The Five Leading Trends in Intrapreneurship entering 2017

I was recently asked to deliver a keynote talk at the Intrapreneurship Conference in Silicon Valley last November.   The conference organizers kindly asked me to cover the leading trends in the field of Intrapreneurship, also known as Corporate Entrepreneurship.    To do the task justice, I sent out a wide survey and also interviewed a dozen clients as well as multi-industry practitioners and experts in the ever burgeoning field of Intrapreneurship (See Acknowledgements below).

Here are the five leading trends that the research revealed that can hopefully make you a more effective Intrapreneur (or Intrapreneur supporter) entering 2017:


  1. The “People First” Transformation      

By and large, the present Intrapreneurial system isn’t good to people – ‘people’ being those brave volunteers that decide to pursue an idea above and beyond their current day job responsibilities and means.  (For the record, there’s no such thing as conscribed intrapreneurship – that’s an oxymoron.  Intrapreneurs are leaders and for leaders you need volunteers).    In general, corporations offer no official funding or support for Intrapreneurs, or worse, provide programs that are only equipped to ‘kick the can down the road’.   If that isn’t bad enough, Intrapreneurs are often punished for sticking their necks out due to disincentives of their management structure.   They are sadly considered the military equivalent of deserters.

Of course we, the supporters of Intrapreneurship, know that Intrapreneurs are NOT by any means deserters – They are needed conscientious objectors to an otherwise unchallenged war, aka corporate growth strategy.   Intrapreneurs are good even when their ideas are bad.  The good news is that we’ve apparently started the transformation.   Corporations that have deliberately embraced transformation with Innovation as its key value are realizing that culture trumps everything else.    And the culture approach to transformation says to start with people, including the welcoming of intrapreneurial attitudes and behaviors from anyone that so desires to think and act different, shall inspiration strike them.    This is refreshing and strikingly different from the transformational approach that only values guaranteed innovations or innovation practices – that only leads to frustration and distrust and it’s no wonder most transformation initiatives are not sustaining.


  1. Evidenced-Based Innovation (The Common Language of Transformation)      

Borrowing from Evidenced-Based-Medicine, all the common Innovation methods are becoming evidenced-based in their essence (vs. craft or tradition based).  This includes Design Thinking, Customer Development / The Lean Startup, Jobs-to-be-Done, Disruptive Innovation and Open Innovation.   Being ‘Evidence-Based’ in Innovation means mixing research findings with judgement.  Research findings include relying on other’s past work (proven theories) as well as investing in one’s own ‘good enough’ experiments when new data is necessary.  In either case, judgement is needed to add speed and practicality to the particular problem at hand – When it comes to Innovation, one can hardly afford the luxury of perfectly controlled science.

The point of Evidenced-Based Innovation and every single one of aforementioned Innovation methods is to help us make better decisions – Decisions on what’s best for the customer and the company, not the technology for its own sake.   There is no point in obsessing about a particular method or picking a best method.   No one is giving out colored belts in this corporate martial art – It’s about surviving in a street fight, not winning a contest.   And for that, companies are realizing they need their innovators to mix and match various work methods – to be mixed martial artists – to make the point, many companies have branded their own evidenced-based fighting style, combining elements of various methods into their own internal common language of transformation.


  1. Advantaged Networks

Business isn’t going to remain as usual.   Business 1.0, or the ‘Simple Era’ was about vertical competition.   Products and assets ruled the earth, corporations exploited natural resources and ‘things’.    Innovators learned marketing and product development and that was good enough to dominate well known markets.  Business 2.0, or the ‘Complicated Era’ that’s soon ending is about horizontal competition or platforms.  Business Models rule, corporations exploit IT and the internet.    Innovators learn User Experience, Business Modeling, Digital Strategy and Attention Capital to control markets with known problems in need of creative solutions.    But Business 3.0, or the coming ‘Complexity Era’ is where things get interesting, where we enter the world in which we don’t know what we don’t know, where we must discover new problems or opportunities.

Business 3.0 isn’t about competition anymore – it’s about cross-industry ecosystems like the connected car, the smart home, digital health, etc.  Advantaged Networks rule, corporations exploit the internet of things (Connected devices, the cloud, big data and machine learning).   Innovators will learn to scale talking to customers, that controlling is dead, and that it isn’t inspiring, purpose is.  That to play, you must network, to win you must collaborate.  And that to collaborate, you must bring data, the only currency or platform that matters.

Advantaged Networks also apply to the future of Open Innovation, or OI 2.0.  OI 1.0’s motto was “the world is your lab”, implying a hierarchical, transactional relationship between seeker/solver.  OI 2.0’s motto is “the world is a co-lab”, implying a more distributed share of tasks and value from Innovation.   OI 2.0 will be about co-creating with the network (and the corresponding platforms to scale).   This includes co-creating with A) Customers, through revenue-share communities and crowdfunding platforms, B) Startups and free-lance inventors, through startup studios, accelerators, EIR’s (Entrepreneurs in Residence) and IOR’s (Intrapreneurs out of Residence), C) Partners and Coo-petitors, D) Private Universities & Research Centers and last but not least, E) Government.



  1. Intra-VC’ing  

In Intrapreneurship, we’ve long worked on the selling of ideas – it’s time to work on the buying.  Due to the sheer number of ideas and their varying stages of development, corporations are embracing a shift towards a distributed system of funding and support vs. a centralized, one-size fits all approach.  The new approach to ‘Intra-VC’ing’ that properly complements the nature of ‘Intra-Preneuring’ includes building ‘Islands of Good’ along the river of idea formation, exploration and execution, requiring an increasing degree of evidence to fund and support from:

  1. Internal Startup Schools with micro-funding: Evidence sought is desire to learn
  2. Challenge or Prize Competitions: Evidence sought is an attractive opportunity
  3. Manager Angels and Employee Crowdfunding: Evidence sought is proof of concept
  4. Ad-Hoc Funding Boards (Accelerators): Evidence sought is product-market fit validation
  5. Business Unit & Corporate Funds: Evidence sought is a scalable business model

The challenge remains in bridging these single purpose ‘Islands of Good’ into a cohesive system driven by a continuous pull-force to make risk-appropriate investments.   Things can easily devolve into the Not-Invented-Here Syndrome, and we’re back to ‘kicking the can down the road’ if the downstream Islands don’t respect what comes from the upstream Islands.


  1. Extra-Preneuring  

Going forward, Intrapreneuring requires more than just fighting for one’s own idea.  The modern Intrapreneur is already experiencing a metamorphosis towards a more complete change agent or an Extrapreneur, one who champions for internal transformation as well as the new spirit of external collaboration.  Of all the needed Intrapreneurial traits (Self-motivation, Courage, Networking Skills, Evidence-Based Methods Training, and Ability to Persuade), Networking Skills take on key importance for the blossoming Extrapreneur – the ability to gain the trust of sponsors and well as the trust of business partners.

The future does indeed belong to Extrapreneurs, not corporate drones.   They have the only scarce resource in the coming age of complexity – the willingness to Act* in the face of uncertainty (*Act including looking for opportunity, forming teams, getting advice, developing customers, developing sponsors, co-creating with partners, validating, and selling something to somebody before someone pulls the plug).



The following people collaborated in this research and share credit for the findings:

Rick Waldron, Sharon Wong, Dave Blakely, Eileen Tanghal, Mike Docherty, Dawn Nolan, Jean-Claude Junqua, Jean-Claude Beneventi, Kristin Raza, Babak Forutanpour, Mark Lopez, Marvin Gross, Dawn Murphy, Rebecca Hemenway, Tehani  Renganathan, Mathilde Durvy, Alex Goryachev, Sandeep Mor, Brant Cooper and Larry Huston.

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