The Rapidly Maturing Intrapreneur Competence: Notes from the 2015 Corporate Intrapreneur Summit

A group of 80 senior Innovation and HR leaders from a range of Fortune 500 organizations and leading universities recently gathered in New York City to discuss the opportunities, challenges and solutions to identify, support, and drive value from intrapreneurs.

This full-day event demonstrated the increased sophistication and resources directed towards intrapreneurial efforts by a diverse range of established organizations. The variety of perspectives offered, the quality of sessions and volume of robust conversations exceeded all expectations. This event demonstrated the growing desire to learn more about supporting the most entrepreneurial-minded employees within established organizations.

This document provides an overview and summary of the event with a focus on the key themes that we observed.

Consistent intrapreneurial goals

Throughout the day, presenters, panelists and participants shared the goals that they are trying to achieve around intrapreneurial efforts. These generally fell into 2-key buckets:

  • Increasing the flow of executed ideas; with a relatively consistent focus on using intrapreneurs as an opportunity to increase the capacity for idea execution.
  • Enhancing a broader culture of innovation; which was often expressed by presenters and participants as a goal. That said, there often appeared to be some disconnect in how the approaches used to support intrapreneurs would actually impact broader cultural change.

And consistent challenges

Similarly, the challenges faced around building and supporting an effective intrapreneur strategy appeared to be relatively consistent, including the following:

  • Accessing resources to support intrapreneurial efforts
  • The difficulty in stakeholder engagement and management
  • Cultural pushback from across an organization
  • Generating partnership across corporate functions, with a focus on Innovation and HR groups working together (you can read more about here)
  • The challenges of achieving intrapreneurial results, in the form of financial goals, executed ideas and retention of key intrapreneurial-minded employees

But a divergent definition

The day started with a great panel discussion around how intrapreneurs are defined, which lead to some interesting, and quite different perspectives. While some speakers felt that intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs were similar (Andy Saldana, NY Tech Meet Up), others felt that there were some marked differences. As the day progressed, it became apparent that there is a huge range of how intrapreneurs are defined, perceived and ultimately supported within these organizations. Somewhat surprisingly, there was little consistency across industry segments.

The definitions of intrapreneurs varied along a range of perspectives:

  • Centrally managed  (Wayne Morris, SAP) – Decentralized  (Roel De Vries, Liberty Global)
  • Officially endorsed – Viral (Babak Foruntanpour, formerly Qualcomm)
  • Tightly focused – Broader network based (Deb Mangone, Pfizer)
  • Well established (Jeff Zias, Intuit) – Relatively new (Erik Falck, Hersheys)

Leading to a wide range of approaches, activities and settings

Throughout the day, a variety of options to support intrapreneurs were examined in detail. This ranged from resource allocation approaches, executive sponsorship, innovation accelerators, innovation training, network connection efforts, and even changing physical space configuration (Divakar Ramakrishan, Elli Lilly) etc. Understanding the range of approaches that organizations are using to support their intrapreneurs was a really fascinating insight.

Unexpected areas of interest

A number of universities provided a welcome perspective to supporting intrapreneurs. The broader message we received was that these institutions are also considering how they can partner with corporate organizations to support intrapreneurs. Another welcome sign was the valued perspective offered by HR and L&D leaders, especially in the context of engaging Millennials.

Culture remains front and center

To establish a successful intrapreneurial program you simply must address and account for cultural issues.

Time and again, the success or failure of intrapreneurial efforts was tied to cultural factors. Whether it was addressed directly (Luis Rojas from Wells Fargo highlighting examples of HR actions to enhance innovative cultures) or indirectly (Anna Mazzone from Thomson Reuters talking about the guiding principles of setting up an intrapreneurial program). The message was clear: To establish a successful intrapreneurial program you simply must address and account for cultural issues.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns

While the stories of success are interesting, there was also a serious examination of failure related to intrapreneurial activities. Craig Lauchner from Medtronic highlighted some challenges of stakeholder identification and engagement in developing ideas. Similarly, Dipanjan Chatterjee (Target) talked about some of the issues faced in launching new products in complex, decentralized organizations.

The perspective and experiences of VC’s was consistently mentioned as a reference point for corporate intrapreneurial activities. This story of positive failure is a consistent theme of innovation conferences, but at this event there was some serious discussions around the impact of this failure rate from a HR framework and innovation development approach.

Continued need for support and guidance

During every break or question opportunity there was an explosion of conversations. This demonstrated a continued need for people to connect and seek solutions around this serious and complex topic.

Overall, this event represented a maturity and validation of intrapreneurial activities across corporate organizations. These efforts are now viewed as core elements of sophisticated innovation programs, in part because they effectively respond to several business and societal challenges. These include increased competitive pressures, the expanding visibility of entrepreneurs in society and the need to attract, retain and drive value from employees that can drive the most business value.

This was an exciting event and we look forward to the continued direction of conversations and actions.

By Anthony Ferrier, Josh Felderstein and Tom McDermott

About the Authors

Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate, an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led the BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).


Josh Felderstein
 is the President, Client Relations, and began his career at JP Morgan Chase as a telephone sales rep in the mid 90’s. Over his 14 year career span with JPMC, he moved up the corporate ladder to Assistant Vice President on the mortgage side, becoming one of the NY metro area’s leading account managers. Upon leaving Chase, Josh began working for Coloredge, a leading large format digital graphics company- traveling coast to coast to manage clients from LA to NYC. While at Coloredge, he marketed large companies such as: Yahoo, Nissan, Whole Foods, and Johnny Walker. With 20 years of professional sales experience, Josh’s good friend Anthony approached him with a niche product in the innovation arena. With Anthony’s extensive experience in this industry and Josh’s B2B sales background, Culturevate was born. Having grown up in Upstate NY, Josh has a Bachelor of Science from SUNY Brockport and has attended numerous sales training courses throughout his career.

Tom McDermott is Vice President, Client Relations at Culturevate and has been in the innovation/idea management field and in step with the markets evolution for ten years.  He has extensive experience helping organizations build and mature innovation programs in a wide variety of industries.  Tom’s experience of innovation consulting, software, and a deep understanding of human behavior yield unique solutions for new and existing clients. Tom received a B.A. from Brandeis University and a Master’s Degree from Boston College, both in Psychology.  He spent several years in Massachusetts prisons as a psychotherapist working with adults and children.  Tom’s passion for understanding human behavior, combined with his successful track record in innovation helps his clients see real business value come from their programs.

Image credit: Bay Hirschfeld

  • christina earl

    It really was a fantastic event. So much knowledge in one room, how could it be anything but great? Kudos to FEI and Culturevate for putting this on, and innovation loft for the hands on and ice breaker pieces.

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