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Intrapreneurship: A growth vector to explore

Intrapreneurship: A growth vector to explore

Is the entrepreneurial spirit only for start-ups? In established businesses, the capacity of employees to support innovation is often stifled. How can you help intrapreneurs reveal themselves in your organization?


In stagnating markets, creating new lines of business is an alluring growth driver. Many companies would thus like to encourage their employees to take initiatives to create new businesses—in other words, to develop intrapreneurship. Indeed, some achievements stand out. A Cargill employee, for example, was able to exploit the results of a technology that had been developed for the food industry, but which did not meet the company’s needs. He thought of applying the technology to the protection of road services against freezing. Supported by Cargill, he carried his project through to completion and marketed the resulting deicing substance to road operators in the northern United States. Today, this represents a whole separate business line for Cargill!

As tempting as such successes may sound, they nevertheless remain rare, particularly at large companies. Many businesses understand the benefits of intrapreneurship and seek to encourage it. But results are often absent; people don’t dare to suggest their ideas, don’t feel particularly encouraged to implement them or go elsewhere to develop them. Companies thus lose out on an entire potential wellspring of innovation and growth.

Fortunately, these outcomes are not inevitable. Nike, for instance, is becoming a major player in connected objects and Big Data, thanks to a proactive strategy of intrapreneurship. Three practices in particular are instrumental to the success of such approaches:

- Identify and develop your intrapreneurs. They may not be immediately apparent; you must create opportunities for them to reveal themselves.

- Protect them from the natural aversion to uncertainty of established organizations. Established processes are seldom compatible with the factors that make exploratory ventures successful; be sure to create a framework for coexistence.

- Avoid providing excessive resources. The existence of resource constraints is actually a key factor in the success of start-ups.

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