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67 examples of Intrapreneurship and Employee Ideas in action

“Look back at any great business or invention at just about any big company and you can find that intrapreneurs created it.”
– Gifford Pinchot

business is only as successful as its employees, and that goes for any industry. While the above statement is common wisdom, I came upon this conclusion while bringing together dozens of intrapreneur stories from various industries spanning various points in time.

The term Intrapreneur – coined by Gifford Pinchot in his 1985 white paper “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship” and further popularized by his book Intrapreneuring – has been pretty popular for the past few decades.

In his book, Pinchot defines an Intrapreneur as “Any of the dreamers who do. Those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind within an organization.”

Anyone can be an intrapreneur. From factory workers to managers, researchers to frontline workers, flight attendants to marketing executives – we have seen people in various diverse roles that brought forward ideas that changed the fortunes of their organizations or made a positive impact on their environment.

Their ideas helped: save money, make millions in profits, give their organizations an edge in the industry, set the standard for innovation, and even save lives. 

However, most of these Intrapreneurs did not have it easy. They had to overcome obstacles to get their ideas approved and develop them further. One thing that was common among all of them – persistence.

Some people refer to Intrapreneurs as entrepreneurs who were given the time and resources to work on an idea/project while still working in the realms of an organization. Unlike entrepreneurs, they don’t have to work solo and have the resources of an organization available to them.

Now while this is true, it ought to be stated that there are various corporate hurdles these intrapreneurs ought to undergo to innovate. Some of these include limited time and resources, lack of leadership buy-in, absence of innovation culture, and bureaucratic administration that makes getting an idea from ideation to implementation difficult.

We have seen cases where ideas that were first approved by the organization’s administration and had hundreds of members working on it, get reduced to just two people to divest resources elsewhere, and these intrapreneurs through their persistence were able to make their idea a success.

We will cover various such intrapreneur stories in this article, along with accounts of obstacles they faced, and a tip for CXOs at end of some of the stories, which can help them cultivate a culture of innovation and intrapreneurship in their organization. 

It’s a long article and was originally published in the form of an ebook. If you want to get access to a more aesthetic version of the contents covered in this article, I would recommend you download the ebook version, which is available here – The power of employee innovation

 If you want to keep reading, keep scrolling. I hope you have some refreshments, for there’s a long way to go. 

Are you listening to your frontline workers’ ideas?

 In the book Idea driven Organization, Alan Robinson et al discuss the concept of the 80/20 principle of improvement.

According to them, roughly 80% of an organization’s performance improvement potential lies in front-line ideas and only 20% in management-driven initiatives. They found this number consistent across a number of organizations spanning various industries.

Ideas that come from frontline workers can help your organization in ways unimagined. Since these workers are at the forefront of all the action, they can see problems and opportunities their managers do not. These employees have ideas that can help save their organizations time and money, increase revenue, make jobs easier, and increase productivity, quality, and customer experience.

In our opinion, frontline workers are the least recognized intrapreneurs. They have all the creativity and potential as their fellow counterparts working in mid or upper management, yet these are the ones whose ideas are least recognized.

That narrative needs changing. Let me give you a few real-life examples of why you should listen to your frontline colleagues.

Million Dollar Idea: The Factory worker that saved Swan Vesta thousands of pounds

In the early 1900s, a factory worker approached the leadership of Swan Vesta ­­– a matchmaking company – with an idea.

He proposed that his idea could possibly save the company millions of pounds. However, he would only share it if the company gave him a large share of the savings they made. They got the whole thing agreed with a solicitor so that if they indeed were able to save millions, he’d make his cash.

Although the idea was initially disregarded, the worker was later given a few minutes to present his concept to the board. His idea was to stop using the sandpaper strike on both sides of the matchbox and start using it only on one side.

His reasoning – The sandpaper had a layer of phosphorus on it that made igniting possible. Using the chemical on one side would cut down the cost of manufacturing the matches. The company saved a lot of money in sandpaper and chemical costs by having only one igniting side.

The company’s board accepted the idea and began using the strike only on one side of the box. It is said that the company saved millions of pounds with this idea and the factory worker retired a wealthy person.

Tip for Business leaders: Upper management often has the thought process that frontline workers, especially those working on factory floors, might not know enough about the industry and how things work in the business. While they might lack insight from a management perspective, they are well-versed with how things operate on the floor and could give you ideas to improve processes that can save resources or get greater output.

Legoland Innovation: A Legoland employee helped Children stay distracted while waiting for rides

We all hate waiting in long queues, don’t we?

And it gets more frustrating if you have to wait in the queue of amusement parks prior to rides with children who are tired, hungry, and impatient. Such situations often result in chaos.

A Legoland employee on the front lines felt sorry for these parents and decided to act. The employee made things simpler for both parents and employees by proposing the placement of tables with Lego pieces in the center of these queues.

Children could play safely while parents waited in line in peace. This idea radically transformed the Legoland customer experience.

Tip for Business Leaders: Being on the ground gives employees access to knowledge that upper management would not be aware of, since they don’t have to personally deal with it. It is often a good idea to invite your frontline employees to share ideas they have for the improvement of their immediate surroundings.

Starbucks Name tag campaign: A Starbucks Barista improved customer satisfaction by writing customer names on cups 

It feels like forever since Starbucks has been writing our names on cups.

But did you know, the practice didn’t start late until 2011, 40 years after the launch of the coffeehouse’s first outlet?

What happened was in 2011, one of the company’s baristas decided to put customer names on their coffee cups. The news of this innovation reached the corporate offices and they decided to adopt this practice company-wide.

Resultantly, the “first name initiative” was rolled out in March 2012, and as part of the campaign, Starbucks baristas also began wearing name badges with their names on them.

From now on we won’t refer to you as a tall latte or a mocha, but as your folks intended – by your name. It’s only a little thing. We’re Starbucks. Nice to meet you.


But what caused Starbucks, a company that has been making coffee for 40 years, to start doing these things?

There are two possible reasons speculated behind this decision:

  •  Starbucks wanted to differentiate itself from other coffee shops that served good coffee as well. It decided customer experience was key, and having a first-name connection with its customers could help establish customer relationships.

If you’re a regular at Starbucks, chances are the baristas would know you – and possibly your regular order too – by your name. Whereas in other coffee shops, where you’re a regular, you would possibly be known by your order solely.

The company intended to make the purchase more than a transaction and establish a personal relationship with its customers.

  • The second and simplest explanation was this practice could help employees avoid mix-ups and sort out orders easily. Since Starbucks offers a gazillion possibilities of how your drink could be made, having names on the coffee cups would reduce the chances of errors and ensures you receive the drink you ordered.

The first name initiative has been rolled across 30000 locations and over 4 billion cups have customers’ names written across them.

Tip for Business Leaders: If your organization has multiple outlets/stores, chances are some employees at some outlet, away from your organization’s headquarters, might be employing ideas that make their life easier in some way, and it would have a very positive impact on efficiency too. As a leader, it makes sense to invite your employees to share unique ideas they use to make their life better at work. You never know what treasure trove you could get your hands on.

Digital Suggestion: A guard at the Prison system suggested an efficient way of storing inmate pictures

Prison is the last place where you expect innovation to happen. But innovation can happen anytime and anywhere.

At the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, inmate pictures were taken on film and stored in an old-fashioned manner. If you were born before the 90s, you would remember how basically everyone used film to take pictures, and then printed off copies and stored them in albums.

The prison system was doing something of this sort but with files. This was not the safest way to store records or pictures, because you never know the elements that can damage and erase records – ink or water spillage, possible fires, et cetera.

A guard at the Massachusetts Department of Corrections suggested using digital cameras and creating a database for image storage.

The idea was implemented within some time and the prison started storing inmate images digitally instead of on film. The department had 16 correctional institutions and the idea saved them over $56,000 on film in the first year of installation alone, and most likely a lot of clerical headaches.

 Source –

Tip for Business Leaders: Allow individuals to voice their views and opinions freely. Give everyone from the housekeeping staff to the CXO an open forum to share suggestions and make innovations in their work. Titles & levels have nothing to do with Intrapreneurship.

What happens when Corporations encourage employees to innovate?

Corporations that have a culture of innovation in their organization and promote intrapreneurship within their realms have witnessed amazing results in form of ideas that led to great products, amazing features, exceptional marketing campaigns, and business transformation.

In this section, we will go through all those case studies and the results they yield.

Hot Cheetos: A Janitor’s idea that opened up a new market segment for Frito-Lay

 What happens when you encourage your employees to act like an owner?

In the case of Frito-lay, it results in products like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos!

It was the 1980s, and Frito-Lay had fallen on tough times. As a way to boost morale, then-CEO Roger Enrico recorded a video message and disseminated it to the company’s 300k employees.

In the video, Enrico encouraged every worker at the company to “act like an owner.” Most employees brushed it off as a management cliché, but a janitor – Richard Montañez – took it to heart.

“Here’s my invitation… here’s the CEO telling me, the janitor, that I can act like an owner. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Didn’t need to. But I knew I was going to act like an owner.” – Richard Montanez

Gathering courage, he asked one of the Frito-Lay salesmen if he could tag along and learn more about the process.

During this trip, they went to a convenience store in a Latino neighborhood — and while the salesman restocked inventory, Montañez made an observation:

“I saw our products on the shelves and they were all plain: Lay’s, Fritos, Ruffles. And right next to these chips happened to be a shelf of Mexican spices.” – Richard Montanez

At that moment, he realized that Frito-Lay had nothing spicy or hot. So, he took home some Cheetos and covered them in a spice mixture made by him. He then packed them in baggies, drew a logo, and presented them to Frito-Lay board members.

The board members were very much pleased by the new concept, and eventually, in 1992, Frito-Lay launched the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

Today, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are one of Frito-Lay’s hottest-selling commodities — a multi-billion-dollar snack celebrated by everyone from celebrities like Katy Perry to middle-schoolers on meal vouchers. There’s even a rap song about them.

Montañez had a glorious 43-year career, where the former janitor rose through the corporate ranks and handled Marketing and Sales for PepsiCo America (the holding company of Frito-Lay) before he retired in 2020.

Tip for Business Leaders: Try to establish a culture of innovation where employees can freely share their ideas, irrespective of the position they work in, be they janitor or manager.

Mcdonald’s Happy Meal: An idea loved by children around the world

 McDonald’s Happy Meal is loved by children across the world. The most amazing part of it – the toys that come with it.

So how was the concept of this product conceived?

Turns out, the concept was developed in parts and three people played major roles in making it a reality.

It was the mid-1970s, and Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño was working with her husband operating McDonald’s restaurant in Guatemala. Yolanda realized the struggle of children in McDonald’s to finish sandwiches like Big Mac and felt there should be a smaller meal for a child that they could finish. 

So, she created “Menú Ronald” (Ronald menu), which offered a hamburger, small fries, and a small sundae. She also added little toys that she bought at a local market and packaged the whole thing in a tray.  

At a McDonald’s marketing conference in Chicago in 1977, she presented the executives with the idea. However, the idea was already in development elsewhere, claimed Bob Bernstein.

Turns out by the mid-70s, the idea of a children’s meal box had been floating around the fast-food industry. According to retired senior executive vice president Paul Schrage, the idea for Happy meal came from Burger Chef, which had been offering gifts to kids.

Dick Brams, the regional ad manager in St. Louis got inspired and came up with the idea to create a dinner meal targeted towards kids which came with toys. He contacted Bob Bernstein, whose advertising firm handled McDonald’s restaurants in the Midwest and Southwest and had been working already on a kids’ meal.

“I came up with the Happy Meal, in 1975, as I watched my son at the breakfast table reading his cereal box. He did it every morning. I thought we make a box for McDonald’s that holds a meal and gives kids things to do.” – Bob Bernstein

Bob called his creative team and had them mock up some paperboard boxes fashioned to resemble lunch pails with the McDonald’s Golden Arches for handles. They called in nationally known children’s illustrators and offered them the blank slate of filling the box’s sides and tops with their own colorful ideas from art to jokes to games to comic strips to stories to fantasy: whatever they thought might appeal to kids.

Bernstein trademarked the Happy Meal name in 1977 and assigned it to McDonald’s in June 1980. Happy Meals were tested and advertised for a couple of years in Kansas City, Phoenix, and Denver before being rolled nationally in the Summer of 1979.

The first Happy Meal boxes were introduced with a Circus Wagon Train theme, and the first toys were McDoodler stencils, puzzle locks, and McWrist wallets.

Bernstein was not involved in McDonald’s Happy Meal strategy after it went national. Bernstein’s version of the Happy Meal centered on the designs outside the box, but toys were its main appeal. McDonald’s turned into one of the largest toy distributors in the country and the toys became collectors’ items.

Both Bob Bernstein and Dick Brams were recognized for coming up with the idea of Happy Meal. While the latter was recognized as the father of the Happy Meal, Bernstein was recognized for his accomplishment with a full-size golden replica of the Happy Meal box in 1987.

Five years before, in 1982, McDonald’s gave Yolanda a silver Ronald McDonald statue, for developing the Happy Meal, as well as helping to grow the company’s standing among children.

If you ask who really came up with Happy Meal, it can be said that there were too many cooks involved in developing the concept, and each played their part. However, it was Dick Brams’ and Yolanda’s idea to add toys to the respective meal, while Bernstein perfected the idea. Thus, each of them played an important part in the development of the Happy Meal.

Thanks to these three, the Happy meal is a hit worldwide and is one of the biggest revenue generators for the burger giant. Since the inception of the Happy Meal, McDonald’s has become the largest distributor of toys in the world. Each year, McDonald’s distributes about 1.5 billion toys worldwide.

Tip for Business Leaders:  An idea, possibly the same one, can be conceived by multiple people within a business. In such cases, the credit for the idea can become a matter of dispute, so a good strategy would be to give the due credit to people responsible for the ideas just like Mcdonalds’ did.

Southwest Airlines Humor: A flight attendant made safety announcements fun

We all can agree on how boring in-flight safety announcements can get, especially if you’re a frequent traveler.

Most of us pay zero attention to it. But they are for our safety. How do you get people to listen to them?

What if you inculcate some humor in it?

Well, that’s what Southwest Airlines Flight attendant Martha ‘Marty’ Cobbs did. Bored with the monotonous safety instructions, Martha decided to improvise her safety announcement speech with humorous additions.

Passengers in the cabin noticed the spin and started to enjoy them. Tired passengers who were ignoring the familiar monologue earlier, started noticing Marty’s routine. Later, the flight attendant also received YouTube fame when passengers started sharing the recordings of her announcements.  Some of Marty’s lines include the following: 

“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then place it on your child. If you’re traveling with more than one child, start with the one with the greatest earning potential.”

“In the event, you haven’t been in an automobile since 1960, our flight attendants will now show you how to fasten a seatbelt.”

Martha ‘Marty’ Cobbs

Southwest Airlines had embraced quirky, humorous ethos from its very beginning as a company dating to 1971. These humorous additions to the announcements became a part of Southwest’s marketing strategy, and these humorous safety announcement instructions became commonplace.

This has worked pretty well for Southwest, as in several customer satisfaction surveys, respondents mentioned that the flight safety announcement is one of the most engaging aspects of their flights. It is estimated that the value of Southwest Airlines’ safety announcements could be worth $140m a year in increased customer loyalty.

Tip for Business Leaders: A simple idea too can create a huge impact on your organization’s marketing strategy and impact customer experience. If you have noticed increased customer engagement, try to find what different tactic is being used by frontline employees. 

Post-it Notes: An Engineer’s need for bookmarks made Sticky Notes a reality

In 1974, Spencer Silver, a 3M adhesives engineer, delivered a presentation on a pressure-sensitive adhesive compound he had created in 1968.

The glue was weak, and even Silver and his colleagues could not imagine a good use for it. The glue could barely hold two pieces of paper together. Silver could stick the glue to surfaces and reapply it without leaving any trace.

However, that didn’t keep him from touting the merits of his creation to colleagues.

During Silver’s presentation, Arthur Fry, an engineer from 3M’s paper products division, was present in the audience.

Months later, Fry called to mind Silver’s glue in an unlikely context.  Fry was a member of his church’s choir and used to mark the songs he needed to sing in his hymnal with small paper pieces. The small bookmark paper bits would frequently fall out, leaving Fry to thumb through the book in search of the correct page. Fry remembered the weak glue he heard about at Silver’s presentation. He recognized that the glue might be used to make a reusable bookmark by sticking it on paper.

“I thought, what we have here isn’t just a bookmark. It’s a whole new way to communicate.”- Art Fry.

The company began creating the product with Silver, understanding its potential to hold messages and communicate around the company. Fry provided the updated notes to the whole organization, and they were well received.

As a result, the sticky note became a bookmark known as Press-n-Peel. It was first sold in 1977 in four locations and failed miserably. Then, 3M gave away free samples to office workers in Boise, Idaho. Some of them began utilizing them as self-attaching notes. It became popular when post-it notes became widespread. Today, Post-it Notes contribute around $1 billion in revenue each year to 3M’s business.  

Tip for Business Leaders: Cross-collaboration is responsible for generating a good number of innovations. Encourage your employees to look beyond their departments when they hit a roadblock while developing/marketing their inventions. They would certainly find something good to overcome the obstacle and give a new direction to their research. 

A Chemist’s persistence made Colored roofs, a 3M Innovation, possible

It was the early 1900s, and ever since its inception, 3M had been working in the roofing business. The company had previously experimented with Quartz and Greystone to form granules that would serve as a coating on asphalt shingles and take the shape of roofs. 

However, 3M still needed something more to distinguish its granules from others in the marketplace.

George Swenson, a research chemist in 3M, suggested that what the market really wanted was durable and consistent colored granules to create roofs of different colors. That would give 3M the competitive advantage it needed. 

But making any color stick to the stone and last for decades in harsh sunlight was not easy. George’s solution was to create a ceramic coating on the stone granules with the color diffused throughout the coating.

Despite numerous experiments, it didn’t work. Finally, his boss told him to stop working on coloring the granules. He didn’t. His boss told him again, but he still didn’t stop. Finally, his exasperated boss fired him.

The next day George showed up for work punctually and went on developing ceramic coatings for roofing granules. His boss said –  “Didn’t you hear me? I fired you yesterday. You don’t work here anymore.”

George replied, “Well, I understand it means that you are not going to pay me, but does it also mean I can’t work on roofing granules?”

Impressed by his determination, his boss let him continue to use the lab’s resources on his own time. Once George got his idea to work, 3M rehired him and he went on to build and run 3M’s large and profitable roofing granule business. The roofing granule business had its own management team, and after working 39 years, George ended his career as vice president of the division.

Tip for Business Leaders: There might be many situations where employees would like to continue their research/pet projects even when it is not getting anywhere and eating up the company’s resources. In such situations, a good idea could be to give them a timeline and allow them to work on their projects, but with limited resources. If they could get something out of it, it’s a win-win for both parties. 

Playstation: An electrical engineer’s idea to develop the most beloved video game console of all time

Ken Kutaragi was working as an electrical engineer at Sony’s Sound labs when he came up with the idea of a CD-ROM-based gaming system.

This idea hit him when he was experimenting with his daughter’s Nintendo gaming console. Ken observed that his daughter was not happy with the Nintendo game’s sound quality. Based on his training and experience in electronics, Ken determined that a digital chip dedicated only to sound would considerably improve the quality of the Nintendo game. He approached his superiors with the notion of developing a new system for Sony, but Sony was not interested in computer games.

Ken negotiated with Sony Management to keep his employment at Sony while working as an outside consultant for Nintendo on their computer gaming devices. While consulting Nintendo, he came up with the idea of a CD-ROM-based gaming console.

Nintendo however decided not to go forward with the CD-ROM system. Ken then reached out to Sony’s then-CEO, Norio Ohga.

Norio Ohga began a joint venture with Nintendo after becoming more conscious of the potential of the gaming industry. The partnership eventually ended due to licensing issues, but Sony continued to create its own platform, the PlayStation. Ken went on to lead the charge in assisting Sony in the development of its own gaming system. The Sony PlayStation, which uses Sony’s “System G” 3-D technology, debuted in 1994 and quickly became a popular home gaming device. 

“I wanted to prove that even regular employees – no, especially regular company employees – could build a venture of this scale with superb technology, superb concepts, and superb colleagues.” – Ken Kutaragi.

In the first four years of the PlayStation product line’s existence, Sony’s yearly revenues increased to $7 billion. The PlayStation accounted for 40% of Sony Corporation’s operational profits by 1998. Ken was quickly recognized for his significant accomplishment as a Sony intrapreneur. Ken was also named Chairman and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI), Sony Corporation’s video game division. The PlayStation series hugely contributes to Sony’s revenue and are the most-sold video game console of all time.

Amazon Prime: A Software engineer’s idea of rapid shipping resulted in the successful subscription model

The year was 2004, and Amazon had been around for a decade.

The company was looking for the right loyalty program to acquire more customers. During that time, Amazon offered customers free shipping on purchases of $25 or more, as long as they were willing to wait a few extra days for their order to arrive.

That’s when Charlie Ward, a low-level software engineer came up with the idea for a subscription service for fast, free shipping. He shared this idea on Amazon’s digital suggestion box, sharing the thought process that some customers would be willing to spend more, and might even shop more often if they could be part of a buying club that offered rapid shipping.

Jeff Bezos loved the idea and pulled together a group of executives in November 2004 in the boathouse at his Medina home.

We knew we were building something that was going to be new and different. We knew we were onto something.” – Greg Greeley

At first, Prime was purely about shipping speed. Amazon used computer smarts and supply-chain logistics to create a warehouse system that could quickly locate individual items from the millions it had in stock, box them up, and ship them quickly to customers.

When Amazon Prime was launched in 2005 “tens of thousands” of customers signed up in the first month for the annual membership offering members paying USD 79 a year, free two-day delivery on more than 1 million of Amazon’s different products.

It is estimated that there are more than 200 million Amazon Prime users worldwide, out of which 172 million members are from the US.  

Amazon Drone Delivery: Utilizing drones for superfast delivery, was the idea behind Amazon Prime Air

Who doesn’t like Superfast delivery?

Two-day shipping sounds nice, but wouldn’t it be just great if you could get your product within 30 minutes of ordering?

That’s exactly the idea that Amazon engineers Daniel Buchmueller with Gur Kimchi came up with in 2013. They pitched this idea to the management, and it was approved.

In March 2014, Amazon promoted Daniel from software engineer to Engineering Manager to lead Amazon Prime Air’s “Fly” team. In April 2015, Buchmueller left Seattle and moved to Cambridge — where Amazon was testing its delivery drones — to build up and lead the Amazon Prime Air UK team.

“I started Amazon Prime Air: What started as an idea over coffee with Gur turned into a real, full-blown Amazon project. If you are passionate about UAVs, embedded programming, robotics, we should talk.”- Daniel Buchmueller.

In the year 2016, Amazon completed its first Prime Air drone delivery successfully. It is believed that aerial delivery soon will be a successful business for the company. 

The FAA granted Amazon Prime Air a Special Airworthiness Certificate for training and research of its MK27 drone in June 2019. Almost a year later, the company received an FAA Part 135 air carrier certificate. The same year, Amazon began trials in several rural areas in Oregon and California. These were still ongoing in April 2022, with about 30 different products available for delivery. 

The idea of Amazon Prime air has changed shopping as we know it, providing customers with instant gratification and delivery of products in the comfort of their own homes.

Amazon One-Click System: The software that made online purchases hassle-free

We have talked about speed shipping and super-fast delivery, but let’s agree, one of the best parts of Amazon’s innovations dates back to the 90s.

Yes, the reference is to its one-click buy system. The system changed online shopping as we know it forever, as it eliminated the need to repeatedly add your data.

The idea took root in 1997 when Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos discussed his intention to make online purchases simpler.

Peri Hartman, the Head of software development and interface engineer started working towards it. He designed a system that preloaded a customer’s credit card information and preferred delivery address before allowing customers to complete a transaction with a simple click of a button whenever they ordered a product.

Hartman wanted to make the ordering system as seamless as possible, so he designed the software to enable 1-click purchases. The concept was successfully implemented, and Amazon patented it in 1997. Later, Amazon started to license the technology to other firms, including Apple.

Amazon launched Amazon Marketplace, a platform for third-party buyers and sellers to offer new and used items, a year after obtaining the 1-Click patent. At the time, Amazon needed the database of customer information that 1-Click provided. 

“When we write the history of electronic commerce, the 1-Click patent … allowed Amazon to create a very strong position in the market, most importantly, it allowed Amazon to show customers that there was a good reason to give them their data and the permission to charge them on an incremental basis. It opened up other avenues for Amazon in e-commerce. That is the real legacy of the 1-Click patent.”  – R. Polk Wagner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and an expert on patent law.

By the time the patent expired in 2017, Amazon’s revenue had grown to $177 billion. When Amazon received the patent in 1999, the idea of consumers entering their billing, shipping, and payment information once and then just clicking a button to buy anything was unheard of, and it signified a breakthrough for the idea of hassle-free online shopping.

Swipe to Unlock Feature: Did you know an Aiplane’s loo served as the inspiration behind it?

In 2005, to speed up innovation at Apple, Steve Jobs gave his teams 15 days to come up with a great idea.

Everyone was under pressure of generating an idea that would be both unique and great. The reward was Apple’s first touchscreen phone.

During this time, Freddy Anzures, who was a member of the iPhone’s original design team, was traveling in an airplane. The thought struck him when he needed to use the restroom on a flight. While locking the door of the restroom, he was impressed by how simple it was to lock and unlock the door as all he had to do was swipe.

That’s when the idea of “Swipe to Unlock” hit him. Freddy suggested this idea to the team and his suggestion became one of the primary elements of the ground-breaking iPhone after he collaborated with a group of Apple engineers. 

“It was the idea, and then the process.”– Freddy Anzures.

Apple filed a patent application for this technology in 2005. The concept was an instant success and was a part of the earlier generations of iPhones.

Google News: A Google Innovation that was a partial reaction to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks

The 9/11 attacks took the world by storm.

Thousands of people died, and the whole world was shaken. Everyone wanted to stay updated on the latest news and among them was Google’s research scientist, Krishna Bharat.

He was monitoring the latest information from different news sources in the aftereffects of the 9/11 attacks. He had to go hither and thither to read all the coverage. That’s when he realized technology could make this easier. He intended to develop a technology that could scan and analyze multiple news websites.

“It was in response to September 11 [terrorist attacks]. I was reading news from a bunch of papers all over the web. And I discovered that there was no efficient way to find coverage of the same topic from different sources. To find the same coverage about the Taliban I would have to go to the L.A. Times site and [go to all these sites]. It seemed fundamentally inefficient. That’s not the way the web was supposed to work. The web was supposed to have a link structure that helped you find content.

Part of the problem is that all of this news was fresh. By definition, news is fresh and doesn’t have links. And if Google is to fulfill its mission to find information efficiently, it occurred to me that what I was doing a computer could do. A computer could, in fact, visit all these websites, find the same article, or similar articles, and group them together. I tried it, and it worked.” – Krishna Bharat

Google expanded on his concept to create a full-fledged news service, which is today known as Google News. The initiative rolled out in 2002, and as of 2020, it was the largest news aggregator in the world. Google News is currently published in approximately 35 languages. 

Gmail: An innovation that was the result of Google’s 80/20 rule

Most of us are aware of Google’s 80/20 rule, where the company allows its employees 20% of their work time for personal projects.

One of the initiatives that came out of this 80/20 innovation model was Gmail.

Paul Buchheit – a computer engineer at Google – was working on a web-based email service that was able to function as a search engine within an already existing email service.

He had previously tried his hands at developing an email program in 1996, before joining Google in 1999, as its 23rd employee.

“I had started to make an email program before in, probably, 1996, I had this idea I wanted to build web-based email. I worked on it for a couple of weeks and then got bored. One of the lessons I learned from that was just in terms of my own psychology, that it was important that I always have a working product. The first thing I do on day one is build something useful, then just keep improving it.”- Paul Buchheit.

He had previously worked on Google Groups, which indexed the Internet’s venerable Usenet discussion groups.

In August 2001, he started working on Gmail. Initially, Buchheit’s email search engine ran on a server at his own desk. When he sought feedback from other engineers, their main input was that it should also search their mail. He soon made that possible.

That was not it. Back then, other mail services like Hotmail and Yahoo Mail had dog-slow interfaces written in plain HTML. Almost every action you took required the service to reload the entire web page, which was bad UX.

Buchheit wanted to solve this problem so he used highly interactive JavaScript code to work around HTML constraints in Gmail. This gave it a more software-like appearance than a series of web pages.

Most people thought using JavaScript was a bad idea. But he persisted and the more JavaScript that Gmail used, the more sophisticated it could get.

“One of the problems we had was that the web browsers weren’t very good back then…We were afraid we’d crash browsers and nobody would want to use it.” – Paul Buchheit.

One of its flagship features ended up being that the messages in the inbox weren’t strictly sequential. Instead, to make it easier to follow discussion threads, all the messages in a given back-and-forth string were collected into a cluster called a conversation, with any duplicated text automatically concealed. 

Also, during that time, Gmail had the advantage of having a search feature, which was far better than anything offered by the major email services. The irony is this very search feature was considered by many as a bad idea from both a product and strategic point of view. But with support from Google’s founders, Buchheit continued to develop the project. 

This was not the only obstacle. Searching required serious storage, which opened up the possibility of keeping all of your emails, forever, rather than deleting them frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space.

There was a debate that Gmail should be a paid service, but Buchheit insisted that to reach as many people as possible, the service should be free and supported by advertising. 

Gmail was launched on April 1, 2004, and it soon became the most widely used email service surpassing Hotmail and Yahoo Mail.  Gmail has grown into a crucial service in Google’s product portfolio, with more than 1.5 billion active users worldwide.

On-The-Go H2O: A Ford engineer’s idea to turn a car’s condensation into Drinking water

Doug Martin, a Ford engineer was walking in the streets of Lima, Peru when he saw a special billboard that was about to serve as inspiration for his next great idea.

The billboard condensed the city’s humid air into drinking water for the local population. He realized the condensation from the car’s air-conditioning, which usually drips into the road below, can be used for drinking too.

In other words, his idea was to turn condensed water coming out of a car’s air conditioning system into drinking water. During the research, they discovered that a single vehicle could produce 64 ounces of water in an hour.

Martin worked with his colleague John Rollinger to produce a working prototype that would convert all this fluid into clean drinking water. The system works by taking the water from a reservoir and pumping it through an 0.1-micron filter to remove organic impurities, then channels it to a faucet on the center console cupholder. It can also be used to filter polluted water from other sources.

Ford promoted the vehicles by the name ‘Try On-The-Go H2O.’

“All that water going to waste should be recovered to serve a purpose. The real vision is that this idea could eventually help people who don’t have easy access to water, in remote locations such as the Australian Outback, for example. I’m trying to make my twin daughters proud, and make the world a better place for them.” – Doug Martin

On-The-Go H2O eliminates the need for vehicles to take stops during their journey to purchase bottled water, consequently, leading to fewer plastic bottles ending up in landfills. A small but impactful move towards sustainability.   

Green Meetings: An event manager’s initiative towards Sustainability and making Conferences greener at Microsoft

Continuing the theme of sustainability and fewer plastic bottles in landfills, intrapreneur Gina Broel’s work at Microsoft is a notable mention.

Broel was responsible for managing large events at Microsoft with over 15000 attendees. In her personal life, she deeply cared about the environment. She decided to mix both her passions and impressively made Microsoft’s conferences greener.

Broel and her colleagues first tried to address the problem of bottled water, which caused a lot of waste. They eliminated bottled water and started using materials made of recycled content.  The ambitious team was able to show a double-digit reduction in waste year over year. Eliminating bottled water alone saved the company $600,000 annually.  

She brought in a few more changes to Microsoft’s event planning processes, which has resultantly saved approximately 56 semi-trucks of recyclable material. It also contributed approximately 85,000 meals to those in need and composted over 675 tons of food waste.

The efforts began at the same time as when the concept of green meetings started taking off. Broel recalls that attendees were noticing and commenting on the waste that Microsoft conferences generated which inspired her to make these events greener.

However, she didn’t stop at that. She wanted to scale the cause outside of the events she hosted. So, she partnered with working groups in her industry association to drive sustainability on a broader scale.

“Now we still see great results but sometimes it’s hard for teams to keep sustainability top of mind when there are so many other event details to manage, this is why we need continued education and evangelism. Sustainability is an ongoing effort. It doesn’t end.” – Gina Broel.

As the next step, Broel and her colleagues started working on scalable toolkits that can help people all over Microsoft use the best practices her group has pioneered to drive sustainable events.

“My group has predominantly focused on going deep with these practices for a handful of our largest events, but there are thousands of smaller Microsoft events that also happen around the globe.” – Gina Broel

 These efforts by Broel were designed to inspire a broader audience and motivate them to execute even more sustainable practices across Microsoft.

Microsoft Carbon Fee Program: An Intrapreneur’s initiative to achieve Microsoft’s sustainability goal of becoming carbon neutral

Sustainability had been an area of focus for Microsoft for a few years now.

The reason – Microsoft’s transition to a cloud-based business model, in the late 2000s, which led to the need for more data centers and an increase in energy consumption. This led to environmental and societal threats like Climate change. Like any good company, Microsoft took responsibility and made Environmental sustainability a key area in its agenda.

In July 2012, Microsoft pledged to become carbon neutral. Working on this initiative was Tamara DiCaprio, Senior Director of Microsoft Sustainability (Environmental), who developed an internal carbon footprint strategy, established an internal governance model, and shaped the direction of Microsoft’s internal corporate carbon reduction policy, of which the carbon fee program was a key part. 

“One of the ways we stay accountable is by putting an internal price on carbon and charging business groups for the cost to offset their emissions related to energy consumption and air travel through a carbon fee model. The effect is that we are now internalizing sustainability across our business, and being a technology company we’re often looking to technology as part of our strategy”. – Tamara DiCaprio

The carbon fee model imposes fees on business units within Microsoft Corporation according to their carbon emissions. 

“What we do, technically speaking, is we cascade the price of carbon down through the different business units and then we collect the funds in the central pot and use all those funds for environmental initiatives to reach carbon neutrality.” – Tamara DiCaprio

However, introducing all these changes within Microsoft wasn’t easy. According to DiCaprio, it was difficult to gain support from Microsoft executives when first attempting to reduce the corporation’s carbon emissions.

DiCaprio was able to secure the support of executives when she learned to “speak their language” and focus on the relationship between carbon emissions and money, which lead to the creation of the internal carbon fee model.

Microsoft also started funding carbon-offset projects in developing countries. It changed people’s lives by helping developing countries industrialize in sustainable ways.

“We are not only reducing carbon in Kenya and emerging nations but also taking money from developing countries and getting them out to the emerging nations to develop a low carbon economy.”- Tamara DiCaprio

The carbon fee program was quite effective. By 2015, Microsoft cut emissions of around 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide and saved more than $10 million in energy costs in three years. The fee collected from the program was utilized for several cost and carbon savings initiatives. Such as employing new building sensors to improve energy consumption across 125 buildings of the company. 

In 2020, Microsoft committed that it would become carbon negative by 2030. Under its Carbon fee program, Microsoft initially used to collect fees based on direct emissions from company vehicles, purchase of electricity, and business air travel. But from 2020 onwards, the company started charging their internal business groups for indirect emissions from supply chain and product use too.

Microsoft has even committed that by 2050, it will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.

Coffee Waste Reduction: A product manager’s efforts to reduce Coffee Waste at Farmer Brothers

Waste reduction ­­­­– especially reducing waste to landfill – can be pretty tricky, if you’re into the coffee business. The whole production process from cherries to coffee generates a significant amount of waste, which ends up in landfills.

When Sarah Beaubien joined Farmer Brothers in 2006 as an account manager, she first-hand got to witness the issues faced in the coffee industry.  

Beaubien was taken aback by the huge volume of waste her company sent to the landfill – over 70% of its waste, which included at least 15,000 lbs of coffee chaff each month.

She started researching ideas about how the company could operate more sustainably.  Using resources like the Impact at work toolkit to introduce waste reduction ideas to management would build a solid foundation. Next, she recruited more than 20 other employees across the Portland site to launch a waste management initiative.

Within four years of starting the initiative, the employees at the Portland site were able to repurpose or recycle about 60% of headquarters’ waste.

“We want our company to be setting a new standard for manufacturing waste streams, our ultimate goal is zero waste to landfill by 2015 for all Farmer Brothers sites.” – Sarah Beaubien

At the same time, Beaubien’s team helped the company significantly reduce costs and create additional revenue streams by selling waste to those who can use it. For instance, Beaubien noticed that some items in the coffee company’s waste stream are just not recyclable or compostable, such as the 300,000 burlap bags that the company uses each year to ship coffee beans. Beaubien’s team advertised those free bags on Craigslist, and now has a waitlist of farmers, companies, and others willing to pick up the burlap bags and repurpose them.

Beaubien and her team also created a training curriculum for employees on the new waste management practices. They launched campaigns to incentivize ceramic cup use over paper cups and created life-size visuals for how many paper cups they prevented from going to the landfill.

Tip for Business Leaders: Any employee, working in any department, could come up with ideas that might help towards solving a problem an organization is facing. In Farmer Brother’s case, it was an account manager and not a dedicated expert on sustainability who worked towards this cause. The company supported her in her efforts and gave her a new role – Director of Sustainability.  If your employee is eager towards a cause, even if it’s not their area of expertise, it’s a good idea to give them resources to implement their idea. 

e-Choupal Initiative: A manager’s idea at ITC to cut costs by procuring directly from farmers

We all know that the prices of products go up if there are middlemen involved.

Wouldn’t it be a great idea if you could cut the middlemen out, and procure the produce directly from farmers?

That’s the idea Sivakumar came up with, who was working as a Manager in the ITC Group’s agro-business section. Before joining ITC in 1989, he worked with a farmers’ cooperative for six years.

The e-choupal initiative was his idea to use the power of the internet to enhance the distribution network and reduce the cost of intermediaries while empowering farmers at the same time. He placed a funding request of INR 50 lakhs in front of ITC’s CEO Y.C. Deveshwar to test this concept of direct sourcing from Madhya Pradesh’s soya farmers.

The company’s CEO knew Sivakumar was aiming for the moon and granted him 10 Crore rupees to test the concept. The e-choupal initiative was launched in June 2000.

Within 4 years of its launch, ITC’s e-choupal network had reached 3.1 million farmers and was expanding into 30 new villages a day.  

As part of its e-choupal initiative, ITC installed a computer with solar-charged batteries for power and a VSAT Internet connection in selected villages. A local farmer called sanchalak would operate the computer on behalf of ITC, but exclusively for farmers.

The e-choupal offered services like daily weather forecasts, domestic and international commodity pricing, improved crop management practices, soil testing, and expert advice from agriculture universities – for free. This resultantly increased farmers’ production and made the agri-products market more competitive. 

In addition, it helps ITC by reducing the extra cost associated with the intermediaries. It is estimated that farmers using e-Choupal receives a 2.5% higher rate on their crops when compared to the traditional mandi system. 

“ITC believes that its aspiration to create enduring value for the nation provides the motive force to sustain growing shareholder value. ITC practices this philosophy by not only driving each of its businesses towards international competitiveness. But by also consciously contributing to enhancing the competitiveness of the larger value chain of which it is a part.” – Y. C. Deveshwar

18 years after its launch, the initiative comprised about 6,100 installations covering over 35,000 villages and serving over 4 million farmers growing a range of crops across 10 states. The company also announced its plan to introduce a new digital platform, the e-choupal 4.0, in the form of a mobile app, which would serve as a plug-and-play platform for agri-startup companies in India.

“The core expectation from the farmer is how weather forecast translates into an advisory that translates into farm input, which gets supported by credit and results in more money into his hand. That’s the role the 4.0 performs in this evolution of the farmer-centric and farmer-driven innovation” – Sivakumar

The 4.0 version of e-choupal was rolled out in 2020 and offers information on crop monitoring, crop advisory, and electronic marketing place for farm inputs. It also helps in remote sensing for addressing crop stress and with the help of start-ups, does rapid quality testing.

According to Sivakumar, the initiative had been working wonders for both ITC and farmers. The initiative delivered higher farmer incomes anywhere between 70 percent and 300 percent depending on the farm and its location, superior market intelligence for commodity sourcing leading to 5 percent lower costs for ITC, and creating new sources of revenue such as access fees for connecting companies to farmers. 

Tip for Business Leaders: When pitched with an idea, ask these questions and make an informed decision. 

  • Who is the ideal customer and why would this work?
  • You’re suggesting X, but what if we do Y or Z?
  • What is the size of this opportunity?
  • What is at stake?
  • What are some obstacles that you might face while executing this idea? 

Elixir strings: The product that was a result of Dabble Time Policy at W L Gore

What happens when you foster intrapreneurial thinking within your organization? You end up producing successful products in business areas you never worked in before.

A stellar example of this is W L Gore which encouraged employees to spend 10% of their time at work on their creative projects. Did you know this “Dabble Time policy” was a thing way before Google 80/20 rule was introduced?

The employees at W L Gore used this time well. One of them was engineer Daye Myers who worked in a medical devices plant developing new types of heart implants. During his dabble time, Myers was trying to improve his mountain bike by coating his gear cables with a layer of plastic, hoping to make the gears shift more smoothly. The experiment led to the creation of Gore’s Ride-On line of bike cables, which was discontinued later because it was not profitable.

Myers next started working on improving the puppet cables at Disney World and Chuck E. Cheese. However, to control oversized animated puppets, cables with small diameters were required. So, Myers used guitar strings and coated them with plastic for this purpose.

This is when it struck him that he could make a new guitar string using a Gore coating. However, given his lack of experience with guitars, he sought advice from a colleague Chuck Hebestreit, who was a guitarist.

During their brainstorming, they realized a problem faced by guitar players – They experienced a dampened and unpredictable sound after playing for a long time as tiny debris of dirt and natural oils from guitarists’ fingers accumulated on the guitar strings.

They realized that coating the guitar strings with Gore coating would result in better sound and longer usable life.

After the project was approved by Gore’s management, the Elixir strings were produced. Despite their expensive price, the customers enjoyed the superior quality of the Elixir strings and soon this Gore’s product became one of the top-selling strings in the world.

Business Tip for leaders: Offering your employees dabble time and freedom to collaborate with inter-department colleagues could lead to innovative products in business areas out of your field of business. Empowering your employees on this level could help your organization enter new market areas as it did for W L Gore.

Ford Sync app: A Ford engineer’s innovative idea to make cab rides smoother

What if you’re a foreigner trying to hail a ride in a new country or another state where they speak an entirely different language?

Hailing a taxi and the ride to the destination might be chaos if there is no sync in understanding. 

Oleg Gusikhin and his team wanted to make cab rides smoother in every way possible. So, he created a service that empowered the passenger in a ride-sharing service with SYNC Remote Control. It connected the passenger’s phone to SYNC through the driver’s phone without the need for further pairing.

The idea allowed passengers in a ride-sharing vehicle to launch an app interface that allowed them to operate the car’s radio and climate settings. It also had a translation service that allowed passengers to enter into the phone what they intended to say, and SYNC translated it into the driver’s language.

These features make the journey more enjoyable for the passengers. Oleg’s idea holds immense potential for the future of ride-sharing services, particularly for completely autonomous vehicles that do not require a driver.

 “By rethinking mobile connectivity from the passenger’s perspective, we saw how we can use smartphones to give riders control through SYNC without the need to be directly paired via Bluetooth.” – Olig Gusikhin

TurboTax: Two product managers walk into a bar, and Tax filing became easier

Tax filing isn’t exciting, but if you can do it with the help of your smartphone within five minutes, it wouldn’t be much of a pain anymore, isn’t it?

A decade ago, a meeting between two product managers set things in motion that would make tax filing easier and hassle-free for everyone.  

When Carol Howe, Senior Product Manager, and Amir Eftekhari, Group Product Development Manager at Intuit were introduced to each other for the first time, within a few minutes they came up with the innovative idea:

“Why not let people scan or photograph key forms like the W2, and have that data automatically flow into their tax return?”

Amir, the technologist with a couple of decades of engineering expertise, set off to experiment in two key areas: Can we make snapping a picture of that tax form easy, and can we then understand all the form’s data?

This was taking place before optical character recognition of forms on a smartphone became commonplace. At that time, it felt like an impossible task and it was their job to make the impossible possible.

At the same time, Carol, a Product Manager with years of experience on TurboTax, set out to do some early testing.

“We realized people all over the world were still into paper. We started to do low-fidelity prototypes with customers, just sketches at first, to see if customers were open to snapping a picture of forms like W2 to enter the data. It was interesting, they didn’t believe that technology would be able to do this.” – Carol Howe

Amir came up with a technology prototype and everything changed. The technology worked and customers were awe-struck.

“Until they actually saw it working it was interesting … but unbelievable. Holding the real phone, running real code, was completely different for the customers” – Carol Howe

After getting successful feedback from customers, Carol and Amir recognized the customer’s desire to complete the whole tax return on the phone, right away.

“We tested more and more. Our eyes were opened. The customers were clearly thinking of the smartphone as a small computer. They were asking ‘why do I have to go back to my computer? And we saw the same behavior and opinion from other customers when testing subsequent prototypes.” – Carol Howe

However, despite the fact that early testing had been promising, the team faced obstacles to take the technology to large masses.

“People will oppose a big innovation yet they will support incremental innovation. Anything breakthrough or different you come up with and 95% of people will oppose it. Later, when it becomes popular, then they embrace it. But by then it’s just looking incremental.” – Amir Eftekhari

However, the team dealt with the pushback and was able to make the app a reality. The TurboTax Mobile App allowed consumers who were doing basic tax returns to take a picture of their W2, fill out a few form sections, and file the return in under five minutes.

In 2011, at the US launch of the TurboTax mobile app, the app garnered more than 350,000 downloads within the first few weeks. More importantly, in the new social order of product reviews, the app received overwhelmingly positive user reviews.

The mobile tax solution gained a lot of attention within its narrowly-drawn sector and within two years was included in TurboTax’s core product line.

Texas Instruments Innovation: How the Integrated Circuit was invented?

In his book, The Chip, author T.R. Reid shared how difficult it was to build a computer in the early 50s. 

“In the early ’50s, you could design a computer that could do anything. You could design it, but you couldn’t build it. And the reason was that there were just too many separate parts that had to be wired together; the numbers of parts and connections were too great. The common name for this problem was ‘the tyranny of numbers.’ We can perceive of that device but we can’t build it because the numbers are too great.” – T.R. Reid

 Things were about to change soon. In the Summer of 1958, Jack Kilby, an electrical engineer joined Texas Instruments. He was a new employee, and while the rest of his department took the annual two-week leave, Kilby stayed back in the office.

While the office was deserted, Kilby studied how to effectively and efficiently reduce the numbers. Every computer of that time had miles and miles of wiring in it. That’s when it hit Kilby that there wasn’t any need for wires. If they could make the parts all out of the same material, they could just carve the whole thing into one block of that material and there would be no need for wires.

The result was the integrated circuit (IC), which is also known as Microchip. This invention reduced the “tyranny of numbers” to one. It made it possible for engineers to design a computer that could do anything. Moreover, they could even build it small enough to fit in your pocket.

The invention of the integrated circuit was the genesis of almost every electronic product used today. The Chip is used in everything, from cell phones to modems, to Internet audio players. 

In December 2000, Kilby received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit. To congratulate him, President Bill Clinton wrote, “You can take pride in the knowledge that your work will help to improve lives for generations to come.”

Intel 4004: How simplifying a calculator design led to the invention of the first Microprocessor?

In 1969, Business Computer Corporation (aka Busicom Corp) approached Intel about designing a set of integrated circuits for its engineering prototype calculator, the Busicom 141-PF. 

Busicom was working as an OEM supplying calculators to domestic and foreign companies. At that time, the hardware had to be designed individually according to the client’s detailed specifications. 

Busicom’s engineers had come up with a design that required 12 ICs and asked Intel, which was founded a year earlier in 1968 for the purpose of making solid-state random-access memory (RAM), to finalize and manufacture their calculator engine. 

The design proposed by Busicom used twelve different chips, each to control a different process. Ted Hoff, the Intel engineer assigned to evaluate the project, believed the Busicom design could be simplified by using dynamic RAM storage for data, rather than shift register memory, and a more traditional general-purpose CPU architecture. Hoff came up with a four–chip architectural proposal: a ROM chip for storing the programs, a dynamic RAM chip for storing data, a simple I/O device, and a 4-bit central processing unit (CPU). Although not a chip designer, he felt the CPU could be integrated into a single chip, but as he lacked the technical know-how the idea remained just a wish for the time being.

Little did he know, very soon his idea would result in the first microprocessor, a “computer-on-a-chip”. 

In April 1970, Intel hired Italian-born engineer Federico Faggin as project leader, a move that ultimately made the single-chip CPU final design a reality. Federico Faggin led the design team on the newly commissioned project and developed the use of silicon in constructing the chip. The team also consisted of Ted Hoff and Stanley Mazor, a new Intel employee who wrote the software for the chip. 

The resultant chip had processing capabilities equivalent to that of the first electronic computer, ENIAC. To give an estimate about the size, ENIAC used 18,000 vacuum tubes, and was so large it filled an entire room. In comparison, the computer-on-chip was just 1/8 inch wide and 1/6 inch long. 

Busicom’s 141-PF was the first electronic calculator to load the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004. 

In the meanwhile, Intel also realized the potential of the powerful new invention. Intel bought back the design and marketing rights to the chip from Busicom for $60,000 and dubbed it the Intel 4004, which it formally announced in November of 1971. Hoff, Faggin, and Mazor continued to perfect their microprocessor and were involved in its second and third versions, the Intel 8008 and Intel 8080. In 1980, Hoff became the first Intel Fellow, the company’s highest technical position. Further, in 1996, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention of the microprocessor concept and architecture. 

Digital Signal processors: The story of the breakthrough invention that made today’s technology a possibility

 It was the 1970s.

Texas Instruments had been around for a couple of decades and for most of its history, the company was a conglomeration of defense, geological, chemical, computer, and electronics products. 

Around then came an invention, which was used in everything from cell phones to MP3 players. The reference is to Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chips which are programmable microprocessors that can instantly crunch vast quantities of numbers. 

During this time, very few believed that it was possible to implement real-time digital processing technology in an integrated circuit. The technology was new and relatively expensive and was mostly found in academia and military applications. 

In fact, the technology was so complex, the mathematical manipulation of an information signal to improve it — was taught almost exclusively at the Ph.D. level and had been implemented only in expensive applications related to things like geophysical exploration and military use.

However, a group of engineers at Texas Instruments Inc. including Gene Frantz were building a chip featuring digital signal processing (DSP) technology in Houston, Texas away from the headquarters of Texas Instruments. 

The interesting part is, the resultant DSP technology which was called TMS5100, was developed to process speech in an educational toy, dubbed Speak & Spell, which became a successful educational consumer electronics product that was years ahead of its time. 

TMS5100 was TI’s first speech synthesis chip, and its usage in a toy brought about a paradigm shift.  

“People couldn’t believe that there was a toy that could do this kind of thing. It’s not that it was on the forefront of new algorithms. The algorithms had been around for a while. It was the notion that they would be implemented in an educational toy at a price point that consumers could afford that was for many of us in the research community a real paradigm shift.” – Alan Oppenheim, Professor of Engineering at MIT

Frantz and his colleagues eventually realized that the DSP they had designed as a speech synthesis chip was being used in ways they had never imagined, including in modems, hard drives, and 3-D graphics. 

“The interesting thing was when people began to out-innovate us.” – Gene Frantz

 Resultantly, TI changed its marketing approach for the TMS5100’s successor, the TMS3210, to reflect the broader range of uses. Texas Instruments also realized they could not sell Digital signal processors as a standalone product without creating a developer environment and strong customer support as well as seeding the market with more engineers who understood DSP technology. 

During this time, several other organizations including Intel, AT&T, and NEC Corp brought programmable DSPs to market, but the subject was mostly taught only at the Ph.D. level.

To solve that problem, TI identified a handful of U.S. universities with strong DSP curriculums and partnered with them. The company commissioned several professors to write textbooks about DSP. 

“If you only have Ph.D. graduates that know how to use the parts, you don’t have a big market.” – Gene Frantz

This approach reaped results and today, the success of DSP technology is beyond question. DSP is a requirement for modems of all types, any multimedia technology, and digital wireless technologies like Wi-Fi, WiMAX, CDMA, WCDMA, and LTE.

As of today, the global market for Digital Signal processors is huge and is expected to reach $16 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 12%. Texas Instruments, given its continuous innovation and huge investment in the market, is a top player in Digital Signal processor technology.

IBM Innovation: How Silicon Germanium Chips were invented?

It was the year 1980. Bernard Meyerson – a doctoral student with a focus on semiconductor technology – started a research position at IBM. 

During this time, semiconductor experts at IBM realized they could not continue to shrink microprocessors without running into performance problems, and began looking into improving chips by employing alloys.

Meyerson came up with the idea of combining silicon with germanium. However, there was one huge obstacle. Silicon was supposed to reach the temperature of 1000 degrees Celsius to rid silicon of contaminating oxide, to thus prepare its surface for the growth of crystalline silicon and silicon germanium layers. However, this resulting chip could not withstand the extreme heat.

Meyerson brought his previous experience at work and made various experiments on the silicon chips and this is when he had a realization. The oxide layer formed only when silicon reached a temperature of up to 1000 degrees Celsius. Growing the material below 600°C could avoid the whole problem. 

“It was the most bizarre finding I’ve ever had, but it also gave us a 10-year head start on the rest of the world because nobody understood the effect, so away we went.” – Bernard Meyerson

IBM started growing silicon germanium at 550°C, producing literally flawless, uncontaminated films and tremendously fast transistors. SiGe was far more efficient than silicon alone. Its cost was also a tiny fraction of those for gallium arsenide, a leading alloy of the day used in communication chips. With SiGe, IBM alone had the manufacturing know-how along with patent protection.

Meyerson soon found himself in charge of hundreds of technologists focused on SiGe research and development for mainframe computers. However, some months later, a decision was made to reduce investment in SiGe, and IBM focused on an alternative technology in its mainframes—complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistors. 

Meyerson, who was convinced of Silicon Germanium chips’ potential for new markets, retained a small SiGe team and focused on ways to build demand. In 1992, the initial SiGe team was scaled down to two: Meyerson and electrical engineer, David Harame. 

However, the duo remained confident in Silicon Germanium alloy and decided to seek funding outside of IBM. Meyerson became a one-man sales force, forging alliances with several pioneering communications firms. He struck financial arrangements whereby the companies would pay IBM to develop and manufacture Silicon-Germanium chips. The funds came in and IBM raced through development, into production and, virtually overnight, brought new fields of wireless technology to life.

For more than a decade, beginning in the mid-1990s, IBM reigned as the Silicon Germanium chip manufacturer to the world, setting virtually every device performance record in silicon technology. The reliability, speed, and low cost of Silicon germanium chips enabled rapid growth in various wired and wireless networks, shrinking the size and power needs of WiFi, cellular phones, GPS systems, and many other products.

Bernard Meyerson and David Harame were recognized as IBM Fellows for their contributions to the technology. 

“When someone gives you the answer ‘No,’ you take it as a suggestion or a test of your belief in your idea, you also have to move from inventor to technical champion to fund-raiser to business manager. You have to get your hands dirty in all of it.” – Dr. Bernard Meyerson

Vivonic Fitness Planner: The story of the invention of one of the first fitness gadgets

In 1998, Intel established an in-house “new business initiative” to bootstrap new businesses that employees propose, regardless of whether the concepts had anything to do with Intel’s core chip-making business. The initiative was designed to provide financing for businesses that the company’s own employees start.

This was in contrast to the venture capital program that Intel had in place for a decade prior to the establishment of this initiative. The goal of this initiative was to foster innovation and entrepreneurship within the company by providing employees with the resources and support they needed to turn their ideas into successful businesses.

When asked about the inspiration behind it, it was shared that:

“The idea for the whole thing came from our employees, who kept telling us they wanted to do entrepreneurial things. They saw that we were putting a lot of investments into external companies and said that we should be investing in our own ideas.” – Craig Barrett, President and CEO of Intel.

Intel’s new business fund was earmarked for non-microprocessor businesses. The initiative received tons of ideas from both Intel employees and outside entrepreneurs and made investments in the majority of them. 

One of the employees who benefited from this program was Paul Scagnetti, an intel engineer, who had worked for a couple of years developing chip-making processes.

Tinkering at home after working 12-hour days, he came up with a concept for a handheld computer aimed at helping people do just one thing: record and plan their fitness and nutrition data. Mr.Scagnetti’s idea was approved by Intel and he got to work on the project with a partner for nine months. Intel then gave him funding to hire 15 people and launch the product, the Vivonic Fitness Planner, in sporting goods stores on the West Coast. 

The road wasn’t free from obstacles. He faced difficulty trying to recruit from within Intel as managers didn’t want their employees to transfer. However, he braved those odds and was able to make the Vivonic fitness planner a reality. 

The Vivonic fitness planner came out in July 2000, with a portable touchscreen computer dedicated to recording meals & exercise for $229. For those, who didn’t want to invest in another portable device, Vivonic also sold the same program (minus the pedometer) to install on Palm OS Devices.

The consumer health industry had seen a lot of traction in the past couple of decades. While there are hundreds of apps, gadgets, and equipment out there today focusing on consumer health, back in 2000, the Vivonic fitness planner was one of the initial products in the category that acted as a diet and exercise motivator and planner. It could be said that the planner set a precursor for generations of fitness gadgets, all thanks to this one intrapreneur within Intel.

Xbox: A game designer’s invention that continues to be a huge competition for PlayStation

 It was the year 1999.

Seamus Blackley, a game designer, joined Microsoft in February 1999 to work on Microsoft’s DirectX. His last big project, “Trespasser,” a dinosaur-shooting game based on Michael Crichton’s The Lost World bombed in the market. He figured he’d keep a low profile as a graphics programmer, but then you never know when the next big idea hits anyone. While traveling on an airplane, he came up with the idea of a video game. He quickly bonded with three other engineers to create a video game console using personal computer technology.

During that time, Sony had just announced its PlayStation 2 console, which everyone at Microsoft, including Bill Gates, perceived as a threat to Microsoft’s entertainment technology for the living room. Resultantly, at a strategic retreat in March 1999, Bill Gates decided to enter the game console business.

Mr. Blackley and his colleagues cooked up the Xbox, which hooked up to a TV set but used the best available graphics and microprocessor technologies from the PC. He and his colleagues worked in separate groups. They got the approval early on to continue their project when they demonstrated how such a machine would be easier to use than a PC.

By July, the Xbox team had blossomed into a project headed by hardware chief Rick Thompson, a veteran who knew how to get things done at Microsoft.

However, the development of the Xbox was not a cakewalk. There were internal debates that threatened to derail the project. The team had to resolve disagreements about whether to wait until after Sony’s launch, to include components like a hard disk drive, and to have PC makers build the machines instead of Microsoft. Mr. Blackley said he had to deal with intimidating situations like then-president Steve Ballmer yelling: “You’re going to lose the company a lot of money!”

Nevertheless, Blackey mentioned that Microsoft’s culture allowed him to speak his mind and then if he had the best evidence and most reasonable argument, proceed with his plan. He eventually got the go-ahead, and Microsoft launched the original Xbox on November 2001.

“I think I scored a record for the most Bill-and-Steve meetings for a first-year employee. I think I succeeded because I had nothing to lose and had no baggage.”  – Seamus Blackley

The original Xbox was the first video game console offered by an American company after the Atari Jaguar stopped sales in 1996. It sold over 24 million units as of May 2006. Microsoft’s second console, the Xbox 360, was released in 2005 and has sold 84 million units as of June 2014. The third console in the series, the Xbox One, was released in 21 markets in total, with a Chinese release in September 2014.

Xbox went on to establish its market share in the gaming console business and has given strong competition to other players since then.

M-Pesa: How Nick Hughes came up with the idea that went on to become the biggest mobile money service in Africa

While working at Vodafone, Nick Hughes had the idea to start a mobile money solution: M-PESA. When Nick pitched the idea to the senior management, he received pushback.

We aren’t in the banking business,’ they said.

However, Nick didn’t lose hope. Instead, he applied for a DFID innovation challenge and won, receiving valuable startup capital for the idea. He and his team went to Kenya and proved the model.

What happened in Kenya next helped shape M-Pesa. In the industrial town of Thika, M-Pesa was piloted as a micro-finance loan platform with several hundred customers, organized into groups – including people appointed as treasurers and secretaries.

“It was a very complex microfinance disbursement and recovery platform. Microfinance of course at that time was key… So we thought we were on a great thing in building this microfinance payments platform.”

However, a few weeks after the pilot of the service, Hughes and his team started to notice that their customers were loading more money onto their wallets than they needed to be able to pay their group’s treasurer.

“So we scratched our heads and followed the data a bit more and kept watching… The delta between the minimum loan repayment and the amount of money on the wallets was growing and growing and eventually, we got into the field and started asking them what was happening.” – Nick Hughes

Hughes quickly discovered that the customers had not only found the mobile wallets convenient when it came to paying the microfinance group treasurers but had also used the wallets to pay friends and family within the test group.

“So of course, a light went on – we cut out all that complexity in the microfinance loan system and went to market with a send-money-home, person-to-person payment platform… and the rest is history. We launched M-Pesa in 2007.” – Nick Hughes

Hughes believes that part of M-Pesa’s initial success came from keeping the platform and its service offering uncomplicated. For example, it was launched with the simple slogan: “Send money home.”

Today, M-Pesa is Africa’s most successful mobile money service and the region’s largest fintech platform. It is the preferred way to make payments for more than 51 million customers across seven countries in Africa both for the banked and unbanked due to its safety and unmatched convenience.

Gateway all in one computer: An engineer’s quest to make Desktop computers more elegant

In 2007, Gary Elsasser, an engineering products manager at Gateway, was wondering about ways to catch up with the top PC players of that time, while its utilitarian PCs were being unfavorably compared to Apple’s iMac. 

“If there are $399 notebook computers out there, what direction can the desktop computer go?” – Gary Elsasser.

Elegance – This is what he and his team figured could set them apart from the competition. Their passionate vision of a redesign gave birth to the Gateway One, a streamlined desktop with a single external cable. The Gateway one was equipped with Intel’s dual-core technology. This helped users to use multiple applications more smoothly. The computer had a front polished surface which was the most innovative feature according to the company.

But while a radical redesign looks good on paper, actually rebuilding a platform from scratch can cause major operational headaches. Since different departments were involved, and both had their differences, Elsasser mediated between the teams by reminding them of their common goal and how revolutionary it was for the company.

Another problem they faced was sourcing. The new product was so complex it required working with more than 30 new suppliers. Elsasser and his team put in long hours that included going to Asia to meet with individual suppliers. In hindsight, he said, the supply chain should have been as revolutionary as the project. 

“If I were to do this again, I’d have picked a production partner who was more focused on mobile machines, not a traditional desktop provider.” – Gary Elsasser

Although the company won’t disclose sales figures (Gateway was acquired by Acer, which doesn’t break out sales by individual products), the early buzz during its launch was very positive: Tech reviewers at Gizmodo raved about Gateway One’s “sleek and thoughtful” design and pronounced it “a very positive step forward” for Gateway.

Looj: Jim Lynch’s idea of using a Robot as a Gutter Cleaner

If you hear the word Robot, you imagine a machine performing sophisticated and complex tasks that would make lives easier for humankind.

A robot that cleans gutters would be the last idea in anyone’s mind. But it’s an excellent idea nevertheless. 

The man who came up with the idea was Jim Lynch, a Senior Electrical Engineer at iRobot. Named “Looj”, the robot was a remote-control device that removed gutter debris easily in under five minutes in simple steps. 

When Lynch proposed the idea to the company, it was quickly approved. Jim led the project and had very less time to take it to completion. Nevertheless, he prevailed. 

“It occurred to me that this was a perfect job for a robot because it fits into our company’s three criteria: dumb, dirty, and dangerous. we got the word that we had to have it out for leaf season — in September 2007, that gave us only months to get it tested, proven, and packaged — and there were only five people on the team.” – Jim Lynch.

Lynch had a reputation as an innovative and hard-working team player — and it saved the project. People came up to him and volunteered to work on the project. Jim learned project management on the job and the gutter-cleaning robot, Looj, was launched on schedule. 

In 2008, ‘Looj’ was recognized with the Best of Innovations Design and Engineering Award in the Home Appliance category.

Digital Photography: Steve Sasson’s amazing invention whose potential was never recognized by Kodak

In 1973, Steve Sasson, a young electrical engineer started working at the applied research laboratory in the apparatus division at Kodak. 

Soon after he joined, his boss assigned him a work proposal. He was to assess the practical use of a charged couple device (C.C.D).

The C.C.D. turned a two-dimensional light pattern into an electrical signal. The C.C.D was not successful to capture an image as the electrical pulses dissipated quickly. Steven utilized a new procedure viz, digitalization to convert the electrical pulses into numbers. This helped to store the image. 

Steven thus created the first digital camera and named it the Rube Goldberg device. 

“This was more than just a camera, it was a photographic system to demonstrate the idea of an all-electronic camera that didn’t use film and didn’t use paper, and no consumables at all in the capturing and display of still photographic images.” – Steven Sasson

When Steven approached his superiors with the invention, there was not any positive reaction to the invention.

“The reaction I got from Kodak management was one of curiosity and skepticism as it did not feel like a major invention. There was no real feeling that we had invented something. The feeling was that this was a very scary look at what could be possible in the future. As the company’s entire business model was focused around sensitized goods, proposing that they not use any of that was not popular.” – Steven Sasson

In 1978, Kodak patented Stevens’s first digital camera and with it created the future of digital photography. However, the company was not keen to push the technology and despite having the first mover advantage, they decided against using it.  As an aftermath, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. 

“I could just see that there could have been a different outcome if they could have taken a different approach. Again, it’s tough and very hard to accept that change in your fundamental business model.” – Steve Sasson

Had Kodak accepted the change, the reality would have been way different than it is now. It is often noted that Kodak failed as an organization because it did not innovate, and continued to stick to the products that were the cash cows for the company for years. However, it is not that there was no innovation within the organization, the digital photography was a Kodak innovation. Yet they didn’t utilize this innovation, which resulted in their fate.

Tip for Business Leaders: What works today, might not work tomorrow. People are always on the lookout for Better, Faster, and Cheaper. It’s a good idea to keep innovating and trying to find and develop better and faster alternatives for your current products. That way, while your product might not enjoy a monopoly for long, it will ensure that your organization would not lose its edge in the market. 

Mastercard: How improving on one man’s idea make the card a reality?

Online shopping couldn’t be where it is, has it not been for the invention of the credit card. The plastic card has made an entire niche possible. 

Before there was credit card, there were charge cards around, which were fragmented into regional markets, or only supported by certain banks, or could only be used for certain things like paying for restaurant meals (Diners Club), or at certain chain stores, or service stations.

There was a lack of a card that could be used nationally or internationally.

How did it come to be? It took a couple of iterations. 

Professor Melvin B. Salveson came up with an idea to compete with Bank of America’s charge card, Bankamericard, by collaborating with other California banks. He approached other banks but they didn’t accept the proposal citing that any bank could not make money on consumer credit. According to them, there was no money in the credit card business. 

This is when Michael Phillips, an executive at the Bank of California, entered the scene. He had previously worked at Bank of America, and after he read the plan, he knew personal credit could be profitable if a tweak was applied. 

For instance, they could apply service charges, a revenue source that was absent from Salveson’s proposal. Salveson also had little concept of how the banking industry was regulated. Phillips felt he could do a better job of designing the system.

Phillips was mindful of the general industry perception of consumer credit. So, he waited for some time and made a strong case, and involved his superiors to represent the  Bank of California in the group.

The Interbank Card Association (ICA) was thus established where various banks teamed up to form ‘Master Charge’, with the support of New York’s Marine Midland Bank. The card was initially named Master Charge. Later in 1979, they renamed it MasterCard. 

Mastercard had 200 clients within 9 months of its launch and is now a global card network. In 2014, MasterCard and Apple collaborated to include a new mobile wallet function in Apple’s latest iPhone models.

Had it not for Salveson’s idea, and Michael’s incremental innovation, MasterCard would not be a reality.

Exploring the Power of Innovation Challenges

Up to this point, we have explored all the ideas that employees came up with when they saw a problem area.

They spotted a problem, thought hard and fast about it, and came up with a solution. The motivation was purely internally driven.

But what happens when organizations give their employees challenges and ask them to come up with solutions?

In the following chapters, we will explore stories where intrapreneurs came up with solutions to problems as part of their assignments and/or some innovation challenge.  We will also look at how encouraging intrapreneurship initiatives like accelerator programs and crowdsourcing platforms helped organizations get their hands on amazing ideas that made great products.

In the later chapters, we will have a look at the changemakers who brought remarkable change in their organizations and etched their names in the history of their organizations. 

Cost Cutting idea: How a Manager reduce turnaround times and saved KLM Dutch Royal Airlines Millions?

It was 2012, and KLM Dutch Royal Airlines were facing a crunch in financial resources.

The company wanted to cut costs and figured an efficient way to do it would be to reduce the turnaround time, i.e., the time between when an airplane lands and when it takes off. Reducing turnaround time would help planes take off sooner which could be utilized to plan journeys to another destination and more efficient use of resources.

Simone Van Neerven, the Manager of Distribution, Catering & Board Supplies at KLM was tasked with the assignment to make this ambitious mission possible. This objective had previously been in a deadlock for years because there were so many moving parts and competing interests.

Simone was facing ahead the difficult task of bringing everything together. She realized she couldn’t do this without help from others, so she first got authority involved and tried to understand the problem areas and where work needs to be done.

“One thing I did was find my allies higher up in the chain, who really helped me to push others to support the initiative. The reason why the COO got on board is that I called my sponsor. It’s up to you to figure out who is higher up in the chain and can help you mobilize others.” – Simone Van Neerven 

She formed a team and got to work. Simone’s team worked daily on the company’s smallest fleet, working around the processes, and attempting to figure out ways to reduce the turnaround times. The team ensured that each person involved in this process was represented, from cleaner to purser, to pilot, to baggage handler – everyone was involved.

“We were able to reduce the turnaround time of the Embraer 190, resulting in millions of cost reductions.” – Simone Van Neerven 

Simone’s team had an intensive week-long brainstorming session where they came up with 14 different action plans that could be implemented within 3-6 months. The team was able to reduce turnaround times from 50 – 35 minutes without any investment.

Involving authority also helped as the COO of KLM was so impressed with the results of the session, he acted as an internal ambassador for the project, and ensured it was implemented by dealing with any obstacles that the project encountered.

The success of this idea instigated a financial transformation of KLM’s Europe Network and KLM was soon flying high once again.

IBM Innovations: The man who made Personal Computers a household name

The year was 1970 and IBM had a 60% share in the overall computer market, with a monopoly in Corporate Mainframe computers. 

Little did it know, 10 years down the lane its position will be challenged. With the launch of Apple II in 1977, the tide started changing. After all, it was the first PC that customers did not have to assemble, and it was a color computer with expansion slots and floppy disks. By 1980, IBM’s share declined to 32% in the overall computer market.

IBM wished to get a major share of the upcoming personal computers market. However, it had a set of obstacles in its way: 

  • There was competition in form of Apple, Commodore International, and other players in the market.
  • IBM was too huge (about 340,000 employees in the late 80s), and as is the reality for such businesses, it was bureaucratic in making such decisions. 

IBM needed to do something quickly. And thus entered the scene, Philip Don Estridge. As the manager of Entry level systems, he was tasked with the development of small microprocessor-based systems for tiny businesses and personal use. In other words, Estridge was tasked to build a PC that would directly take on Apple and other perceived IBM competitors.

However, what Estridge did was something that had never been done before at IBM. He used non-IBM components to build the IBM PC. Further, his choice of using an open architecture and off-the-shelf components resulted in the IBM PC architecture becoming ubiquitous. Given his decision to not build everything from scratch, the in-house team at IBM was ready with the hardware for IBM PC in 1980.

What it needed next was an Operating System. And for that, IBM approached Microsoft to build the OS for their PC. Bill Gates did not have the OS, but in a turn of events, he figured this collaboration opportunity could be Microsoft’s make-or-break moment. He went to another company that had an OS called Q-DOS which is short for Quick and Dirty Operating system. Gates bought the OS for $75,000. IBM renamed the OS to ‘MS-DOS’ short for Microsoft Disk Operating System.

In August 1981, IBM shipped its PC with MS-DOS. 

Upon launch, IBM predicted sales of over 250,000 PCs. The prediction went hugely wrong as they ended up selling over 2 million units in the next two years of launch and overtook Apple as the world’s largest PC manufacturer. IBM made the computer personal and ‘PC’ a household name.

All this was possible because of one small team within IBM and the man who led it: Philip Don Estridge – the father of IBM PC who would later be offered a multimillion-dollar job as President of Apple Computer by Steve Jobs, which he turned down.

By the time, Estridge gave up leading IBM’s PC division (known then as Entry Level Systems) in 1985, the division had 10,000 employees and annual revenue of $4.5 billion.

Inkjet Printers: How a marketer helped Kodak establish itself in a new market segment?

In the early 2000s, Kodak was struggling to transition into the digital age. While other industry players rushed into the digital space, the company’s stock was taking a hit. However, in a significant intrapreneurial move, in 2007, Kodak decided to enter the consumer printing market.

Though Inkjet printers were hardly revolutionary, entering unfamiliar territory was a huge challenge for the company.

Cheryl Pohlman, who worked in Kodak’s marketing department, was chosen to spearhead the effort. From 2003 to 2006, her team did exhaustive research to pinpoint customer dissatisfaction with the inkjet market and found three main things consumers disliked about their current printers:

  • the cost of ink,
  • the quality of prints,
  • and the difficulty they had using the technology.

Pohlman knew Kodak had a brand presence that consumers would associate with high quality and the technical know-how to make machines user-friendly, but she also knew that what was going to grab everyone’s attention was the price. Instead of focusing on making vastly cheaper printers, Pohlman and her team tuned into something they knew from their own experiences: People were not printing the majority of their pictures because ink cartridges were so expensive.

“We decided to make our ink cartridges 50 percent cheaper than our rivals. We knew that’s what consumers really wanted. And even though we’re a big company, we entered the market from the position of challengers.” – Cheryl Pohlman

The underdog posturing created a lot of buzz — customers could suddenly buy $25 ink cartridges from Kodak, a well-known and trusted company, rather than shelling out $60-$80 to buy ink from less familiar manufacturers such as Konica and Elite Image. Analysts and consumers praised the company for bringing prices down to earth.

In the fourth quarter of 2007, Kodak sold 520,000 printers, exceeding its goal of 500,000 machines, which helped sales in the company’s digital business grow 17 percent in the last quarter of 2007. Years later, Kodak continues to be one of the players in the commercial printing business.

Carr-E: An innovation challenge that inspired the development of a last-mile mobility solution

The last part of any urban commute can be tricky. Cities have gotten crowded and there are multiple places where vehicles like cars aren’t simply permitted.

How do you get around unless you choose to walk?

On those lines was the worldwide invention challenge posed by Ford.  Ford invited its employees worldwide to create future last-mile mobility solutions for urban areas. The idea was to assist people to get around a city easily, where vehicles are not permitted.  

Killian Vas, a Systems Engineer, based in Cologne, Germany, had already identified the difficulty of urban traveling. He responded to Ford’s challenge by inventing Carr-E, a four-wheeled electric pedestrian helper.

Carr-E’s multipurpose functionality differentiates it from other electric personal transportation devices. In addition to carrying riders, Carr-E can also be used to transport heavy objects. Users simply place the object on the device and it will follow an electronic transmitter they keep in their possession.

Vas’s inspiration for the compact, circular design came from the empty space inside the spare wheel well of his car. He figured commuters can easily store Carr-E in a vehicle, then pull it out and use it in places where cars aren’t permitted or practical.

 “We really need to reinvent the wheel, to find new approaches to mobility, when developing the Carr-E, I was inspired by Ford’s expansion into both an auto and a mobility company, but I’m also aware of how rapidly cities are growing and how getting around urban areas will become progressively more complicated. I really wanted to create a device that makes commuting easier and more fun.” – Kilian Vas

Carr-E is a beautiful example of what the future of urban transportation looks like. The pedestrian assistant could transport people or objects weighing up to 120kg, travel as fast as 11mph, avoid obstacles with sensors, and follow an electrical transmitter for directions.

In-store health Clinics: A Manager directed Walmart’s efforts to venture into a new market segment

The year was 2006. Alicia Ledlie was working as a Co-Manager at a Walmart store on Long Island, New York when she attended a conference at Walmart HQ where she heard about the launch of Walmart’s latest venture: in-store health clinics.  

Given her knowledge of customer service before, she realized the potential for the success of the idea.

“I knew that many people who shopped in our store had to go to the emergency room every time they got sick, because they had no insurance.” – Alicia Ledlie

Ledlie immediately applied for the job and was appointed as the Director of the health business department.  Despite having no prior expertise in the healthcare field, Ledlie soon flourished in her post. Ledlie became in charge of the in-store initiative, and she managed the opening of 79 in-store health clinics in 12 states within two years.

She also suggested adding drug testing to the clinic’s list of services for Walmart job applicants. It was clear that Ledlie knew that all new hires had to have a drug test within 24 hours of receiving a job offer.  

“Working in the stores, I’d seen how this requirement created a challenge for recruits who relied on public transportation. Adding this service to the clinics’ roster was a quick win. Store managers raved about the effect it had on helping them keep new recruits.” – Alicia Ledlie

Walmart’s move into retail health care also included a program that offered 30-day supplies of some generic medications for $4. Consumers saved more than $200 million on prescriptions in the first three months of the program, according to Walmart.

Further, given the size of mega stores, these clinics were not crowded in a corner. Rather, they were accommodated up front near checkout areas and had ample space for examinations and common lab tests. Plus, given Walmart’s merchandise, it became easy for a sick person to pick up additional supplies. 

“After a customer visits the clinic for a sore throat, he can shop the rest of the store for a carton of orange juice, an extra blanket, and throat lozenges, saving time and simplifying his life.” – Alicia Ledlie

Tip For Business Leaders: The idea of adding in-health clinics within the store was an amazing idea. But Implementation matters too. The takeaway is even if you didn’t come up with the idea, it doesn’t mean you can’t lead the project. People who interact directly with customers can be often best at feature development.

Yahoo Sponsored Search: One man’s idea, another man’s implementation

Continuing on the above tip is another example where one person came up with the idea whereas the other was tasked with the implementation.

Scott Gatz was an established creator at Yahoo who was responsible for among other things, launching Yahoo’s RSS program.

Gatz realized that Yahoo needed to move to a sponsored search model, rather than continue relying on directory-style searches. He pitched the idea at an executive offsite in August 2001 in front of the management.

He was then the general manager of Yahoo search and when he pitched the idea, he felt confident that he’d be put in charge of the new venture. But his boss at the time, Chief Products Officer Tim Brady, asked VP of Search Jeff Weiner to oversee the project instead.

Gatz, who had led teams of 30 to 40 people, felt he’d been leapfrogged.

“I took umbrage with it. I thought – Hey, this is my idea, so why would I bring in this outsider?”

But as the project progressed, Gatz realized that he would have been in over his head if he’d been given the post.

“The sponsored search project involved managing hundreds of people and running a business making multiple hundreds of millions of dollars — eventually billions. I didn’t have the experience to handle that at the time.” –  Scott Gatz

Weiner’s experience, particularly in managing larger teams, turned out to be a huge asset. Scott was later thankful for Weiner’s management of the project. He also added he felt ready when the next project came to him.

Yahoo made billions of dollars using the concept of the sponsored search model. This would not have been possible had the project not been managed well, by someone with the required experience. 

Scion AV: A Marketer’s unique way to market Toyota’s edgy car brand  

In 2003, Toyota launched its edgy new car brand in the market: Scion.

The company’s marketing team comprised among other members, Jeri Yoshizu, who was hired as the sales and promotion manager of Scion. It was very early established that the Scion brand would be known for its “subversive” image.  

With that in mind, Yoshizu pitched the idea for a free Internet radio station called Scion17(also known as Scion AV)

Her concept: The radio station would allow DJs and artists to play any music they wanted and give her young target audience access to songs they’d never hear on conventional radio. Yoshizu got the go-ahead — but with one condition: DJ selections would have to be G-rated to protect the company’s image.

Yoshizu was faced with finding a way to combine an edgy audience with corporate-friendly beats. To get the message out to her target audience, Yoshizu knew she had to start speaking their language. Instead of buying TV or print ads, she turned to social networking sites to spread the word, letting artists know that no genre was off-limits — only profanity was.

In the early 2000s, this was quite an unconventional strategy.

Scion17 was launched in July 2007, and within a short span, the station got popular and accrued more than 10,000 listener hours per month. Scion brand got the kind of advertising that couldn’t have been possible with any traditional marketing strategy.

“It’s completely word of mouth, which is what Scion is about. A lot of DJs promote us on their MySpace pages. Now, instead of us searching for new artists, the ones we want are lining up requesting to be a part of it.”- Jeri Yoshizu

Caribou Coffee: Establishing a customer loyalty program was the idea behind the coffeehouse’s success

In the early 2000s, Caribou Coffee was the second-largest coffee chain in the U.S. with over 480 stores in 18 states. However, there is always competition lurking, in form of Starbucks and other coffee chains.

Kathy Hollenhorst, a senior VP of marketing at Caribou started asking: What did Caribou have that Starbucks didn’t? She examined the business — from its corporate philosophy to its retail locations — and decided the key was customer loyalty.

She suggested implementing a loyalty program at Caribou Coffee.

“The loyalty program became my pet project. And to be honest, the organization wasn’t ready for it.” – Kathy Hollenhorst

Her idea was received with skepticism. The management at Caribou was concerned about how implementing a complex system of points and awards throughout its 489 retail stores would work. But Hollenhorst stuck to her beliefs and did not lose hope.

“You have to be willing to be laughed at and not take it personally. Pursuing innovation at today’s companies is like running a marathon at a sprint — it’s incredibly hard work that seems to go on forever.” – Kathy Hollenhorst

It took more than a year of presentations and research, but eventually, Hollenhorst convinced the company to test the customer loyalty program at a handful of locations. Moreover, instead of repeating the same mantra over and over, Hollenhorst used that time to fine-tune the project. She added an element that complemented the company’s friendly, Midwestern philosophy of “surprise and delight.” 

Cash registers used a variable messaging program to prompt random rewards.

“It pops a message up on the screen when a person makes a purchase, randomly selecting them for a nice surprise — a bigger drink, a free muffin.” – Kathy Hollenhorst

The company implemented the program at a bigger stage by late 2008 and it fared pretty well for them. Caribou continues to be among the top coffee chains in the US after all these years.

DMD Chips: How a Physicist made today’s display technology possible?

In 1977, the Department of Defense (DoD) funded a project to develop a device that would modulate light. In the mid-1970s, Texas Instruments had already worked with DoD to develop charge-coupled-device (CCD) imagers, a light-sensitive integrated circuit that converts a light image into an electronic image.

Given TI’s expertise, DoD gave this project to Texas Instruments. A team was formed under the direction of Dr. Larry Hornbeck who had previously worked on developing the moving target indicator CCD. However, modulating light was way different than imaging with light.

The original approach was a hybrid structure that combined a thinned CCD with a deformable mirror, a metalized polymer membrane that would be manufactured on the backside of the CCD. Rather than detecting an image, the CCD essentially operated in reverse, providing electronic signals to electrostatically control the deformation of the mirror.

Each CCD picture element (pixel) controlled one pixel of the deformable mirror. A few months into the project, the manufacturing challenge of combining a thinned CCD with a deformable mirror was fully appreciated, and Hornbeck proposed a more easily fabricated hybrid structure, using n-type metal-oxide-semiconductor (nMOS) transistors to control a deformable mirror manufactured just above the transistors.

In late 1980, Hornbeck filed the initial patent for the deformable mirror device or DMD.

By 1981, Hornbeck shifted his focus from metalized membranes to a technology that could be more easily manufactured in a standard semiconductor fabrication facility; a monolithic structure consisting of all-metal, reflective cantilever micromirrors integrated along with an nMOS address circuit on a silicon substrate.

During this time, Dr. Ed Nelson, an expert in optical imaging, joined Hornbeck and suggested that the technology was well-suited as a “light bar,”, and could replace the laser scanner commonly employed in electrophotographic printers.

Over the next several years, Nelson worked on the printer application, while Hornbeck developed improved DMD architectures and manufacturing methods. TI’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. George Heilmeier provided some funding to keep the team moving forward.

By 1986, it was apparent that the current version of DMD would not meet the requirements for printing or display applications. So, Hornbeck devised a radically new approach to modulating light with micromirrors. He began using the micromirrors as simple on-off switches to create pulses of “digital light.” This was the basis of what would become the digital DMD Chips.

In 1987, TI built and tested the first “digital” DMD, a 512-pixel line array of addressable micromirrors. Combining the DMD with a light source and optics, the projected optical image of each mirror could be rapidly switched on or off. They improved the design further and in 1991,  TI delivered an 840-pixel DMD line array to its own printer division for application in the first commercial DMD product, a high-speed airline ticket printer.

Hornbeck filed a patent application on March 16, 1988, for the new digital architecture, receiving U.S. Patent Number 5,061,049, “Spatial Light Modulator and Method” on October 29, 1991. This patent formed the basis for the current digital DMD, renamed the digital micromirror device in 1992.

There was still a long road ahead for DMD chips.

In 1988, Jeff Sampsell, manager of TI’s optical processing branch, learned of an upcoming defense research program to explore the concept of high-definition television (HDTV).

Sampsell was convinced that DMD was the answer, even if the application would require placing 2 million micromirrors on the face of a silicon chip not much larger than a postage stamp.

DoD awarded TI the HDTV development contract in early 1989. Later that year, the Rank Corporation, a major player in the motion picture and entertainment industry, provided funds for TI to develop high-brightness, large-screen projectors based on a concept using beam-splitting prisms and three DMD devices. Hornbeck realized the momentum toward HDTV applications for his DMD and quickly filed two key patent applications in 1989 that focused on transforming the DMD from a printer technology to a display technology.

In 1991, TI formed a corporate-level venture project and built a dedicated wafer fabrication facility to focus on digital video display applications for DMD.

Soon, the Digital Micromirror Device chips were incorporated into Digital Light Processing (DLP) projectors. Each micromirror in a DMD represented 1 pixel in a projected image. The DLP projectors included either one or three DMD chips and weighed in under two pounds, less than half the weight of previous projectors. DLP projectors were incorporated into many companies’ offices, modernizing the conference room.

The Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) – an optical micromachine – went on to power the most versatile display technologies in the world, including pocket projectors weighing less than one pound (0.5 kg) and digital cinema projectors lighting up 70-foot (21.5 m) screens.

The DLP projector, made possible by the Digital Micromirror Device, set the industry standard by being employed in the movie industry. For his work, Dr. Larry Hornbeck was awarded an Emmy for his Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development.

“If you’re afraid you may fail, then your actions may not be as bold, aggressive or creative as you need them to be in order to accomplish your goal. You may play it so conservative you never get there.” – Larry Hornbeck

Java: How James Gosling invented the Object-oriented programming language?

A simple idea can change an organization’s strategic direction. In the case of Sun Microsystems, the idea was Java. This idea was conceived by James Gosling, who joined Sun after completing his Ph.D. in computer science.

One fine day, while working at Sun, Gosling encountered a problem when he needed to write a program to translate software code from one language to another. Seeing the inherent problem with this, Gosling set out to create a programming language that could be written once and run anywhere. He was joined by a team of his peers and Oak was born.

Oak was originally meant for digital interactive television, but it was far too advanced for the industry it was meant to serve. It was initially hoped to be used by Time Warner in its cable set-top boxes but the deal fell through.

There were copyright issues with the name Oak, and the language was later renamed Java.

After the failed deal with Time Warner, it looked like the language would be abandoned. But Bill Joy, a Sun co-founder, championed the project. Joy realized that with the explosion of the Web, a programming language like Java could be used across different platforms — computers, cell phones, PDAs, and more. Joy also understood that the key to making Java a cross-platform linchpin was to give the language and development kit away. And that’s what they did.

The Java Virtual Machine was eventually released to the public as free and open-source software, thus sparking even greater popularity and wider use in the software community

By the end of 1996, Java had nearly 100 licensees and had attracted 6,000 developers.

Gosling worked on the Java language until 2010 when Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle for 7.4 billion USD.

Besides being the father of Java, some of James Gosling’s other notable honors include becoming an Officer of Canada (the second highest civilian honor in Canada), becoming an ACM fellow, and being awarded an IEEE John von Neumann Medal for his outstanding achievements in computer science.

AT&T Innovations: Looking at some of the Best Innovations from AT&T’s Crowdsourcing platform TIP

What happens when you give your employees across the globe a platform to openly share their ideas?

Well, for starters, there would be an avalanche of ideas. The dedicated personnel could then filter through the ideas, evaluate their impact, and after much sorting, some of these ideas take the shape of products.

The road from idea to implementation is long and full of curves. But the best ones make it right to the end.

In 2009, when AT&T launched The Innovation Pipeline (TIP), an online crowd-sourcing platform for its global workforce, they wanted to bring together the finest ideas from throughout the company. A decade later, over 50,000 ideas were submitted by 130,000 members from 54 countries and 50 states, and over 100 projects have turned into genuine products and services.

Let’s look at some of the best innovations that came out of TIP.

DriveMode: An app that could save Drivers’ lives

Imagine you’re driving and suddenly get a text on your phone. The temptation hits and you would want to check your phone. Suddenly, while all your concentration is on the phone, there is the sound of a crash.

Thousands of accidents happen every year because of texting and driving. How could it be averted?

A call center employee at AT&T who was personally affected by texting while driving came up with the idea for the DriveMode app.

This app works by detecting whether the driver is driving at a speed of 25 km per hour or higher. If they are, the app (which is available in both iOS and Android) switches on and immediately responds to incoming SMS and MMS text messages, letting the sender know that the text receiver is driving.

At the cornerstone of this app is the “It Can Wait” campaign which was launched in 2010. The campaign educated distracted drivers that no call, text, email, or notification is worth dying for. Over the years, AT&T has turned ‘It Can Wait’ into a social movement, achieving tremendous success by inspiring over 36 million Americans to take the pledge.

When the app launched in 2014, a million people downloaded the app as part of the campaign. By 2016, there were more than 5 million downloads of the free AT&T DriveMode app, which is available across all carriers. 

NumberSync: Stay connected, even without your phone in the vicinity

Can you imagine a time when you could step outside without your phone?

What if there is an important call or text you miss? It’s the era of FOMO and you would not want to miss out on anything.

With that in mind, an employee at AT&T suggested the idea of an application called NumberSync, which gives you the freedom to be connected to your smartphone while staying away from it.

NumberSync allowed devices to link to the account devices such as a tablet, watch, or computer, or Alexa-enabled devices to send and receive messages or calls using the same phone number as the user’s main line. The main advantage is you don’t need to download any app, and the phone doesn’t need to be near or even turned on for NumberSync to work. 

In 2015, when AT&T NumberSync was launched, the connected wearables were less in demand. But with the launch of devices such as the Apple Watch 3 which included a built-in SIM, connected wearables are gaining traction. The demand for products with NumberSync on wearables is likely to rise in the future.

SmartMic: Attending a conference? Use your Phone as Mic 

How do you feel about tweaking existing technology to serve other uses?

Smart, right?

SmartMic – Yes, that was one of the ideas suggested by a first-year AT&T employee. He suggested turning a smartphone into a wireless microphone which can be a great help during conferences.

You see during conferences, you might have to shout over a crowd or wait for someone to deliver the mike in case you want to say something. With SmartMic, the system lets you use your smartphone as a wireless microphone and as a polling system. You can speak into your smartphone connected to the SmartMic, and your voice will pipe through the stage speakers. 

SmartMic was a collaboration tool that was made possible with the support of Alice Ham. She gained the proposal and secured the project for usage within AT&T.

“As a TIP Champion, you have to think about what kind of next great ideas might be helpful for our customers and business. Then you make those ideas a reality, it makes me proud to work for a company that challenges its employees to bring innovation to life.”   – Alice Ham, Lead of Strategy and Capital Planning at AT&T.

Cajun Puller: Fixing broadband problems in one technician’s visit

Don’t we get irked every time our broadband disconnects due to some issue?

Years ago, fixing fiber issues in just one technician visit was a distant reality. But that has changed, all thanks to an employee’s idea.

A Network Service Manager from Louisiana shared the idea of using a Cajun Puller to quickly reconnect customer fiber in just one technician visit so that they do not have to wait for a second workgroup to arrive to answer their complaints. 

He came up with the concept and an initial prototype of the Cajun Puller which was further developed by AT&T.  

It is said that AT&T has deployed 1,000 Cajun Pullers in the field which is estimated to save the company $10 million a year. 

Hackathons – A core part of Facebook’s Innovation culture 

If you want to ramp up an organization’s intrapreneurial efforts, conducting Hackathons is one good way to achieve it. 

The proof of this is Facebook, which has been hosting hackathons since 2007. In fact, hackathons were a part of the company’s culture. In the company’s early days, it is said that a lot of ordinary nights were like hackathons—when someone decided they wanted to stay up all night to build a prototype, they just did it. But as Facebook grew, people started organizing hackathons as a way to collaborate with colleagues from different parts of the team to get their ideas working faster.

The first official hackathon was a 20 people event and since then it has grown in numbers. All of Facebook’s staff, which comprises its engineers, designers, and even its cleaning crew come together to create a prototype of their product idea. 

During one of these hackathons, an intern came up with the idea of “tagging in comments”. When the intern presented it at the forum, everyone’s reaction was the same — they couldn’t believe that someone hadn’t built this yet. It was shipped to one billion Facebook users within two weeks of its conception. 

Hackathons lie at the core of Facebook’s stunning development speed and helped fuel the company’s meteoric growth. Some of the other notable features and ideas that came out of the hackathons include Video, the Like button, Chat, Hip Hop for PHP, and Timeline. 

“Hackathons are so valuable because they are a time when we’re able to think past the next day or week and just build without constraints. Taking this time to think differently pays off with new ideas and cool things that get shipped”.  – Pedram Keyani, Director of Engineering at Facebook

All of this, for a Like? – The story of the unmissable Facebook button

Back in 2007, when Facebook became open to the public, and had 30 million users, the only way for people to engage with content was to post a comment on it. 

Leah Pearlman, one of Facebook’s product managers at the time, found that inefficient. He also realized that all popular posts had the comment repeatedly – Awesome or Congrats in the long string of comments.  

Along with a few other facebookers, she set out to build a universal, seamless way to express approval on the social network. They code-named the project “Props.”

Pearlman wasn’t the only one at Facebook thinking along those lines. Designer Justin Rosenstein told The Ringer in 2017 that he had been looking for “a way to increase positivity in the system”. His aim was to help Facebook create “a world in which people uplift each other rather than tear each other down.”

Pearlman added the “awesome button,” as the group initially called it, to Facebook’s internal ideas board. Unsurprisingly, it got enough votes from their co-workers to spur a “hackathon”— which had earlier resulted in amazing Facebook features.

On July 17, 2007, a team consisting of Bosworth, Rebekah Cox, Ola Okelola, Rosenstein, and Tom Whitnah coded the first awesome button. It was well-received and got the green light for development.

In November 2007, the team presented the awesome button to CEO Mark Zuckerberg for final approval. But he rejected it, owing to concerns over privacy defaults. He also dissented on the name, preferring “like” to “awesome.”

However, data saved the like button. In a test, Facebook data analysts found that popular posts with the button actually prompted more interactions than those without. That finding turned out to be decisive. By February 2009, Zuckerberg had approved a final version of the like button, drawn as a thumbs-up in Photoshop.

The like button was an instant hit, and Facebook soon found ways to ingratiate it into the fabric of not just its platform, but the internet beyond. By 2010, you could like people’s comments as well as their posts. The like button also became the default way to follow publishers and brands on Facebook—and when you did, Facebook would use your like to advertise those same pages to your friends. 

The like button was an important feature in Facebook’s growth and it helped gauge engagement which along with its other ad products contributed to Facebook’s revenue stream. 

Now that we had a look at some of the innovations by organizations, let’s look at some of the companies that became a possibility because of the intrapreneurship programs and accelerators at some of the renowned organizations.

UQBATE – One man’s mission to promote Entrepreneurship at Deutsche Telekom

 In 2011, Johannes Nuenning, the VP of Business Strategy at Deutsche Telekom came up with the idea of UQBATE – an intrapreneurship program to support employees who wanted to realize their ideas and become entrepreneurs. It was a platform for the company’s internal entrepreneurs to express their ideas.

UQBATE was a three-month-long accelerator program where teams were established, and ideas were debated and pitched. The teams took forward the validation and development phase, which comprised speaking to potential clients and testing theories. Johannes Nuenning promoted the program both internally and externally and was responsible for its success.

Since the inception of UQBATE, 400 ideas were tested with the participation of more than 600 employees

Some of the success stories of this program include

  •       Zuqi, an online platform for special service providers,
  •       MyComoda, a virtual wardrobe, and
  •       eParkomat, a car parking platform

“We don’t care where you come from. There is no limit regarding the ideas. It’s 3 months approach designed to support entrepreneurs and their product, which might well be an non-Telekom product. Because we learned that the vast majority of ideas reflect the ‘common knowledge’ of a 21st century Telecommunications Company anyway.” – Johannes Nuenning

As of 2018, more than 10 companies have been founded as a result of this program.

Inversation by SAP – A startup made possible by SAP’s Accelerator Program

In 2017, Hemant Rachh, a Bengaluru-based product specialist in SAP Labs India, along with three of his colleagues developed a unique concept. An artificial intelligence-powered platform that could transform all leads received by a company into sales.

Within a couple of months, 2 more teammates jumped on board to help grow the concept. Convinced by the platform’s potential, the team of 4 chose to submit it at the annual SAP Labs India event Innovation and Venture Challenge (InnVent), which encouraged the employees to go beyond the box.

Hemant also considered quitting SAP to pursue this project with a few members of his team. However, they opted not to leave the company because of the idea-encouraging climate of SAP, which allowed their ideas to flourish.

“The program is exactly the same as going to a venture capital firm for funding your startup idea and we could do it while we had a corporate job.” – Hemant Rachh

Hemant and his team won the internal program, InnVent, and received a lot of encouragement and external assistance to move the concept forward. They continued their efforts to help bring their concept to fruition. Eventually, Hemant and his team applied to, an internationally run intrapreneurship accelerator program managed by SAP itself.

Rachh’s team was one of the two teams out of 500 within SAP to get funded. Later in February 2019, Rachh and his team moved to San Francisco to focus full-time on their startup, which is now called Inversation by SAP.

“In today’s rapid pace of digital transformation, it is vital to stay relevant and competitive. As leaders, we need to nurture our employees in thinking innovatively and aid them in converting their ideas into marketable solutions.” – Dilipkumar Khandelwal, Managing director of SAP Labs

Crowdcraft: The Airbus Innovation Program Success Story

Mina Bastawros, while working as a mid-level employee at Airbus had a vision. He wanted to bring new game-changing ideas into Airbus. His aim was:

“To design the aircraft of the future with the people for the people.”

He realized that while developing new corporate innovation within an organization the size of Airbus, maintaining the opportunity only for internal people was not a viable option. He suggested expanding the generation and deployment of ideas to innovators outside the organization.

This resulted in Crowdcraft, a crowdsourcing and crowd-staffing platform designed to find solutions to technical challenges. The platform connected problems to problem solvers, seeking to reduce work time and cost through more efficient ways for buyers to access goods and services. The promising ideas received direct support from the top executives of Airbus.

Crowdcraft was a massive success for the company as it achieved 61% cost savings and 59% time savings compared to traditional new product development methods. 

The initiative worked well for Mina too. He was appointed as a Strategic Marketing Director at Airbus Corporate Jets and later promoted to the Vice President of Creative & Digital Marketing.

Success Stories from Chemovator, the corporate incubator at BASF

How do you encourage innovation in a company that has 110,000 employees worldwide and is a major player in its domain?

With such a huge workforce, tackling innovation can get complex. You need a protected space where employees can share their ideas and take them right to implementation.

BASF gave its employees this very protected space by starting its own corporate incubator – Chemovator – in 2018 to bring their disruptive ideas to life.

“There are many resourceful minds among BASF employees who have promising innovative business ideas. We support these colleagues in introducing their new products, digital business models or comprehensive complete solutions to the market quickly and efficiently.” – Markus Bold, Head of Chemovator

Chemovator supports its internal intrapreneurs that want to develop new ideas, starting from ideation all the way to successful commercialization. The program takes two years to complete and supports up to 12 venture teams at a time.

In April 2021, Chemovator announced its first successful corporate spin-out, BOXLAB Services GmbH. The idea of BOXLAB features an app that helps highly regulated industries replace damaged packaging within 24 hours. It solves supply chain issues to decrease delays in the delivery process.

BOXLAB has accrued a customer base of over 70 warehouses in ten countries. BASF gained a minority share in BOXLAB and improved its label and packaging processes.

“Our aim is to make logistics processes more efficient and sustainable and to avoid the disposal of undamaged products due to damaged outer packaging.” – Mischa Feig

The other companies to spin out of Chemovator include secureB2B, recobo, 1000 Satellites, faCellitate, and BANY.

bCheck: The startup that emerged from the Luminus innovation incubator

EDF Luminus, a top player in the energy sector in Belgium, recognized the need to stimulate innovation and intrapreneurship within the organization. With that thought, they established their internal innovation incubator #next.

Participants in the #next program were removed from their daily work environment and given a startup-like ecosystem, where they could work on their idea for three months. As part of this program, EDF did a tie-up with Start it @KBC, Belgium’s largest startup network. Along with access to experts and a personal mentor, the environment was designed to stimulate internal innovation and reinforce the company’s internal startup culture. 

“We have found that the best and most innovative ideas often come from our own employees. And to stimulate and nurture those ideas, we have developed our own internal innovation programme: #next. Participants in the #next programme are deliberately removed from their daily work environment. So they can fully immerse themselves in the start-up culture at Start it @KBC and, on their return, boost innovation and entrepreneurship within our own corporate culture.” –  Grégoire Dallemagne, CEO of EDF Luminus

 Seppe de sever and his colleague was the first set of people to join the first corporate venture project of EDF Luminus.

They together developed bCheck, a device that provides immediate energy efficiency improvements on electricity installments like boilers and heat pumps. The device uses IoT technology and artificial intelligence to monitor their operation and efficiency. The collected data can be read and interpreted using AI and the system is also able to detect when an installation will break down so that problems can be solved before they occur.

With bCheck, energy savings of up to 30% has been detected.

When interviewed, here’s what Seppe has to say about the whole experience.

“They gave us a laptop, they gave us a credit card with a few thousand euros on it, and they just said: okay, test it, validate the idea, and go for it! We see everybody is learning: we are learning, EDF Luminus is learning, on how to do it quicker and better.”– Seppe de Sever

Inxight Software – A Xerox researcher’s idea to provide Beyond Search experience  

When Ramana Rao joined Xerox’s research division PARC in 1986, it was his second stint at the company. He had previously worked at PARC 6 years ago for a summer, then went on to complete his bachelor’s degree and traveled the world. 

During this second stint, as a researcher, he worked on several projects and became an author and inventor on multiple papers and patents respectively, in areas like information visualization, search, web extraction, digital libraries, and text analytics applications. 

“One feeling I had at PARC was that I could figure out the next big thing. I wanted it to be something I cared about and could see in the world.” – Ramana Rao

It was in the year 1990, he joined a team working on user interfaces. During this period, he created Inxight software, a new graphical interface that made it easy to organize information. Behind the working of this software was his idea for Hyperbolic trees, which is an interface that could examine and organize information in three dimensions. 

The hyperbolic tree interface allowed users to see and easily navigate an entire bank of information – a Web site, an organizational chart, a database – at one glance. Instead of having to click and scroll through numerous areas, users of the tree could just select one area to zoom in on that information while shrinking the rest of the display.  The interface was useful for web surfing and dealing with large volumes of data.

Rao also co-invented Inxight’s Table Lens, a technique for viewing large tables of data that enables users to quickly pick out patterns and anomalies.

Six years later, Inxight Software was formed. The company spun out from Xerox’s PARC in 1996 and raised $55 million in multiple rounds after the spinout.  The company was considered the leading provider of enterprise software solutions for information discovery.

Its customers include enterprise companies such as Air Products, DaimlerChrysler, Novartis, Purdue Pharma, Thomson, multiple U.S. and foreign government agencies, and software OEMs such as SAP, SAS, and IBM.

“Cars made all of us able to run like leopards. These tools could make us all think more like Einstein.” – Ramana Rao 

Changemakers – Those who brought great fortunes to their organizations

There are ideas and there is innovation. There are people who come up with ideas, and then people who work on implementation. 

But then there are a whole lot of people who don’t just come up with ideas. They come up with ideas that bring forward change. We call them Changemakers. 

In this section, we will look at Intrapreneurs who changed their organization, and the environment around them for the better. Let’s look at the Changemakers.

Anjali Sud brought Business Model Innovation to Vimeo

In 2014, When Anjali Sud joined Vimeo, the company was losing money. The company had annual revenue of under $40 million and was trying to build a subscription service to rival the likes of Netflix and Youtube.

Anjali had previously worked as a consultant, and helped entrepreneurs to come up with ideas to grow their SMEs.  This experience really helped, when she was placed in charge of Vimeo’s creator-services division, which provides Software as a Service (SaaS) tools designed to help filmmakers with post-production.

Sud had a different idea. Instead of thinking on the entertainment side of things, her focus was on silicon-valley plumbing, aka entrepreneurs. Her idea was to create a single-stop platform for businesses to record, edit, store, and distribute videos. 

Sud’s idea was accepted by the management and she was assigned a small team to test the idea. The idea was soon a success, and within 3 years, in 2017, Anjali Sud was promoted to the CEO of Vimeo.

“One of the reasons I was given ownership of the creator side of the business is because it wasn’t, at the time, the area that was getting all the focus and attention, so they could take more of a chance on me. That’s not a bad strategy. It gives you an opportunity to own something yourself – especially if you’re passionate about it – and maybe get an experience that you wouldn’t normally get if you just went down the standard track.” – Anjali Sud

Under the leadership of Sud, Vimeo reached great heights and as of November 2022, Vimeo has about 1.6 million subscribers. 

Nitin Paranjpe – The leader that took HUL to great heights amidst the global financial crisis

In September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed, everyone could feel the impact of the global financial crisis. Among those affected was Hindustan Unilever limited India, whose performance stalled and share price tanked.

A few months before, Nitin Paranjpe was appointed as the CEO of HUL India. He had risen through the ranks in the company, having started as a management trainee in 1982.

Despite troubled times, Nitin decided to set new, audacious goals. The route he chose was a dramatic leap forward in distribution. At that time, HUL was already the market leader with close to 1 million points of sales in India. They were also expanding their distribution network by close to 15,000 retail outlets a year.

Nitin created a target to add 5 lakh points of sale a year while working on expanding the company’s network to include mom-and-pop stores even in the remotest corner of the country.

Further in 2011, under his leadership, HUL entered into a strategic alliance with Tata Teleservices to distribute TATA Docomo sim cards in rural India given HUL’s extensive distribution network in rural markets in India

Nitin also understood the changing face of consumerism in India and introduced programs like reverse mentoring, where 25-year-olds guided their older colleagues on social media and helped make them more tech-savvy.

Under his leadership, HUL reached great heights and its market capitalization rose threefold, from ₹ 51,283.69 crores in 2008 to ₹ 143,394 crores in 2013.

Kara Swinger – Her efforts to bring inclusive culture at Zurich Insurance

 When Kara Wenger joined the Zurich group in 2019, she realized there was an under-representation of millennials and generation Z colleagues in key decision-making forums across the business.

To address the issue, Kara founded NEXT, a grassroots effort to bring inclusive culture to work and improve generational inclusion within Zurich Insurance.

She set the goals for NEXT which includes: encouraging intergenerational dialogue, especially advocating for newer generations to have a seat at the table where key business decisions are made; driving connection internally and externally to share best practices and scale the movement; and investing in the next generation of socially responsible leaders in partnership with the Zurich Foundation.

“But for me, what stood out the most was the impact being an intrapreneur had on the founding team. Without fail, team members shared with me that being a part of the NEXT leadership team was one of the best career experiences they’d had to date. They got to push themselves and develop entrepreneurial skills such as pitching ideas, developing strategies, problem-solving, and taking action in new ways. In addition, this experience hugely accelerated their leadership development and their confidence to speak up and share their views, often with very senior stakeholders. I find it so personally rewarding that I was able to create that space for others to grow in that way, and I undoubtedly had significant professional growth myself as well.” – Kara Wenger, Head of Work Sustainability at Zurich Insurance.

Swinger’s NEXT resulted in increased generational inclusiveness within Zurich Insurance. The firm also provided scholarships and support to multiple cohorts of social entrepreneurs outside of the Zurich Insurance Group who are making an impact on their local immunity.  

Stijn Van Avermaet – His move to take Van Hoecke Direct to Consumer

For decades altogether, Van Hoecke had been a leading player in the European furniture components industry, working as the distributor of hinges, lift systems, and drawer systems.

The company had a few other brands under its umbrella – Blum, TA’OR, and Orgalux. All of these were B2B businesses until a marketing manager entered the scene. 

Stijn Van Avermaet figured that the company products were not reaching their full sales potential. So, he suggested taking a B2C approach and going direct to the market

In 2017, Orgalux went B2C and offered various home organizing options to customers.

When asked about the inspiration behind going B2C, here’s what Stijn Van Avermaet had to say

“There was a need for the end customer to have dividing systems if it was not sold by the kitchen manufacturer, so we decided to have a look at the B2C segment where we can sell these dividing systems through an online channel because we felt when we were in a fair, people were in our showroom, we felt really the enthusiasm for people to organize their kitchens.” – Stijn Van Avermaet

In an interview, Stijn mentioned that Orgalux got all the resources from Van Hoecke to venture direct-to-market. However, these were still unknown horizons and the team was trying various strategies to figure out the best way to make it work. After quite some time, Orgalux became a market success for Van Hoecke.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the intrapreneurial spirit of Stijn, which in his words, breeds in the culture of the company.

Kouji Ohboshi – The revolutionary leader who introduced I-mode

When Kouji Ohboshi joined NTT Corporation after completing his law degree from Tokyo university in 1979, there was a stark difference in his thought process and the environment around him. NTT’s philosophy valued consensus more than individual initiative. 

The difference in the way he operated, led to a ton of conflicts and tension within the organization. He was a smart worker and had risen over the ranks, and headed different departments. But, at one point, the tension became so acute, to ease them, he was shipped off to run one of the company’s dusty divisions – Wireless communications

Now, this was the early 1990s, before the mobile boom. Faced with NTT’s trenchant conservatism, Ohboshi had considered resigning. But he changed his mind and reformed the division instead. 

In his position as Executive Vice President and Senior Executive Manager of Corporate Communications, he budgeted more than $5 billion to build a fully digital cellular network. Then, in the mid-’90s, he unleashed a price war against rival wireless operators. Uncharacteristic for a Japanese executive, he fostered a racy corporate culture that emphasized marketing over engineering. He hosted office parties and socialized with coworkers. He also helped build an entrepreneurial culture by replacing key managers with outsiders, many of them who sported American business degrees. 

By 1992, he was promoted to President of NTT Docomo. It is said that Ohboshi would load up a box with every customer complaint form he could find and took it home for the night. He read each of these forms, and it helped him set the direction for his most radical and ambitious project – I-mode. 

I-mode was an Internet-enabled wireless service,  which upon its launch became an instant hit with the younger Japanese audience. When asked about the success of I-mode, Ohboshi mentioned that its success was mainly driven by the thought that the business would succeed only if we could forecast the future. 

“When the company first started developing i-mode in the fall of 1996, many opposed it because business in related sectors, including mobile phone service, was going extremely well. But i-mode was a great success. It was a result of researching data communications and predicting the limits of voice communication when nobody else in the industry was doing so.” – Kouji Ohboshi

Another factor behind I-mode’s success was the fact that NTT opened its network and allowed 26,000 content providers to upload their information freely. I-mode went on to become Japan’s largest internet service provider with 58 million users. 

NTT Docomo took great strides in communications technology under the leadership of Ohboshi. The company witnessed the introduction of 2G, and 3G technologies like FOMA in 2001, which offered high-speed packet transmissions for most mobile multimedia services, and circuit-switched transmissions for video conferencing.

During his 10-year leadership at NTT DoCoMo, the company’s sales increased to 44 trillion won and its valuation reached 330 trillion won. Ohboshi retired as the chairman in 2002, and since then has been a Corporate adviser on the company’s board.

Myriam Sidibe – The woman that led the biggest hygiene behavior change program in the world

Did you know – 6.5 million children each year never make it to their fifth birthday?

There is a myriad of reasons, with Diarrhea and Pneumonia being the top two killers of children under five. Yet most of these deaths could be prevented simply by using soap.

Yes, handwashing with soap. This is what Myriam Sidibe figured out while doing her Ph.D. at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In fact, Myriam is one of the only people in the world with a doctorate in public health focused on hand-washing with soap.

When she completed her Ph.D., instead of going to work for an NGO or public sector agency, she chose to join Unilever.  In her view, working with businesses was the best pathway to reaching people with information and access to this lifesaving product.

Myriam joined Unilever as the Global social mission director, and since then has been an integral part of the Lifebuoy brand team. She helped the soap salespeople understand the connections between their product and the lives saved. She also spent years 14 working with thousands of children understanding the most effective ways to get them to wash their hands with soap, on key occasions like before eating or after using the bathroom.

Myriam led the Social Mission activity in 55 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America with the aim of changing the handwashing behaviors of one billion people by 2020 – making it the biggest hygiene behavior change program in the world

Miriam also led the creation of  Global Handwashing Day, which recognizes the need to raise awareness of handwashing with soap as a simple but lifesaving habit that can prevent disease.

Myriam continues to represent Unilever and has collaborated with organizations such as Millennium Villages, the World Bank, PSI, WSUP, MCHIP, and USAID to educate people about the importance of handwashing with soap and run programs that help form healthy handwashing habits for life.

It has been noted that since the start of her campaign, there has been a significant decrease in the child mortality rate. From 93 deaths per 1000 live births in 1991 to 38 deaths per 1000 live births in 2021, there has been a 59% decrease in the under-five mortality rate, much of whose credit can be attributed to Miriam’s initiatives. 

“It is your world and you will decide what you want it to be. If you are passionate and believe that you can make a difference, then you have a duty to get out there and do it. To whom much is given, much is expected!” – Myriam Sidibe

Nike N7: Sam McCracken’s Vision to make Indigenous communities healthy 

For Sam McCracken, the community always came first. A citizen of the Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes, Sam was working in a Nike distribution center in Oregon in 1999 when he had an idea. 

He said to himself, “I work for the biggest sports company in the world. I must be able to do something in my role at Nike to help my community.”

During that time, Sam’s community, like many Native American communities, was battling epidemic levels of diabetes. There was also a personal reason for Sam. His own mother died of complications from type 2 diabetes. 

Sam proposed a plan for helping Indigenous communities improve health and wellness through physical activity. He started working with leaders in his community to promote healthy lifestyles by organizing events – such as fun runs and walks. He also arranged to provide free or discounted Nike products to incentivize people to take part.

As he saw the momentum around this project grow, he began to share his story with others in Nike. Sam’s energy was infectious and a team of Nike designers offered to help create products in line with Sam’s vision. The result was Nike N7 – a line of products – including the Nike Air N7 Native shoe – embodying the sustainability values of Native American communities, encouraging kids to get active.

The N7 line, since its inception in 2009, has generated millions of dollars for hundreds of Indigenous organizations through the N7 Fund. The fund has awarded $5.6 million in grants to 243 communities and organizations, reaching more than 420,000 youth.

“I have always looked to my culture to remind myself of what is most important. The authentic connection I have to the belief is that we must consider the impact of all of our decisions on the next seven generations. This is what shaped the concept for Nike N7.” – Sam McCracken

Today, Sam is general manager and founder of Nike N7, a division dedicated to supporting Indigenous youth and encouraging them to get active, and he serves as vice chair for the board of the Center for Native American Youth.

Sam has helped form partnerships between Nike and the Indian Health Service to expand access to sports in tribal communities. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Council on Indian Education in 2010 and has received a slew of awards as a business and sports leader. In early 2022, he was honored by the World Economic Forum as the Schwab Foundation’s Social Intrapreneur of the Year.

PepsiCo Innovation: How Amy Chen promoted Healthy eating with her Food for Good Initiative

 When Amy Chen started her first job as a marketer for Pepsico’s pita chip brand in 2007, she started thinking about how she could use her position to help make a difference in the world.

“What if PepsiCo could be on the cutting edge of figuring out new business models that were revenue-generating but had social impact?” – Amy Chen

Chen came up with a plan for a social business incubator to develop sustainable business models to improve access to healthy food in underserved communities. She presented this idea amidst PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi.  Her idea was accepted, and Food for Good was born in 2009.

According to its website, the mission of Food for Good is “to make healthy food physically and financially accessible for low-income families through sustainable, business-driven solutions.”

The incubator partners with communities, government agencies, and non-profit organizations to bring meals to children at risk of hunger, and to improve access to fruits and vegetables for those in food desert neighborhoods.

There were specific tactics taken by the initiative, such as the conversion of “a dilapidated football field in Texas” into an urban farm. They also started a mobile meals program that operates during the summer, when many children go hungry for lack of school breakfasts and lunches. Since 2009, over 50 million mobile meals have been served.

There is also a farm stand program where they equip community members with tools to become their own change agents. Individuals are given tools and access to a distribution and supply chain network so they can sell fruits and vegetables, and help educate the community about healthy eating.

Chen gave up the reins of Food for Good in 2012 before moving on to her next role within PepsiCo. However, her initiative continues to grow, and it has grown into a global initiative for advancing food security, delivering millions of meals to communities in need.

In 2021, PepsiCo announced a new goal to make nutritious food accessible to 50 million people around the world by 2030 through the Food for Good program. The ambitious goal is part of the company’s pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) transformation, which has sustainability at its core.

 “As you start getting a lot of these blue-chip companies experimenting … I think there will be a tipping point. There’s a day when I hope we … don’t have to talk about social entrepreneurship and how [it is] different from normal business, because all business will be good business.” – Amy Chen

GSK Innovation: Graham Simpson’s phenomenal work in low-cost diagnostics

When Graham Simpson, an R&D Scientist at GSK, joined the PULSE volunteer program, in 2010, little did he know he would stumble upon an idea that would change healthcare for good.

While volunteering with Ogra Foundation in Kisumu, Kenya, he worked with villagers to help build a sustainable approach to the economy.

At that time there, he realized that potentially devastating conditions like pre-eclampsia cannot be diagnosed in pregnant women, in rural areas of Africa. Though, in developed countries, the truth was otherwise.

There was a need for cheap and reliable diagnosis in remote, rural areas. By bridging the gap between diagnosis and treatment, lives could be saved.

When he returned to GSK in 2011, he shared his idea of developing a basic, simple diagnostic that would improve health while also generating livelihoods with his boss, Dr. Moncef Slaoui.

Dr. Slaoui connected Simpson with researchers at John Hopkins University, who were investigating diagnostics and had the same passion for global health issues.

Simpson began working with a number of labs to help further his vision. He also used internal social media sites to find like-minded people and built a team of passionate internal experts to help mentor the student teams from Hopkins.

Simpson teamed up with another PULSE Fellow Michelle Wobker, as well as Dwight Walker and Connie Erickson-Miller, and went on to develop paper-based diagnostics for ante-natal screening and to improve the treatment options for malaria.

Simpson’s idea won the global League of Intrapreneurs challenge, hosted by Ashoka Changemakers. As part of his award, he and his small team were supported for 4-months by a world-leading consulting firm to further develop this idea.

For his work, Graham Simpson was recognized as one of the top 100 influencers in the pharmaceutical industry.

“An evolving and complex disease burden demands different treatments. The commercial climate is getting tougher. The need to devise solutions to the healthcare challenges faced by some of our poorest countries is ever more pressing. If we are to generate creative ideas to address these challenges, we require the lateral thinking and energy that intrapreneurs can bring.” – Graham Simpson

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