The Intrapreneur Lab is an accelerator programme for large companies to develop innovative products and services that profitably create social impact.
In other words, if you work for a large company – think Barclays, GSK, Philips, MasterCard – and have an idea that can make money for the company and do some good, the Lab helps you make it happen (assuming you can persuade your company to send you to us).
Participants go on a 3-day intensive, housed at a business school somewhere in the world (Said Business School in the UK, Cornell in NYC, INSEAD in Singapore and Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg) where we convene a guest faculty of intrapreneurs who have themselves taken socially impactful projects to scale.
Founders of Vodafone’s M-PESA, Coca-Cola’s Project Last Mile, Reuters’ Market Light & HP’s E Healthcentres talk about how they gained traction for their unconventional projects whilst they were still just ideas, long before anyone could see their true commercial and impact potential. Our participants are both inspired by their stories but also have their eyes opened to the challenges that lie ahead.
But what they hear and see is that even the most significant of innovations started as just a question…’what if we could…’.
From those questions, came ideas and just as those ideas iterated a thousand times until they became a viable business, so too the individual iterated him or herself. Our guest-faculty were not born visionary, inspirational leaders – they became that way because they built something they believed in and cared deeply about; a project that was ‘too heavy for them to lift’…but the very act of trying built the necessary ‘muscles’ to move it forward.
So just as they iterated their idea…their idea iterated them.
Then everyone goes back to their day-jobs. But over 3 months, participants receive support. They have 4 days of a dedicated, senior consultant from Accenture with relevant subject matter expertise to coach and help them in whatever way is most useful. They have access to our wide network of innovation and social impact leaders from across the corporate, NGO, government and consulting worlds – who also think that innovation that ‘makes things better’ is a good thing. And leadership coaches who help our participants recognise that roadblocks are sometimes just speed-bumps…and almost always have a lesson attached to them.
We piloted the Lab in late 2013 – Barclays, GSK & Novartis sent us participants and we had an exceptional guest-faculty of founding intrapreneurs of large scale projects at Vodafone, Coca-Cola, GSK and others…who all said the early days of them building their projects inside their companies wasn’t easy…and if they could help others do the same then they would.
Through 2014 and early 2015, we scaled, running Labs in New York, Singapore, Johannesburg and the UK and we have helped/are helping 16 global corporations – Barclays, GSK, Novartis, Mars, Pearson, CEMEX, Holcim, Storaenso, Philips, Standard Bank, Essilor, Mastercard, Schneider Electric, ITC, Zurich Insurance, Cisco & Disney – develop and accelerate projects that benefit society and their bottom line.
We’re starting to see some successes too.
In 2015, we invited some of the participants of our first Labs to return as guest-faculty.
One – the Country Head of Novartis Familia Nawiri programme in Kenya – has taken his project from an early pilot in 2013 to national scale in 2015.
Another from Barclaycard – who won a place on the 2014 NYC Lab as part of an internal open innovation competition that Barclays runs in partnership with us – has just secured $2m of internal funding to proceed to pilot (from a side-of-desk idea 11 months ago).
But its not just products and services going to market that we measure our success by. We’ve seen people in Risk & Compliance – not exactly the most likely source of ‘disruptive corporate innovation’ – work across silos and win support for a promising early-project for no personal reward other than the intention to do something meaningful (and the enormous personal transformation that takes place when we do).
And we’re now seeing interest from the very top – CEO, Chief HR Officers & Chief Marketing Officers who recognise the value of a culture and brand that speaks to purpose, innovation, impact and the entrepreneurial spirit.
So whilst it’s been a whirlwind 20-months since that first Lab in October 2013, the year ahead looks busier still.
Other companies are following Barclays’ lead and working with us to run crowd-sourcing competitions to activate their employees around a sense of purpose and social impact, incubating those ideas through the Lab and then reintegrating them back into the main business.
Governments are getting in on the act too, asking us to work with them to design programmes where they collaborate with the private sector to find integrated solutions to social issues. Not at all easy – but more than sectors or organisations ‘co-creating’ this is about people – who have different skills and backgrounds but are unified by a common cause and sense of purpose finding ways to work together…. out of which perhaps some answers might reveal themselves.
We’re thinking big though.
When Barclays ran their first social innovation challenge in New York in 2014, asking anyone from any part of the business to propose ideas that ‘made money’ and ‘did some good’, they surfaced the idea from Barclaycard USA mentioned above, which now has mandate, backing and funding.
But in all, they received 100 applications – of which 30 were considered ‘business-viable’. And if there are 30 business viable ideas in Barclays New York then there are probably 100 in Barclays worldwide…
…and if that’s true of the other ‘Fortune 499’, then there are 50,000 ideas and ‘intrapreneurs in-waiting’, who with as little nudge, the right support and a little luck might collectively materially impact that way large companies innovate and create social impact.
More information about The Intrapreneur Lab is at www.intra-lab.com