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What is intrapreneurship, and how to set up a successful program?

Understand what intrapreneurship is and the role of the intrapreneur, plus what to have in mind when setting up a successful intrapreneurship program.

WhatAVenture team during a workshop.

In today’s fast-changing business environment, it is a real challenge for companies to stay innovative and competitive. In order to overcome this challenge, many corporates have turned to intrapreneurship to foster new business ideas with the help of their employees.

Over the last ten years, we have set up and managed some of Europe’s most successful intrapreneurship programs for industry leaders like DHL, Miele, and TenneT. In this blog post, we draw upon this experience to answer the following questions:

  1. What is intrapreneurship?
  2. What is an intrapreneurship program?
  3. What to pay attention to when setting up an intrapreneurship program?
Presentation at the Pioneers Camp, Miele's intrapreneurship program

What is intrapreneurship?

Intrapreneurship, often referred to as corporate entrepreneurship, is the practice of empowering employees within an organization to act as entrepreneurs. These employees are called intrapreneurs. They are encouraged to think entrepreneurial, develop new ways of doing business, launch innovative products and services, and foster an environment to stay competitive in the market. What distinguishes an intrapreneur from an entrepreneur is their ability to work within the structure of their organization.

Intrapreneurship is all about empowering employees to take the reins of innovation and drive change from the inside out.

Intrapreneurs possess the following strengths, they:

  • Have a deep understanding of the corporate structures and can navigate the company’s dynamics
  • Have an entrepreneurial mindset and act as a role model for other employees in the company and encourage behavioral change across the broader organization
  • Are a source of motivation, providing a fresh perspective and honest feedback to challenge those around them
  • Are loyal employees who believe in the company and want to drive positive change within the organization
  • Have a keen eye for inefficiencies and can identify areas for improvement within the workplace
  • Have a high willingness to take risks and introduce unconventional ideas

Intrapreneurs do not typically exist in a vacuum but act as part of intrapreneurship initiatives, such as a program or a specific project.

What is an intrapreneurship program?

Intrapreneurship programs provide a programmatic approach to assess and kick-start business ideas and corporate ventures. By building an intrapreneurship program, you can cultivate a portfolio of innovative projects that align with your overall corporate strategy and positioning.

Example of an intrapreneurship program setup

What to pay attention to when setting up an intrapreneurship program?

There are many different ways to organize an intrapreneurship program, but the major building blocks are the same at the heart of any effective program. They are:

Pay attention to the type of ideas

Most importantly, you must consider the type of program ideas you want to generate. They should be mapped onto an innovation matrix to determine whether they are incremental, semi-radical, or radical ideas. Depending on the type of idea, you will need a different setup after the validation phase. For example, when it comes to radical ideas, venture building is key to successful intrapreneurship.

Additionally, you need to consider the approach to generating ideas. You can choose a top-down approach, where ideas are driven by management and company strategy, a bottom-up approach, where employees contribute their ideas, or explore through search fields, where specific challenges or opportunities are addressed. Each approach has its advantages and can complement the overall intrapreneurial strategy.

Build a strong team:

Early-stage ideas should prioritize building a solid team to iterate and adapt their concept. Intrapreneurial teams have diverse skill sets, fostering a dynamic mix of expertise, perspectives, and backgrounds. This diversity sparks creativity and helps teams approach challenges from multiple angles. Additionally, an independent space for teams is essential. This includes breaking isolated structures, fostering knowledge networks, and promoting communication and information sharing.

Ensure the right setup:

Creating an optimal setup is pivotal in unleashing the full potential of intrapreneurship within your organization. By offering strong support and guidance from leadership and mentors, you foster a culture that celebrates creativity, risk-taking, and innovation. Allocating specific resources, including financial backing or industry expertise, empowers intrapreneurs to turn their visions into tangible ideas. Moreover, providing sufficient time for in-depth exploration, validation, and iteration of ideas allows intrapreneurial teams to thrive, paving the way for transformative breakthroughs.

Focus on ROI:

Intrapreneurship programs also require a focus on creating ROI rather than solely generating ideas. Investing too many resources in idea generation limits the ability to turn those ideas into valuable products. The key is to shift the emphasis to converting ideas into tangible value.

Get executives on board:

Educating executives is crucial for successful intrapreneurship. Executives must embrace iterative processes, accept tests, and foster a learning mentality. Evaluating innovation projects differently from traditional projects is essential for intrapreneurial survival.

Maintain participant enthusiasm:

Innovation is a kin to a roller coaster ride, with exhilarating highs and challenging lows. It is crucial to keep participants motivated and enthusiastic throughout the journey, even during times of adversity or unsuccessful ideas. Foster a supportive culture that builds resilience by providing learning opportunities, recognizing efforts, offering constructive feedback, facilitating idea pivoting, showcasing success stories, and emphasizing purpose and long-term vision. Additionally, both financially and through intrinsic motivation and supportive management, appropriate rewards for intrapreneurs are essential for motivation and retention.

Bring in expertise when needed:

Intrapreneurs often encounter situations where they face the unknown and require external expertise to navigate the path to success. By bringing in experienced individuals with a fresh, innovative perspective and a background in entrepreneurship, you can boost your venture’s journey and accelerate its path to success. Suitable tools incorporating Lean Startup, Design Thinking, and Scrum methodologies are crucial for structuring and professionalizing the innovation process.

Develop clear governance:

Effective governance ensures that intrapreneurship programs stay on track and align with the organization's strategic goals. While autonomy is vital, clear guidelines and objectives must be defined to ensure the intrapreneurial journey contributes to the company's vision. Regular decision-making checkpoints, reporting mechanisms, and mentorship support can further enhance the governance structure, facilitating transparency and accountability.

Example: PowerLab at TenneT

In 2021, we helped TenneT, a leading European electricity transmission system operator, to set up their intrapreneurship program, PowerLab. Since then, we’ve run four batches and received 67 applications from over 100 employees. Top-level management has supported the program granting project teams resources of >100M€ to develop further and establish their ideas. As a result, seven projects have been validated, and four ideas have been established in the organization. (Learn more about the program setup here.)

By considering these major building blocks and success factors, organizations can establish effective intrapreneurship programs that drive innovation, engage employees, and contribute to long-term success.

Gain an in-depth overview of the significant intrapreneurship models, unique features, and major success factors by downloading our guide.

Daisy Ireton
Daisy Ireton
Senior Innovation Manager

The ultimate guide to intrapreneurship

Gain insights into Europe's most successful intrapreneurship programs with our comprehensive guide. Discover the framework, unique features, and success factors that empower intrapreneurs to drive innovation within organizations.

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