many big businesses there are talented people with brilliant new ideas. The challenge is working out how to realise these opportunities and bring these ideas to life.

Large companies have become very effective at doing one thing well and often struggle to change direction or embrace something new. This is where intrapreneurship comes in.

With the development of new digital technology and business models, more and more people are becoming intrapreneurs. Employees tend to move around more, so intrapreneurs are adept at landing in a company, making an impact immediately, delivering one or two big initiatives and then moving on to another company.

Companies are also more willing to collaborate and work in partnership than they used to be, recognising that no one company can do everything itself.

Organisations often look to acquire start-ups and SMEs to enhance their offering, but you can’t rely on acquisition alone for business growth.

Acquisitions can be a great way to bring in new, complementary capabilities and technology and can refresh the entrepreneurial spirit and culture within established companies. So a combination of the two can work well.

Intrapreneurship in action

BT is a great example of a company that has diversified. The development of new ventures such as BT Vision and BT Sport have transformed it from a telephone company to a digital media business.

Insurance and investments company, Aegon, has applied intrapreneurship to develop a new consumer business Retiready with the single-minded focus to get the UK ready for retirement.

British Gas established its Connected Homes division in 2012 to access new markets and develop totally new ways of working. It still had strong links to the parent company, but offered the speed and innovation typically seen in much smaller companies.

Speed is key when it comes to intrapreneurship. These dedicated, purposeful teams can cut through the corporate layers that slow big companies down.

There are other benefits to businesses, such as the ability to explore and experiment in new markets before making a big commitment, and the impact on the wider workforce. Intrapreneurial projects bring new energy and direction.

We are witnessing an increase in the launch of venture teams, or internal ideas incubators, as well as in investment in research and prototype development.

It’s essential for businesses to work collaboratively with experts in this field, listen to creative new ideas from all levels of the company and encourage a culture of innovation to facilitate commercial growth.

About author

Peter Sayburn

Peter Sayburn

Peter Sayburn is co-founder and CEO of Market Gravity, which works with big businesses, including Barclaycard, RWE npower and Boots, to help them release their start-up within.

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