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.

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Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky