By Beth Jenkins, Challenge Director, Business Fights Poverty
At any given time, in any given company, there can be hundreds of employees with ideas for profitable new products, services, and business models that also create value for society. These would-be “intrapreneurs” come from all different backgrounds and roles, and many have never started a new venture before. The learning curve can be steep.
We have learned that intrapreneurs strongly prefer to learn by doing. Business Fights Poverty, Barclays, Pearson, and Cemex, together with The Intrapreneur Lab and Be Inspired Films, have developed a series of videos and tip sheets designed to jump-start this process. These resources are intended to give intrapreneurs the confidence that comes with knowing what they’re getting themselves into – even if they won’t fully figure it out until they try.
The Know-How for Corporate Social Innovation series covers five critical building blocks:
Coming up with a good idea, with Milan Samani – Partner, TIL Ventures and Founder of The Intrapreneur Lab. Coming up with an idea for a profitable new product or service with the potential to create value for society – as well as the business – is the first step in the social innovation process. And it is an ongoing one. The further an intrapreneur takes her idea, and the more she learns along the way, the more she will refine it. It is not uncommon for intrapreneurs to pivot significantly or stumble upon entirely new, more powerful ideas. As Milan says, “Successful social innovations rarely come out of random ‘lightbulb’ moments.” Find out where they do come from.
Engaging internal stakeholders, with Teodora Berkova – Director of Social Innovation, Pearson. Social innovation is rarely assigned. Most intrapreneurs pursue their ideas on their own initiative, on top of their day jobs. They need to engage colleagues in different parts of their companies to line up the insights and skills they need, share tasks, influence decision-makers, get funding, and build ownership within the department – or departments – that ultimately will have to deliver their ideas. As a Barclays expert said, “Intrapreneurs face objection from the person whose product or service we will replace, the person whose reputation is invested in doing something a certain way.” Find out how to overcome this and deliver successfully.
Defining the value proposition, with Ling Ling Phung – Corporate Social Innovation Advisor at Two Lings. To succeed in the marketplace, products and services have to solve real problems for real people. And they have to create value people are willing to pay for. The intrapreneur’s job is to figure out precisely how – keeping in mind that his own experience or intuition may not be the best guide. As a Pearson intrapreneur put it, “We’re completely shifting norms and the status quo in the way we deliver value to the consumer. It’s a huge assumption to make.” Many intrapreneurs realize their original assumptions are wrong. Find out how to test them.
Starting with the numbers, with Erik Simanis – Partner, TIL Ventures. Just as important as the product or service is the business model that will put it in the hands of consumers at prices they can afford – and generate an adequate level of profit for the intrapreneur’s company. If it doesn’t, it’s less likely to get the investment of cash, resources, and political capital it needs to succeed. It is also worth mentioning that if the numbers don’t work, the venture won’t scale, and its social impact will be limited. First question, according to Erik: “How much money do you need to generate on ‘judgment day’?” Find out where to go next.
Piloting your business model, with Damian Payiatakis – Director of Impact Investing at Barclays. An intrapreneur’s first take on the product is unlikely to be her last. In addition to the product itself, she may find that the pricing or payment strategy, the customer service, and other parts of the value proposition need to change – or that parts of the underlying business architecture, like the operating model or distribution channels, need to. Be open to this process, and find efficient ways of testing the business model as well as the offer.
As we shared in a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review Online, intrapreneurs can help companies meet their sustainability commitments and stay competitive in the face of disruptive technologies, low growth in established markets, and challenges in developing and emerging markets. Share these resources to support intrapreneurs in your company, and let us know if you find them valuable.