How intrapreneurship can drive the fourth industrial revolution

Peter Sayburn
- People and Skills - Feb 04, 2016

New technologies are changing the way we live and ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ are the words on everyone’s lips. With the development of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, robotics, big data, and mobile telephony, big businesses in the UK need to act quickly, smartly and efficiently to keep up with the latest innovations and technology. 

The way big businesses discover and implement innovation is shifting, with the launch of venture teams, accelerator panels and internal incubators bringing a start-up mentality to corporate organisations. Big businesses are embracing this concept of ‘intrapreneurship’: an entrepreneurial approach whereby teams and individuals are driving new venture ideas from within the organisation.

Intrapreneurship or corporate entrepreneurship has been adopted by some of the world’s most successful companies, such as 3M, GE, Intel, and Xerox for several years. It is a great approach to maintain relevance and keep the company agile, customer-centric and innovative. Only recently has this concept become widespread and openly embraced.

Intrapreneurship can be defined as an entrepreneurial activity within a large, established business, usually to address a new market opportunity or develop a new way of doing things, outside the normal scope of activities. Intrapreneurship is also a change of mindset – thinking like an entrepreneur: seeing new opportunities, being completely customer-driven, making the most of limited resources, and above all moving quickly.

Within many big businesses there are talented people with brilliant new ideas. The challenge is working out how to realise these opportunities and bring these ideas to life. Large companies have become very effective at doing one thing well and often struggle to change direction or embrace something new. This is where intrapreneurship comes in.

With the development of new digital technology and business models, more and more people are becoming intrapreneurs. Employees tend to move around more often, so intrapreneurs are adept at landing in a company, making an impact immediately, delivering one or two big initiatives and then moving on to another company.

Companies are also more willing to collaborate and work in partnership than they used to, recognising that no one company can do everything itself. Organisations often look to acquire start-ups and SMEs to enhance their offering, but you can’t rely on acquisition alone for business growth. Acquisitions can be a great way to bring in new complementary capabilities and technology and can refresh the entrepreneurial spirit and culture within established companies – so a combination of intrapreneurship and acquisition can work well.

BT is a great example of a company that has diversified with the development of new ventures like BTVision and BTSport, which have transformed BT from a telephone company to digital media business. 

British Gas established a Connected Homes division in 2012 to access new markets and develop totally new ways of working. It still had strong links to the parent company, but offered the speed and innovation typically seen in much smaller companies.  

Speed is key when it comes to intrapreneurship. These dedicated, purposeful teams can cut through the corporate layers that can often slow big companies down. There are other benefits to businesses, such as the ability to explore and experiment in new market areas before making a big financial commitment, and the impact on the wider workforce – intrapreneurial projects bring new energy and direction to a business. 

We are witnessing an increase in the launch of venture teams, or internal ideas incubators, as well as in investment in research and prototype development. It’s essential for businesses to work collaboratively with experts in this field, listen to creative new ideas from all levels of the company and encourage a culture of change and innovation to facilitate commercial growth. 

Peter Sayburn is co-founder and CEO of Market Gravity

 

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