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5 Intrapreneurship programs that led to successful companies

intrapreneurship programs

Intrapreneur: A term first coined by Gifford Pinchot in 1985, and further popularized by Steve Jobs in a Newsweek article in the same year. The term caught on, but it took some more years before Intrapreneurship programs became mainstream, and organizations started to encourage the intrapreneurs within.

While researching for our ebook The Power of Innovation, we found one theme predominant. Most successful products were a result of the persistence of intrapreneurs, who refused to give up on their ideas, even when the management had given up. Furthermore, it gets difficult to innovate within the realms of an organization owing to various factors: lack of innovation culture, bureaucracy, and long process for approvals. In fact, numerous companies fell the path of failure because they failed to innovate and adapt to the changing market.

How do people innovate in such environments?

A good plan would be to establish an environment where intrapreneurs can work on their ideas. Thus, was the beginning of intrapreneurship programs and incubators where employees can innovate.

In our post today, we will share a few examples of organizations that came up with intrapreneurship programs and their resultant products.

1. UQBATE – The Intrapreneurship program 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

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

“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

2. 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

3. Crowdcraft: The Airbus Innovation Intrapreneurship programs

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.

4. BOXLAB: A Success story 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.

5. 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 programs 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 were 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 instalments 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

These were some of the amazing products that were a result of intrapreneurship programs. Encouraging a culture of innovation and intrapreneurship has more benefits than you can imagine. It resulted in products like the integrated circuit, DMD chips, Digital signal processor chips, and features like Facebook like and tags in comments. Want to know in detail about how these products came to be? Read about them in our ebook.

Download a copy here – The Power of employee innovation

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