Intrapreneurship: A Driving Force Within Companies

This post originally appeared in my column on Inside Indiana Business.

“Intrapreneurship,” the application of entrepreneurial practices within the confines of large, established corporations, is steadily becoming a commonly-used term. Many of Indiana’s largest companies encourage intrapreneurship within their walls. This simply means that taking risks with innovation is encouraged, whether in small teams or individuals. Many companies without the budgets of these big firms are also experimenting with intrapreneurship, some relying upon it as a source for new business ideas or growth strategies for old ones.

“According to the Kauffman Foundation, it’s not small companies that are responsible for economic growth, it’s new companies,” says ClearObject John McDonald. “Companies less than 5 years old are responsible for nearly all of the [net] new job growth in our economy. That’s why introducing intrapreneurialism into existing companies is so critical, it’s the engine that fuels the creation of new opportunities and new businesses from within.”

Memory Ventures, a company which relocated to Fishers from Los Angeles, encourages their employees to take risks, even allocating funding and a time limitation on experimental projects. Many of these projects don’t result in success, but that’s a key part of the ethos of intrapreneurship.

“A lot can be learned through failure,” says Anderson Schoenrock, CEO of Memory Ventures. “When given a concise budget and time frame, the money spent is worth the outcome – which means it is successful if it flies or fails.”

Startup tech companies rely upon intrapreneurs to compliment their fast growth companies. In fact, this characteristic is highly sought after when assembling early stage teams. This is due to the fact that those individuals have a rare mix of corporate experience and existing business connections alongside the risk-taking and trial-by-error mentality of an entrepreneur. Tech startups live or die by experimentation. For example, user experience issues need to be resolved urgently, with intrapreneurship being key to the success or failure of these companies.

Becci Medhurst, an Australian serial intrapreneur, moved to the U.S. in 2016 to continue her work within startup companies. She is VP of Operations for Kenzie Academy, a tech apprenticeship school focused on education, mentorship, and job placement here in Indianapolis.

“Today’s intrapreneurs are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs,” states Medhurst. “Emerging tech ecosystems are generally very supportive of founders and emerging companies, but should look to take a step further in strengthening the support of our future tech leaders who are taking the risk and getting behind these new startup ventures as early employees.”

It surprises no experienced intrapreneur to discover that First Internet Bank CEO and Chairman David Becker encourages his employees to take risks. Becker is a serial entrepreneur who has stayed engaged with First Internet Bank through intrapreneurship.

“I have no problem if one of our employees takes a risk and fails, in fact, I encourage it,” shares serial entrepreneur Becker. “I just don’t want them to make the same mistake twice.”

This is something she hopes to tackle with Kenzie Academy, fostering innovative tech leaders who will be able to take an idea, build a successful team around them, and produce a profitable and scalable product/solution.

“These are the sorts of employees who will commit their time, invest their skills and benefit greatly by building their careers alongside the success of the companies they work for,” says Medhurst, who recognizes synergies between Australia’s emerging startup ecosystem, and what she’s witnessed here in Indy.

Cultivating intrapreneurship within a company may create surprise outcomes, such as growth and creative problem solving. Given the start of a new year, perhaps it’s time for more companies to experiment with celebrating intrapreneurs.

Give me the Walkers

Give me the doers, give me those that take action and follow their dreams. Give me those that know what they want and go after it. Talking isn’t enough. Give me the walkers who are doing it.

“Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that makes a difference.

The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”  – Nolan Bushnell

Entrepreneurs – true entrepreneurs – know how to get shit done. Period.

And it’s not just entrepreneurs, it’s people who create and do epic shit every day. This could be the simple action of caring for special needs child (for which there is nothing simple), it could be loving a person that is challenging to love – and it’s all about making a difference in the lives of others. It all comes down to action taking. Doing.

There are a lot of people that talk and love to talk into delirium. I may listen initially, but I have no time for them.

The stories that I write are about people who do. It’s my choice to focus upon businesses that have created by someone who saw a need, have a passion, and is helping others. They are making a difference. They’ve done more than talk – they’ve been a walker.

Having a dream and doing something about it are entirely 2 different things. Attract people into your life to help facilitate those dreams and ideas, create it, work at it, do it. Walk it.

Give me something to write about.

Interns to Orphans: Jeff Papa’s Mission to Mentor

While planting trees in Jeff Papa’s front yard in 2003, Jeff and Steve Wolff discussed how privileged they were to be where they are in their current positions and how far they had come. They admired the work of those around them, such as Barnes & Thornburg partner Bob Grand with his support of Little Red Door. Jeff and Steve were thinking out loud, exploring ideas for their own philanthropic impact …

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Indy Sculpturist Brian McCutcheon Creates Iconic Images

Growing up in Traverse City in northern Michigan, Brian McCutcheon’s first sculptural experience was fixing up his first car.

“In retrospect, I realize my uncle lives like an artist. He was always in his shop where he has built hundreds of cars,” says Brian, who describes cars as a form of sculpture.

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Susana Suarez: Zionsville Town Council President

Susana Suarez has been fascinated by politics since she was very young. She would spend her mornings reading the paper at her family’s kitchen table in Mexico City, exchanging sections with her father. Depending on the issue, she would follow up with a letter to the current sitting President of the United States. Born and raised in Mexico City, Susana and her family moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, when she was 15. She graduated from Ohio State University where she became a member of the OSU Republicans and …

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Bridging The Gap Between Workforce Demands And Education

In Greater Indianapolis, it takes a tech company an average of five-and-a-half weeks to promote a STEM job before being able to fill it (according to the Brookings Institution). This is the fastest-growing space for employment and this is not sustainable for tech firms to work that hard to meet employment needs. What can we do to effectively and efficiently change that statistic?

Many, if not all, of the tech firms are led by entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs should be left to do what they do best – build companies of scale, create employment opportunities, and innovate. They are not educators.

The importance of bridging the gap between entrepreneurs and how educators can work to meet the demands of the talent pipeline in the personal and private sector cannot be overstated.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association likes the idea of passing funds to companies to do their own training. While this concept may work for certain manufacturers, this model of duplicity is simply not feasible nor efficient for the tech sector.

The share of the burden for the common cause of adequately preparing a workforce through organizations like Eleven Fifty Academy, who with the help of a grant through the Department of Workforce Development, created a significant statewide impact.

Over the course of 2016, Eleven Fifty Academy, through their Cool Coding Awareness Week, introduced the experience of coding to 25 communities across Indiana, reaching 23,000 students and 153 teachers. Through their immersive 9-week courses, they trained students on relevant, employer advised curriculum for placement in jobs after graduation. These students are enjoying a living wage and not just any wage. All with an average student debt 25% less than the states average 4-year college debt. If that’s not enough, they have taught 1,200 existing professionals from 21 states and 3 countries in their first 2 years. (and brought them in to see our state) All thanks, in great part, to a SkillUP grant from DWD. Not bad for a team of 14 (and lots of community support).

EFA now has 75 area employers involved in hiring or advisory roles for their graduates. They close their year with a successful experiment of taking their show on the road outside of Indiana, educating 50 coal miners in a rural eastern location in Kentucky. My grandfather was a coal miner in western Pennsylvania, I am sure he’d be delighted at additional opportunities available in rural areas for his fellow laborers as our energy needs evolve.

What else needs to be done? Nonprofits like EFA cannot act alone. The jobs of today and tomorrow clearly need to be met with a skilled workforce. Education at younger ages is critical to meeting the demands we face today and in the near future. There are challenges, but far greater are the opportunities for educators to become involved.

Our current culture is about college degree equaling success. If someone does not fit that category, how do we help them not to feel disconnected? I know I am guilty as a writer for consistently asking where someone went to school. John Qualls, President of Eleven Fifty Academy, does not have a college degree (unless you count the United States Marine Corps as a degree in hard knocks).

We all struggle with path actualization in one way or another. The ease to which a student can accumulate educational debt is overwhelming, and if they are not on a strong path to success, it is just debt. After a student is no longer a student in the education system, and lacks skills for a fulfilling job, they become a workforce problem. It is clear to me that early intervention of awareness of viable and promising career paths needs to be made available.

Education does a lot to help, but a stronger relationship between education, workforce development, and the private sector needs to exist. Many schools are already progressing in this arena, but what about communities with lots to offer, but lack the resources to create this bridge?

Clear paths to employment is only one facet to the solution, as there are many areas to be explored. Today, there is no such thing as a non-tech company.

While we can always do better, we should never shy away from innovating.

Torchlite’s Shawn Herring

When Susan Marshall originally shared her idea with Shawn Herring, he instinctively knew she was on to something. Both former ExactTarget employees and both marketing experts, the disruptive digital marketing concept Marshall presented was attractive. Circling in Dustin McCormick, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, a partnership was formed, and along with backing from investors, including former Salesforce CEO Scott McCorkle, the torch was lit. Marshall the founder and CEO, had the vision for simplifying marketers’ lives by providing the technology and a network of experts to help businesses acquire new customers through…

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Karen Mangia Creates Success With Less

Karen Mangia, Vice President of Customer and Market Insights for SalesForce, recently discovered an old email exchange with a friend stating how “email was ridiculous and it would never catch on.” This is laughable now, but back then, the most radical idea was a handheld cell phone for talking, not texting. Since her college days, Mangia knew she wanted to work with customer data and took a nontraditional path to a tech career. “I have been fascinated by why people make the choices they make, what are the trends, study the data…

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Sun King’s Bob Whitt

A more circuitous and unpredictable path could not have been had by Sun King President Bob Whitt with regards to his career, nor a more enjoyable one. “The job I am in and the job I just left are both dream jobs,” says Bob. “I am fortunate enough to experience two in one lifespan.” Prior to Sun King, Bob served 11 years as the Executive Director of White River State Park, having been appointed by then-Governor Mitch Daniels and reappointed by Mike Pence. The 250-acre downtown Indianapolis park includes the Indianapolis Zoo…

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Marion County’s Veteran Service Officer, Capt. Matt Hall

By law, each county across the state of Indiana has a dedicated Veteran Service Officer to help veterans navigate the complexities of its benefits system. Once Mayor Joe Hogsett was sworn into office and discovered this position was vacant, he appointed Capt. Matt Hall to the post. “Matt Hall has been a welcome addition to the administration staff,” Hogsett says. “More importantly however, the fact that the county went so long without a Veterans Service Officer means that he has had to work hard to establish a vision and direction for our advocacy and…

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Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky