October 21, 2020

The 5 most famous cases of companies that promote intrapreneurship

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work in one of the most innovative companies in the world? Or where their ideas come from? How do they nurture their idea creation? The answer lies in one term that has been having momentum lately: intrapreneurship.

Without intrapreneurial mindsets, companies are doomed to become stagnant and risk not adapting to the changing landscape of their industries. For innovation and intrapreneurship go hand in hand. Today, we are examining the 5 most famous cases of companies that promote intrapreneurship, in case it gives you any ideas of how you wish your company fostered innovation. But let’s start from the beginning.

What is intrapreneurship and who are the intrapreneurs?

Intrapreneurship in blunt terms is entrepreneurship happening within an organization. An intrapreneur, therefore, is just “an employee working in a big company who is behaving like an entrepreneur”, describes serial intrapreneur, Francois Blanc. As an intrapreneur, your job becomes to identify and build an entirely new business, often in an unknown or adjacent market. Because of that, intrapreneurs become one of the accountable individuals shaping the future of your company. As Francois teaches in CFTE’s Intrapreneurship course, “Your role is not to help run today’s business, but to find tomorrow’s business”. 

What companies promote intrapreneurship and how do they do it?

Here are the 5 most famous cases of companies that promote intrapreneurship and their results from it:

Sony

Sony’s intrapreneurship success story is probably the most famous intrapreneurial case study out there. It revolves around one object that has made millions of children and young adults very happy: the PlayStation.

Intrapreneur Ken Kutaragi invented the PlayStation after buying his daughter a Nintendo game console and disliking the quality of the sound. Kutagari had training and experience in electronics so he set out to improve the Nintendo while still working at Sony. 

Eventually, Kutagari convinced Sony of the market and business opportunity that existed on computer gaming systems. Thanks to the large support by the then CEO of the corporation, who believed in his intrapreneurial mindset, Kutagari was tasked with the project to create the first PlayStation. Many decades later, PlayStation has two-thirds of the Console Operating System Market Share Worldwide. Just of the PS4, Sony has sold 113 million units.

3M

3M’s most famous intrapreneurial invention is very likely to be sitting on your desk right now or to be put up the wall. That’s right: the Post-It Note. It was invented in 1974 by 3M scientist Art Fry who wanted to create the perfect bookmark for his church hymnal, one that wouldn’t move from its place.

What is more interesting is that Mr Fry developed the Post-It Note during his “15 percent time,” a program at 3M that allows employees to use a portion of their paid time to pursue and develop their own ideas. Google’s famous programme was based on 3M’s pioneer one. While it may seem like a simple invention, 3M produces 50 billion Post-It Notes every year!

Google

Talking of the devil, there is Google’s famous 20 Percent Time policy. It operates in the same manner as 3M’s: Google employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time pursuing innovative ideas that may benefit Google.

Google founders Page and Brin wrote in their 2004 IPO letter, that this intrapreneurship programme “empowers [employees] to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

That last sentence is certainly true. Some of the projects to have come out of 20 Percent Time include Google Maps, Adsense, Google News and Gmail. The latter is the most popular email platform with over 1.8 billion users.

However, there has been some critique to the programme as some claim it is barely in existence anymore and that doesn’t really guarantee employees will have the time to work on this within their working hours. Nevertheless, Google HR boss Laszlo Bock writes in his new book, “Work Rules!” that what really matters is that idea of the programme exists, encouraging innovative thinking within the business just by that.

Facebook

Facebook has somehow a different approach to its intrapreneurship programme that Google and 3M, but no less effective. In Facebook’s case, their way of promoting intrapreneurship among their employees is with their famous hackathons.

As can be read on a Facebook note, “Hackathons are a chance for engineers, and anyone else in the company, to transform the spark of an idea into a working prototype and get other people excited about its potential. We’re a culture of builders, and hackathons are our time to take any idea”.

During these sessions, Facebook employees will rush through the night to develop ideas for potential new features and options for the social media giant. One condition applies: you need to work on something different than your everyday job.

What is great about Facebook hackathons is that employees from different departments and backgrounds can come together into the same project. That is because ideas are first posted on a Facebook wall ahead of the hackathon for people to come together. A couple of days after the hackathon there is a Prototype Forum for people to convince their peers that their idea should be taken ahead.

Some of the results of this hackathons include video, the Like button, chat, the Timeline and being able to tag people on comments.

Amazon

Amazon may not be as recognised for its intrapreneurial programme, but there is one button we all use when shopping in its platform that has guaranteed them a competitive advantage and was the result of intrapreneurship: the 1-click purchase.

The 1-click purchase was invented by the Amazon programmer Peri Hartman who wanted to find a way to “make the ordering system completely frictionless”. He built the software that enabled this and in 1997 Amazon patented it.

This simple idea gave Amazon a huge competitive advantage, increasing their sales 5% just by it, and allowed it to create a new revenue stream from licensing the technology to other companies like Apple.

Today, Amazon’s intrapreneurship efforts focus on encouraging its employees to become business owners of a package delivery company to serve Amazon through the Delivery Service Partner. This is a very intelligent move by Amazon who has measured its increasing need for delivery services in order to deliver its products in the near future given their growing scale.


Many ways to become an intrapreneur

Certainly, there are many ways in which companies can promote intrapreneurship. Many companies do it through structured intrapreneurship programmes while others do it by creating a business culture that encourages innovative thinking. In any case, knowing how to be an intrapreneur and generate value to your company can be a source of great career satisfaction if you have an intrapreneurial mind. If you can align your need for intrapreneurship activity with that of your organization, you are set on the right path for a very happy and mutually beneficial relationship with your corporation.


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