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Accelerating Insider Entrepreneurship

03.22.15
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Achieving Rapid Growth Through Entrepreneurial Tactics

Every organization, no matter its competitive position, must innovate to grow. But successful innovation goes far beyond just idea generation. New initiatives must directly translate into value – for customers, investors and even your own employees. While "corp-reneurs" may have ready access to valuable resources such as capital, talent, infrastructure and brands, to succeed they must also undertake many of the same activities independent startup entrepreneurs do: screen opportunities, secure resources and capital, assemble a team, develop prototype solutions, and bring those solutions to market. 

They face other hurdles as well. Within the confines of large institutions, corporate entrepreneurs must reconcile new venture ideas with often longstanding business models and cultural norms, satisfy high-scale financial hurdles and secure top talent – all while coping with the distinct difficulties of launching new businesses rather than managing existing ones inside an existing enterprise. Developing a new corporate venture requires a different kind of entrepreneurial spirit and style, plus the confidence and skills to navigate and operate within complex and often highly structured organizations.

We asked CEOs what they need for successful corporate entrepreneurship, and heard three key themes:

  • Strategic alignment. The new venture must fundamentally align with the goals and brand of the larger organization, both today and especially in the future. Crafting the right vision and plan, along with effectively communicating it to key stakeholders, is essential to gain buy-in both strategically and financially. And that requires creating workable rules of engagement between the parent organization and the new venture, including the level of collaboration versus separation between the two.

  • Getting the right stakeholders on board.  Many new corporate innovation initiatives are squashed either outright or passive-aggressively by powerful stakeholders who may feel threatened, not aligned, or who simply don’t support the initiative. Insider entrepreneurs must gain visible sponsorship and support from the executive team along with other important coworkers across the parent organization. This requires influencing skills, managing expectations and creating a vision and pitch that excites others.

  • Securing resources and moving others to action. Obtaining sufficient capital, talent, time, and other key resources is crucial to success, as is creating the right culture of innovation and startup spirit in the new venture. This is a delicate balancing act, requiring both commitment and flexibility from the host organization along with skillful planning and execution by the insider entrepreneurial team.

  • Leading new corporate entrepreneurship initiatives is not for the faint of heart. Successful leaders in this space are skilled at navigating procedural hurdles, are good cheerleaders, and are able to build lean, nimble organizations inside larger institutions with established ways of doing things. Inside entrepreneurs leverage existing corporate strengths and talents to build new ventures, while forging new paths to infuse the kind of different talent and ideas necessary for them to succeed. These insiders are entrepreneurs in every sense of the word, and in many ways must be even more capable than their outside counterparts as they work to build success for both their sponsoring organization and their own ventures.

Whitney Hischier, John Danner, and Mark Coopersmith are faculty members of the UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business. They teach Executive Education and MBA courses in entrepreneurship and innovation and have led and advised multiple Insider Entrepreneurship initiatives for corporations. Startup Bootcamp for Executives.

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