Innovation Trends: Take-aways from background interviews
at the “Intrapreneurship Conference” in Stockholm

On orphans, value factories, intrapreneur scouting and the entrepreneurs paradox

Take-aways from expert interviews at the “Intrapreneurship Conference 2017″ in Stockholm

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the keen thinkers in the intrapreneurial scene. With a thirst of knowledge and a packed catalogue of questions about innovation projects, I took a plane to the Intrapreneurship Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. I entrust all of you to join this conference the next time. Being surrounded by people with the same interests and exchanging your experiences will help to push you and your innovation projects more forward.

For now though, I´ll share my take-aways from background interviews I had with Brant Cooper (CEO from Moves the Needle), Rod Ben Zeev and Patrick Leenheers (both from THNK), Tendayi Viki (Author, Founder and Principal Consultant at Benneli Jacobs) and Tristan Kromer (Lean Startup Coach and Founder of Kromatic) covering the following topics:

  • the „orphan challenge”
  • the rise of “Value Factories”
  • finding intrapreneurs within your organization and
  • dealing with the “entrepreneur-paradox”

If you want to read the whole, it might take you 20min or even more (make sure to jump to the sections that you´re interested in).

The “orphan challenge”

While being a founder of different start ups, I learned that 90% of your ideas won´t be successful in the end, and 99% of them will be pivoted (= fundamental change of the business concept). In the grind between customers, competition and investors the weak ones will be sorted out sooner or later. For intrapreneurs within corporate surroundings, there is another factor to be taken into account: “the orphan challenge”.

As an entrepreneur, you typically have to talk to plenty venture capitalists in order to raise money for your innovation project after it has reached readiness to scale. And just like you have to compete for your customers, these investors also need to compete for the best startup. Therefore, raising the money you need to scale is cracked and a transparent process.

However, the situation appears to be different within corporations: there, you only have one, two or three people who can provide your project with significant money. This could create opacity which can take a lot of time and thus making it, frankly said, to an annoying task.

The “orphan challenge”

In the end, if you don´t find anyone to jump on the bandwagon, your innovation project will die sooner or later. The initiatives that are not able to get an internal founding, even though they have successfully passed validation gates, are called “orphans”. You have an orphan under your projects? Don´t worry, this orphan issue is not an uncommon problem, and with some tricks easy to circumvent.

So what can you do against that?

Step 1:

“Don’t make decisions too early” – Brant Cooper

“There is no bad idea.” – Tendayi Viki

As “pivoting” is quiet normal, ideas shouldn´t be dismissed at day one: in this stage it´s rather an impulse than an idea.

If it´s an internal project, the best practice would be that the organization provides their intrapreneurs with coaches and mentors to give them a hand by teaching them to overcome obstacles and to navigate the internal system. They should not tell them what exactly to do but help them to find their right path. One thing you should never forget is to take care of current trends and the market situation by always keeping the corporate strategy in your mind.

Step 2:

“Think as an entrepreneur. Never stop at the first, second or 17th no.” – Patrick Leenheers

You have done Step 1, but your innovation project still died? Do not retreat yourself from any projects and start using these rejections as a sort of practice or feedback. Never be uninhibited by the expulsion and take it as a chance to develop your idea better. Who knows – maybe the next time you´ll be able to convince all of your investors and even your prior doubters after presenting them your modified idea.

Especially, intrapreneurs tend to drop their ideas once they don´t get the support they have desired or expected. As already mentioned in my last article, intrapreneurs need to think like entrepreneurs regarding their steadfastness.

Since entrepreneurs need to take big risks in implementing their innovation projects, they try harder to raise more money. They mostly make a bigger effort than intrapreneurs, they ask more often and also for a longer period. Even after the 17th no, they do not stop and still believe in their success. If intrapreneurs learn to deal with rejections just like entrepreneurs do, their innovation projects have a chance to exceed the experimental phase.

“You need a strategic guidance” – Tendayi Viki

Another reason why innovation projects can die is not starting with stakeholder management (I like to call it stakeholder development) from day 1. You can be working on a great idea, but nobody in the main system is aware or interested in it – simply just because you didn´t treat them with particular attention.

Usually, corporations have three or five year’s strategies assembled with around five priorities. Within stakeholder development, your aim is to make sure that you and your innovation projects are seen as a contribution to any of those priorities. If you miss this chance, it will be difficult to be supported by the corporate system and you won´t be provided with the money you might need.

“We should do discovering with our corporate sponsors to understand the objectives and the strategy of the business. Then we can filter out ideas that will never be accepted by the core business before spending time and money on them.” – Tristan Kromer

Start working with at least one executive sponsor to make sure that the ideas and projects you generate align with the boards’ idea of strategy, structure and culture. Try to address the key problems they care about. Moreover, make clear that your innovation project is not about current business, but into building new business and always make sure you get an early agreement of your ideas. To do so, communicate with your sponsor stage by stage.

Your corporation is following another structure? As a ray of hope, even within corporations without proper VCing structures, there is normally more than one alleyway to get funded. Sometimes there is even no need to get funded at the early stages. This brings me to my next questions: how much budget do intrapreneurs actually need for their projects? Is there any fixed budget each project needs as a basis?

Some people spend their whole time and energy preparing a bulletproof pitch to receive a certain investment, whereas in fact only your innovation lab might need a major budget. The truth is: early stage intrapreneurs just need an incremental investing -if they do so at all. Instead of searching mainly for a budget, you should start following your runway. Start building  a hypothesis and validate it. As you work always incrementally, investments should also follow in small tranches step by step.

Even in later stages you can try to scale your project (and therefore leave the orphan stage) without major investments. This guerilla approach is mainly important for intrapreneurs whose innovation projects are not supported, but they still want to spread them.

“Mostly, it has a lot to do with leveraging networks, making things via viral, asking clients to become your co-creators or co-producers and to bring them into a movement.” – Patrick Leenheers

The key to success is to create a tribe. In addition, you can try to cut your costs to the minimum. As I said before, there are a lot of chances to accomplish your goals – even when you haven´t received a major investment or any stakeholder sponsorship from the very first beginning.

The rise of “Value Factories”

I have been now mainly talking about intrapreneurs trying to circumvent orphans, but what about entrepreneurs? Is there a difference?

There is a divide between entre- and intrapreneurship – I also like to call myself “entre- and intrapeneur”. But after taking a look at the main tasks – intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs – we all do the same, don´t we? It is more the surrounding that might separate us from being the “same”.

“People need freedom to create their new ideas.” – Brant Cooper

By introducing a “preneur” ecosystem we won´t force someone into a corner. People could decide with each project they have in mind which “side” to take, without hanging on one certain approach. “Value Factories” could be created as a place where different people with different professions and with all, corporate, cross-corporate and entrepreneurial backgrounds, could validate early stage ideas together…. scaled later on by whosoever turned out to be the best owner.

 “To become a good intrapreneur you need to adapt the mindset of an entrepreneur.” – Rod Ben Zeev

I agree with the words of Rod Ben Zeev. But in what sense do entrepreneurs have a different mindset than others? How do you know whether you´re a potential intrapreneur or not? To get an answer to this evergreen question, I asked if my interviewees know any selection criteria or methods to discover intrapreneurs within your organization.

Finding intrapreneurs within your organization

Successful intrapreneurs I got to know made every project their “personal thing”. They were crystal clear in what they wanted to achieve and what they were trying to manifest in the world. Moreover, they knew their specials talents, as well as how to leverage the assets of their organization. Their personal goals and their project targets were suitable within the strategy of their corporation. Besides that, they were also able to value the positive side-effects of a fixed income. They´ve chosen their path and their organization empowered them to do so:

“In the right culture we don’t need to select/self-select entre- or inrapreneurs because the culture selects them.” – Tendayi Viki

Self-selection is the core word: there´s no best practice for it and how to hand-pick intrapreneurs. You shouldn´t search for intrapreneurs, but offer changes for people with “preneurial” moves: who want more, who not only do their task but even more than asked, the people who are intrinsic motivated to make more out of it without money or scale and those ones who are driven by passion and natural curiosity.

“It´s about building teams of cross functional areas – all of them are entre- and intrapreneurs.” – Tendayi Viki

Also,  this one “Steve-Jobs-like” superhero who will innovate your organization into the next decade doesn´t exist. Only hundreds of teams of “preneurs” (intra- and entrepreneurs) with different identities will beat the odds. By bringing different people with different strengths and skills together, you´ll have a team of people with explorative and growth mindsets, as well as diversity. This will enable you to optimize your innovation projects. According to Patrick Leenheers, a perfect team consists of three different “preneurs” who can be divided by the following:

A team with three different types of
The 3 different types of “preneurs”
  • People from large structures with a commercial focus who are familiar to work for long scale and with a global perspective
  • People from the entrepreneurship ecosystem who are mainly more digital, but struggle to have a scaling-mindset
  • Social tribes whose main purpose is to do something good for the world and who have a big heart and big vision (they are mainly bad in finance, do not really know how to sell, and believe that marketing is bad)

“More than anything, you want people who are interested in learning new things, learning new skills. Because that´s such a part of entrepreneurship.” – Tristan Kromer

A good method to offer changes for the people you´re searching for can be informal meet-ups, mentored design sprints or kickboxes (which is a real box every employee can grab filled with tools and advice to start validating). Those people who not only show up, but also actively attend these meet-ups etc. might be the right ones for your innovation ecosystem. It doesn´t matter how senior they are, they need to have an intrinsic motivation to take hands on the project.

Nevertheless, there also exist several tests regarding your personality, your current work (CV) and other special criteria that should help to define to which “side” you belong to. Still, most of these mechanisms are not significant enough.

Dealing with the “entrepreneur-paradox”

A team of intra-and entrepreneurs, this might sound a bit confusing and make you think: “Entrepreneurs within an organization? Weren´t entrepreneurs self-employed by definition?”

Thank God, the world is not black and white and you will meet pioneers within controlling departments of organizations, as well as settlers who build startups. Still, “employed entrepreneur” sounds a little bit like a paradox and entrepreneurial thinking and acting within established organization definitely is sometimes. So how can we deal with this “entrepreneur-paradox”?

It’s again down to mindsets: true entrepreneurs know that the definition of employment is not relevant. If you´re fully committed in your project you do not care whether you´re employed or not– all you want is to see your project succeeding and reaching its goals. Having that entrepreneurial spirit makes them to stay focused.

Having the entrepreneurial spirit
The entrepreneurial spirit

“The ones that have succeeded have survived and still maintain the entrepreneurial spirit, but also embrace whatever this new entity is bringing them.“ – – Rod Ben Zeev

Being employed as an entrepreneur depends on your own personality. Is this entrepreneur in for a thrilling life or not? Is he or she willing to go through everything or not? In the end, it´s a choice each one has to take for themselves.

“Instead of becoming a drawer, you become an artist.” – Brant Cooper

Entrepreneurs can learn to work inside an organization if this organization has a certain philosophy (purpose, mission, measurable goals, etc.) that fits to their mindsets and is not only a vehicle for processes in order to generate revenue. Entrepreneurs will learn to respect the core business and to appreciate the efforts of the people who are working in the structures of an organization. All together, they will become skilled at completing their tasks like a harmonized orchestra without variation and failure.

To ensure this, entrepreneurs should have the ability to see that all of the other “non-entrepreneurs” can also be talented and creative. The other way around, the rest of the “orchestra” will have to learn that “free Jazz” music is also worth listening to. In that way, you can turn the “culture clash” between corporate and entrepreneurial into a mutual benefit for both. In the end, the settlers work within the organizations of today to earn the money that the pioneers spend in order to create the organizations of tomorrow.

Wow, you read through this entire article? You’re really serious about innovation! I would love to stay in touch, so join me on my journey exploring what works and what does not with two easy steps:

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The keen thinkers:

Brant Cooper (Founder, Moves the Needle CEO, Bestseller Author and Keynote speaker) has set himself the goal to create new value by talking with entre- and intrapreneurs from all around the world and collecting their experiences. You want to know more about him or you want to invite him to your organization to give a talk, go and visit him on his LinkedIn page:

Rod Ben Zeev (THNK School for Creative Leadership) has committed himself in theater, film, television, large companies, non-profit and educational institutions by helping people to improve their presenting, their creativity and their entrepreneurial mindsets. You can find out more about Rod Ben Zeev and his work on his LinkedIn profile:

Patrick Leenheers (THNK School for Creative Leadership) has been working for large organizations within the last years, giving them support during the conception phase and scale-up of (digital) innovations. Together at THNK with Rod Ben Zeev, they offer programs on topics like gender equality, HIV and sustainable consumption. You will find more about him here:

Tendayi Viki (Author, Founder and Principal Consultant at Benneli Jacobs) is on the one hand helping large companies to innovate like startups, on the other hand mentoring and advising startups to get on track. To find more about him, visit his LinkedIn page:

Tristan Kromer (Lean Startup Coach and Founder of Kromatic) works closely with innovation teams – within early stage start-ups (as a volunteer), as well as in larger companies – to help them pushing their ideas through. To read more about Tristan, join him on linked in:

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