Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Internal Innovation Networks as a Basis for Corporate Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship is a relatively new concept developed to help large companies create new businesses, a process often called transformational (or disruptive) innovation. Intrapreneurship aims at instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship--usually associated almost exclusively with startups--in the corporate culture. Being intrapreneur means working for a large company, yet constantly taking risks and experimenting, as small company’s entrepreneurs do. 

Intrapreneurship may take multiple form and follow different models; the upcoming Corporate Intrapreneur Summit (organized by the Institute for International Research and Culturevate), taking place in October 8 in New York City, will showcase practical examples of corporate intrapreneurship from  more than a dozen of leading corporations.

Yet no matter which specific shape corporate intrapreneurship might assume, there is one vitally important question that must be addressed: the relationship of the corporate intrapreneurship unit with the rest of the organization. If the newly-formed intrapreneurship structure is located within an existing business unit, there is a danger that it’ll lose its entrepreneurial edge by falling back to solving short-term problems relevant to the “host” business unit. On the other hand, if this structure is too isolated, both geographically and administratively (“an island and the mainland” model), it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant to the rest of the company.

Many perils of creating a corporate intrapreneurship unit will be significantly alleviated if the maternal company already has a functional Internal Innovation Network (IIN). I already wrote about the crucial role played by IINs in the overall corporate innovation strategy. Here, I’d like to highlight four major reasons why a viable IIN would help support corporate intrapreneurship:

1.      IINs help foster the very culture of collaboration the lack of which makes disruptive innovation in large companies difficult in the first place. Much has been spoken about the “NIH (Not Invented Here) Syndrome”; however, it’s important to realize that the NIH Syndrome applies to intra-company collaboration too as individual units are often reluctant to share with others their findings. By breaking internal silos and promoting intra-company collaboration, IINs prepare the whole organization to accept new ideas regardless of their origin.

2.      Corporate intrapreneurship requires close coordination of multiple functions within an organization, both that are (R&D, Business Development, Marketing) and are not (Finances, Legal, HR) directly involved in the corporate innovation process. However, in the majority of organizations, there is no institutional platform for all these units to collaborate on strategic issues. IINs provide such a platform, increasing the efficiency of decision-making and reducing the need for endless face-to-face meetings.

3.      IINs provide intellectual and operational support for the company’s external innovation programs. First, they help identify problems whose solution would require external sources of knowledge and expertise. Second, they facilitate testing and implementing of incoming external ideas and solutions. In other words, they provide a much needed “bridge” between the corporate intrapreneurship unit (“island”) and the rest of the company (“mainland”).

4.      IINs help identify emerging corporate intrapreneurs who--especially in junior positions and in geographically remote units--often remain unnoticed to the corporate innovation leaders. Because IIN platforms are intrinsically democratic, they provide voice to every employee regardless of their rank and location in the company.

Of course, it’d be an exaggeration to say that by themselves IIN can guarantee the success of a corporate intrapreneurship initiative. Yet it will definitely make chances for such an initiative to succeed much higher.

About the Author: Eugene Ivanov is helping organizations of different sizes design and implement internal and external innovation programs. He’s an expert in selecting and defining R&D problems that can be successfully solved by crowdsourcing. He writes blog Innovation Observer and tweets @eugeneivanov101. 

Image credit: www.wired.com

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