On November 23, I led and organized one of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW2019 DMV) event in the District of Maryland & Virginia, USA. The track which was titled Sustaining Entrepreneurship through Corporate Innovation & Intrapreneurship took a look at the concept of corporate innovation and roles of intrapreneurs in building and sustaining entrepreneurship. The session presented an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations around the topic while experts/speakers shared and providing professional resources, tips, and knowledge needed to grow and accelerate innovation as entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs within and across systems. I have summarized the session take out here as follows.

Panel session with speaker and Abolaji Omitogun
Abolaji Omitogun hosting a panel on entrepreneurship & intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurs like entrepreneurs have the capacity to innovate, the level/environment in which the innovation happens and the risk appetite of the person (intrapreneurs & entrepreneurs) is what differentiates one from the other.

Caitlin O’Donnell “I like to think about intra- and entrepreneurship as enabling environments that make space for, encourage, and celebrate ALL voices and ideas” Inclusion and Voice. Intrapreneurship is only possible when individuals have an opportunity to influence the world around them – in this case, the world of work. As intrapreneurs, we are working in environments that have set processes and rules that affect us daily. Why should employees not have an opportunity to participate in developing those standards, have their opinions heard, and the power to influence the final process or guideline? – Making space for new ideas is inclusion.

During the session, we tried to find out the inspiration for transitioning from Intrapreneurship to entrepreneurship and why others choose to become and remain intrapreneurs within systems. The answers below broadly categorize the answers from the experts & panelists.

  • Curiosity: Curiosity sparked the idea to join a company as an intrapreneur, as an entrepreneur, curiosity about an idea lead to the formation of a company
  • Opportunity: Saw an opportunity to address a problem no one or previous organization wasn’t properly addressing. Opportunity to grow or scale and be financially empowered by leveraging skill, expertise & experience
  • Passion about pursuing something of interest, cause or an idea or do things differently
  • Impact: Saw an opportunity to make an impact

We also sought to find out what skills (Soft Skills, Life Skills, Non-Cognitive Skills) employers were particularly looking for? and in understanding the right combination of skills an employee needed to become intrapreneurial.

Table 1: Source, Making Cents International

foundational skills that are applicable across the board in workforce development. Making Cents International
foundational skills

Table 2: Source, Making Cents International

Employability Vs Entrepreneurship skill

Table 1 shows the various combination of skills needed by the employee to gain employment into the workforce while table 2 show the skill sets needed to thrive within the workplace and be able to successfully navigate the changing world of work. An intrapreneur just like an entrepreneur possesses the combination of both employability and entrepreneurship skills sets. The combination of this skill sets is what makes and intrapreneur standout from the crowd.

Panel session with Shusanna
Shushana (AtlasCorps fellow hosts a panel

We also asked attendees to share their experiences on the challenges or barriers to intrapreneurship they are aware of. The following summarizes some of the challenges/barriers attendees shared.

1.      Silos/inclusion effects within organizations

  • Organizations did not engage or include their employees in the innovation process and showed no desire to engage. Others that engaged or included their employees restricted the task of innovation to a small unit or department e.g. R&D unit.
  • Another barrier to intrapreneurship is misaligned employer-employee goals and objectives that sometimes causes both parties to operate in different dimensions of understanding 
  • Employees also expressed that organization that lacked mission, vision and value statements or unable to communicate those well risked being unable to tap into its employee’s creative or innovative capabilities.

2.     Policies, Organizational culture and practices. Leadership receptiveness, organization bureaucracy and resistance to change play a huge role in enabling employees to innovate within systems. Attendees mentioned that the policies and actions of employers must reflect support for innovating within systems. An example is when organizations lay full claim of the ownership of an employee’s ideas while being an employee of the company. This approach is rather intimidating and as pitfalls for innovating rather than reflect support. It was suggested that employers put in place policies that recognize and reflect support, collaboration, equitable stake, and other inclusive win-win approaches to innovating within the organization.

3.     Politics, unfair Recognition or accolades to wrong quarters. The fear that the boss, supervisor or most senior colleague may lay claims to an employee’s ideas without duly recognizing the original idea owner for his or her contributions or ideas. Organizations must be aware of the politics/power play within it and must ensure to communicate openly policies that discourage such behaviors. It is also important for organizations to ensure fair process, fair stake and recognition when employee’s ideas gets implemented; adequate systems and processes that help to document, monitor and track the channels and flow of innovative ideas within a company must also be put in place. A good way of doing is by creating an idea bank or portal where employees can put up their ideas on projects, system or processes so that they can be duly recognized and acknowledged.

4.     Gender, color or other psychosocial factors. Attendees did not fail to point out that organizations that failed adequately recognize and address the place of gender representation, diversity and color sentiment risked facing huge barriers at innovating within its system. They emphasized the need for the freedom and empowerment of either as a woman or person of color or any other minority group to be able to share innovative ideas within teams and the workplace at large. They also emphasized the need for the psychosocial balance of employees; mental health, social status, and functional capacity within the organization and community at large to spur innovation.

Pictures with Attendees

Tips for fostering innovation through intrapreneurship:

  1. Intra-organizational innovation activities are activities held within an organization, or organizational unit to spur, encourage and foster innovation among peers, teams, units or company, for example, Hackathon, pitch competition, innovation Labs, etc. are approaches organizations can implement to encourage innovative ideas on project or processes.
  2. Intra-organizational innovation funds, rewards, award recognition, retreats or other incentives (travel, dinner & award ceremonies, or more importantly cash prizes) are effective innovation methods. Innovation funds can be used to organize, award/recognize, encourage and support employee’s innovative actions or projects.
  3. Change and innovation management are the strategies, techniques, and approaches within an organization needed to prepare and support the employee to innovate effectively. This includes, but not limited to space or environment, tools, people or talents needed to support innovation.
  4. Work & Life Balance. Employees and employers alike must seek to help each other in achieving a work-life balance. “Help us to help you” kind of approach. Help us to live a healthy work-life balance so we can help you attain the best results.
  5. Whether you are an intrapreneur or an Entrepreneur, I hope you find these tips useful as you continue to seek ways to strengthen your organizational and personal capacity to innovate successfully. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this session and want to highlight and appreciate the speakers who passionately took out time of their very busy schedule to share their experiences and knowledge in accelerating intrapreneurial/entrepreneurial success on the local, national and international stage.

Caitlin O’Donnell – Senior Associate, Technical Services, Making Cents InternationalEllen Bateman – Director for U.S. Ecosystems, Global Entrepreneurship Network, Mark Lawrence – Managing Partner, InncuvateMonica Kang – Founder + CEO, Innovators BoxSteven A. Rodriguez – Startup Programs Regional Manager US/Canada, Techstars and Kunle Oladipo – Ceo, Longbridge Technologies & Wawooh

Special appreciation and recognition goes to the team at Innovation coalition for putting together the #GEW2019DMV event, Making Cents International for the resource, knowledge and material support, AtlasCorps for the fellow support through Shushanna Abovyan (Co-facilitator) & Amarile Rodz (Logistics) and finally to my team at Hub67 (https://www.hub67.com/) especially Tojola Bolaji for the planning and preparation support.

You can visit https://sched.co/X0Nr for more information on GEW 2019 DMV. Visit https://www.youthlead.org/resources/sustaining-entrepreneurship-through-corporate-innovation-intrapreneurship for full agenda and event summary

Abolaji Omitogun, Track Captain – GEW 2019