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Intrapreneurs know the rules and break them. What about that?

The autocorrect of Grammarly or even PowerPoint still does not accept intrapreneurship as a correct word. Pinchot, in 1984, defined intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do. Those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind, within a business”. First time, the term was written in 1978 by Gifford Pinchot III and Elizabeth Pinchot. Not as new as we sometimes assume. Even Steve Jobs mentioned it in an interview in Newsweek in 1985, quoting him: “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship. A group of people going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company.”. With the rise of startups and entrepreneurship, corporates saw suddenly unicorns standing up and in the meantime, some very well know companies stopped, merged, were sold. We all know the classics like Nokia, Kodak, Motorola or Blackberry. In the Fortune 500 list since 1955, 88% was not anymore present in 2015. Deloitte wrote in 2015 a nice report on intrapreneurship giving some useful insights.

You might discuss that these examples have nothing to do with intrapreneurship but instead, that these companies did not follow the innovation that was “suddenly” there. Partially right in my opinion. Though companies like Nokia saw the new competition, had an amazing amount of smart people in-house, but did not react accurately. Apple also went through a difficult time. I remember that I worked together with John Sculley for a while after he left Apple, on a project called Live Picture and at the same time I was trying to set up a distribution channel in France for OEM MACs, installing a French OS on the Mac clones. Apple did evolve and did not die, and as mentioned before, Steve Jobs referred to intrapreneurship for the survival of Apple. Live Picture was sold not much later and the whole Mac clone business died as fast as it started. It was a great learning for me, more than 20 years ago. Also for John I guess.

When we see the rise of intrapreneurship in corporates today we see as the main reasons: growth, innovation, (new) leadership, and customer engagement. For HR it is all about keeping talented co-workers. We also see the rising interest for human-centric development, Design Thinking and Lean Startup. Every part of the traditionally structured companies are suddenly out there to integrate entrepreneurship to revitalize the organisation for different reasons. I guess the first steps were the Startup Weekends and Hackathons we organised where they could taste what new insights and working with young, open-minded people, could do for them. Unfortunately, these initiatives were not embedded in an overall strategy, it was just tasting, nothing structural. Not that we did not discuss this with these companies, but they were not ready. Since more than 3 years we have been preparing full programs for intrapreneurship and presenting to many managers of all sorts.

Especially in countries like Turkiye, and the whole MEA region, CVC, Intrapreneurship and extrapreneurship are more than ever necessary. Although you find this approach in Europe and the US for quite some time now, it is still new here. For the startups, there is the support of the government, but without any program or followup and an immature Angel investment approach. Corporates are still very top-down organised and suffering from active inertia, ignoring the importance of what is happening outside their buildings. Don’t misunderstand active here. It means total passive. Active inertia is the tendency in corporates to follow established patterns of behaviour, whatever happens around them. Leading companies stay put with the models that created their success in the past and dig themselves further deeper in their trenches. It is more of a defence mechanism creating a bigger problem. So marrying the corporate knowledge with the approach of startups can help them to survive and grow, mostly through innovation. Enough books and studies to prove this. But then it comes to implementation.

Intrapreneurship is first of all about attitude. Secondly, a strategy that is implemented through a program. The program, in short, is to establish a channel for those who want to create and implement new ideas, a physical place that supports this approach with the possibility to engage also with outside startups, specific trainings, a fund and an acceleration program with internal sponsors and mentors. There are already examples enough, just look them up. You can start with Google. It is not so difficult to explain and understand all this. The challenge is, who do you explain this to in a corporate. At midlevel everybody will knot and confirm whatever you are saying, suggesting. For some it is new, they understand the importance but it is not within their KPIs. For some it is known but they also see the burden of the implementation and for some it is a to do from above and they try to understand and follow the classic approach. Invite 3 different vendors and present the offers to the top management.

In my experience, after 5 years of seeing all these corporates, it only now starts to be a KPI at C-level, and that is a very positive trend. While organising Hackathons we also see that there is a certain interest, but the C-level people prefer to stay at a certain distance, may be present in the jury. We rarely see them in meetings when we explain the whole setup. Here you already acknowledge the main problem. Introducing intrapreneurship is not like the purchase of a machine or the start of a new division. It is changing the attitude, the company hierarchy, an approach to new ideas from your coworkers, or engaging with startups. Startups are horizontal organisations who are in the process of experimenting, finding the product-market fit through trial and error in order to build a success. So they can fail in that process too, during or at the end. Not what you see in a corporate. In order to build this new approach the C-level must be involved from the beginning and act by the old adagio “practice what you preach”. Get your hands dirty.

The programs, mainly by universities, that are in place now are few and lack a professional approach. I sometimes see “kids” in charge as Program Directors and that is not really helping of course. While I visit their Demo Days I often am sorry to see the result. A waste of resources but I guess it is also part of the learning process so I stay hopeful. What is very obvious today is that corporates should really take the opportunity of utilising the talent inside and outside and create new innovative projects. Some corporates started with what they call “Garaj” initiatives, assuming that a physical space with an Innovation Manager will cut the cheese. NOT.

The introduction of intrapeneurship and reaching out to startups is also part of these other big to-dos: Digital Transformation, Industry 4.0, OI2.0, name it. So if you know C-level managers, and you believe in intrapreneurship, convince them that it is not even 5 to 12 but 12 and time to act and create a future for the next generation, even important for our present generation. I even get the question more and more what about VUCA now? At first I scratched my hair as this is a very corporate approach, you never hear in the startup world. VUCA stands for : Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous and is a way to describe today’s business environment. It actually is derived from the army where fighting wars is not as straightforward anymore as in last century. Problem here is that it is rather reactive instead of pro-active. Some even changed the wording now and call it: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Agility and Adaptability. I prefer to stick to my Startup lingo to be honest.

The Walkman story, a great example of active inertia. I love the headline of the ad: “There’s a revolution in the streets”. A revolution that lasted 30 years by the way. The “Evolve or Die” quote is from a multi-talented artist in the UK, Craig Charles, not even a businessman, as one would imagine. And the braking the rules? I love the idea, as I have the desire in me to change the rules in order to improve. I never worked in a corporate but worked a lot for them based on projects and every time I was surprised when you are in a discussion and something is not possible because another division would not agree, or if you go over that budget an extra signature was needed but that manager would not like the project. The constant battle of the personal agenda, the relational agenda, the boss his agenda and at the end the company’s agenda (read the shareholders). I always loved to be a bootstrapped entrepreneur. And now I would love to pass that experience to corporates to create that new success, to grow and survive. Agility and innovation are not just cool words but necessary verbs to ensure our future unless you want to be part of the 88%.

Patrick Bosteels, co-founder Stage-Co and CoderDojo Turkiye

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Stage-Co, Urla Coworking, Now Sprint! Accelerator and Creative Academie co-founder, Facilitator, Accelerator Program Manager and Mentor

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