The democratization of innovation, according to The Conference Board’s 2017 “CEO Challenge” report, is a key issue for leaders worldwide. “Companies that produce innovators,” according to The Conference Board, “will be those based on inclusive, collaborative, internally and externally networked cultures.”

Innovative employees are self-aware, understanding their role at their organization and how they contribute to their organization’s goals. They break rules – in a good way – and can hypothesize, test and build support for new ideas. They can work independently and as part of a team. They combine hard skills like data analysis and lean methodologies with soft skills like emotional intelligence and communication.

According to Rich DiTieri, CEO of the Startup Institute, and Ty Montague, co-founder and co-CEO of co:collective, these employees can be developed through intrapreneurship, a program that takes the innovative methods of entrepreneurship and applies them inside an organization. The Startup Institute recently launched an intrapreneurship program aimed at tech companies or non-tech companies “that would like to bring a technical edge,” according to DiTieri, who cites as an example of the latter type of customer Gillette and its new Gillette On Demand program.

co:collective recently announced Doable, a cloud-based intrapreneurship platform aimed at millennials. Members of this generation “are highly creative and entrepreneurial, value constant feedback and collaboration, and aspire to make a tangible impact on the companies they work in and on the wider world,” Montague said in the press release announcing the product. Doable was launched in beta in 2015 and is used in over 200 companies in multiple sectors. Montague says clients have seen increases of 25 to 43 percent in users’ confidence in developing ideas, connections and collaborations across departments, feeling recognized, and satisfaction with opportunities for growth.

Developing Innovative Intrapreneurs

“The most successful companies disrupt themselves, which is extremely difficult to do,” says DiTieri. “Creating a culture of innovation, or at least empowering specific individuals to look for the problems you’re not solving but should be, could be the difference between something as simple as growing by 10 percent versus 8 percent next year, or as big as determining whether or not you exist in 10 years.” Intrapreneurships are a way to develop innovative employees and, according to Montague, to identify talent, “unleash that talent in the right way,” and reward it.

DiTieri says developing intrapreneurs requires both “a deliberate investment in training” and a culture that encourages experimentation, within limits: “Intrapreneurship and internal innovation rest on the ability to eliminate roadblocks, widen the highway but keep the guardrails.”

There are three keys to a successful intrapreneurship program, according to Montague: empowerment, endorsement and commitment.

  1. Empower employees with the tools and processes they need to succeed.
  2. Endorse employees by giving them “permission to create and innovate and break away from the standard processes.”
  3. Commit to employees and their ideas by allocating resources to support them and their ideas.

Research in 2013 found that between 70 percent and 90 percent of intrapreneurship efforts fail due to challenges such as “the inherent risk of promoting new ideas,” the tendency to stick with the status quo and the number of people in an organization who actually have time to develop new ideas. Based on the work consulting firm OneLeap did with Kuoni, a travel services company, researcher Beth Altringer identified several ways organizations can learn from entrepreneurs to overcome these obstacles:

  • Entrepreneurs often do a lot with a little. Larger corporations can follow suit by identifying the resources they do have and “take nothing for granted.”
  • Entrepreneurs “focus relentlessly on the core of their idea.” Organizations should combine that focus with actively looking for unmet needs and creative ways to use their knowledge and resources to meet those needs.
  • OneLeap is “essentially a network of, and platform for, entrepreneurs to engage with large consultancy” based on the specific skills clients need. As Montague points out, large corporations can likewise identify untapped talent in their organizations to participate in intrapreneurship programs and become innovative leaders.
  • The hackathon has become a popular way for entrepreneurs and innovators to pitch new ideas to tech companies. Organizations wanting to tap internal talent can host internal hackathons to “help companies get past slow decision-making and embrace competition.”

Intrapreneurship, according to DiTieri, “is a skillset and a lens that you take with you wherever you go.” Developing intrapreneurs is critical for organizations to become more innovative, especially in the “turbulent global environment” they face today. Whether through partnering with an outside organization to support intrapreneurship or by developing an internal program, companies looking for a way to support strategic talent development would do well to take note.