Corporate entrepreneurship is a contradiction in terms

Corporate entrepreneurship: 6 tips for more startup flair in the company

A breath of fresh air in the company, from which innovative business models develop - that is what many established corporates want. But as tempting as some workshops and incentive programs may seem at first, a dynamic start-up feeling cannot be conjured up. With the corporate entrepreneurship approach, employees should also actively contribute to setting up the company flexibly and questioning existing processes through entrepreneurial thinking. The aim is to generate the dynamics of a start-up phase in order to exploit new potential for success over and over again in the long term. But how can this be successful?

Ensure corporate quality, drive innovation

To convince with successful services and products with a consistently good standard in the future is probably the goal of every company. Familiar and tried and tested routines or processes are definitely welcome and helpful. Nevertheless, the great challenge is to innovatively approach new business areas in order to be able to survive agile in the daily competition. Corporate entrepreneurship and internal ideas competitions are often used as an attempt to actively involve employees in these processes and to enable new things. After many workshops or price announcements, however, the results often end up in a desk drawer without success.

Especially in times of disruption and digital transformation, companies should consider one thing: An idea alone is not worth anything, it depends on the implementation! Companies should keep the following six tips in mind so that their corporate entrepreneurship approach is a success:

1. Validation and user-centering of ideas on the market

Employees develop their own ideas and often present them to a ranged committee. A decision will be made as to which drafts should be pursued and how high these should be budgeted. However, a new idea does not only have to be well received in a meeting or conference, but also directly with the user. So it is important to also validate these ideas on the market. Then so-called “pain points” of the user can be recognized and the ideas can be aligned accordingly. With the generation of real data, the idea validation can show which project should be pursued further.

Tip: Always test the ideas directly on the customer and on the market. This enables you to better assess whether a final implementation, which is resource-intensive, time-consuming and costly, is worthwhile.

2. Development in the protected area

Developing and implementing a new idea directly in the company is not a good basis for awakening the creative development spirit due to the rigid and stuck structures that are often found. The mindset of a core organization is also trimmed to zero fault tolerance and perfection. An idea must be able to develop or it can be rejected from time to time. A protected space can help so that employees can work on their idea during their creative orientation phase without external pressure. Ideas, services and products that are still in their early stages are then tested live on the market. Whether called an innovation unit, digital unit, innovation unit or idea hub - the protected space enables companies to work on prototypes using agile methods without endangering their core business. Furthermore, the release of project employees is of enormous importance for a second reason: If employees have to perform two tasks at the same time, i.e. their actual work in the core organization and the further development of the new idea, one of these jobs will inevitably suffer a lot.

Tip: Provide a protected space in which the new ideas and business models can be developed outside of the core organization at an early stage.

3. Use the right methodology

In order for the results of corporate entrepreneurship programs to also show success in development, employees must be able to use the necessary innovation methods. For example, Design Thinking offers great potential for recognizing customer needs, understanding the background and designing suitable solution options. Lean Startup, on the other hand, should keep processes lean and help to set up with little capital and resources or iteratively test and launch a minimum viable product (MVP) with a strong user focus. Agile methods are ideal to ensure speed in a development process. At the beginning of the processes, simple prototypes with a few basic functionalities are developed instead of the frequently used specification sheets. These can then be tested directly on the market and continuously developed.

Tip: Provide the person responsible for the project with an expert who will integrate the necessary innovation and implementation methods into the process.

4. Use the idea generator correctly

Idea generators often approach the development of their idea with great passion and firmly believe that it can also work. That is of course good, because this is the only way to convince and motivate other project managers and co-decision-makers in the company. However, openness is always required in order to distance oneself from an idea, to reconsider it or even to reject it. Idea generators often tend to be operational blind. It can therefore be helpful not to let the idea generator do the actual implementation. Independent experts can decide more objectively when and how it makes sense to fail or immediately stop the test or the development of ideas. Just according to the motto: Fail fast, fail cheaper.

Tip: Divide the work teams sensibly. The idea provider should not be primarily responsible for the implementation at the same time.

5. Fast transfer of the idea

If, after the validated product test (MVP test), it turns out that a new business model or a digital service does not fit into the actual core organization, but still promises success, this idea can be explored as a startup. However, if a validated idea can be easily integrated into the core business, it must be quickly transferred to the organization. Thus, the idea from the protected space has to find its way into the core organization in order to be pushed forward by the employees and managers. In order to motivate the employees to do this, the generated data should be used to show them that the customer benefits from the solution and actually uses it. Instead of “consultant-Powerpoint-Bullshit-Bingo” you create enthusiasm for the new and get the employees on board. An intrinsically motivated transfer of knowledge from the core organization back to the protected space can then take place through the understanding and interest in the new innovation methods, the protected space and the user-centeredness. Because the know-how will be necessary in the medium term in order to address and implement further transformation topics.

Tip: After you have checked the idea for its meaningful use, involve employees and managers from your company actively and in good time in the implementation.

6. Management must understand and drive the issue

In order to create the necessary attention and acceptance for the new idea in the company, the management itself must understand the topic and actively promote it. In this way, a willingness can develop to turn to the new topic with the necessary energy. The topic of corporate entrepreneurship is not only about the most innovative ideas, but also about a mental transformation and basic attitude of the employees. Accordingly, in addition to a good idea, a change in the entire corporate culture is required. And this can only succeed if it is exemplified by the management and promoted in a positive sense.

Tip: Make sure that the management will actively support and promote the topic of corporate entrepreneurship.

For corporate entrepreneurship to be successful, it takes more than just good ideas from employees. The desire for innovation in the company is understandable and sensible, as this is the only way to grow. Ideas have to be tested and implemented quickly so that they don't end up in an “idea grave” again. To discover new business areas with innovative ideas - that is what corporate entrepreneurs and startups want. And with the right approach, both can succeed.


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