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Visiting The Intrapreneurs’ Factory




by Innovation Excellence

Visiting The Intrapreneurs' Factory

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Nicolas Bry, Orange Startups Studio Founder, about his new book The Intrapreneurs’ Factory.

Nicolas entices Orange employees in engaging as intrapreneurs, bringing their idea to life within Orange business. Nicolas is equally a passionate expert for innovation labs exploring new business. International speaker (TEDx), delivering Masterclasses @Google Academy, and Tech/Business Schools, ISPIM Prize for innovation management, Nicolas is also the writer of

The Intrapreners’ Factory features a thorough and tailored preface written by Ash Maurya.

“Startups fail because they struggle to find customers. Corporates fail because they stop talking to their own customers. Speed of learning from your customers is the new unfair advantage and going fast requires a new playbook. Nicolas’ book delivers just that. It’s full of concrete examples, recipes, and tactics from top corporates for your intrapreneurship journey.” — Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean and Scaling Lean, creator of Lean Canvas

Without further ado, here is the transcript of that interview:

1. What are the dangers of beginning an intrapreneur’s journey without strategic alignment or a clear why, and what are some of the keys to success in picking a good why and creating strategic alignment?

The reason why to start an intrapreneuship program builds on the description of the problem intrapreneurship is solving. Then you can focus your purpose: is it about bringing new products and services to market more quickly, improving customer/prospects intimacy, creating a supportive environment for new ideas, developing employees’s engagement, retaining your best staff, grooming the leadership tools with a nimble way to innovate and optimize internal services, transforming the company culture, or making a societal impact? From there, you will look for strategic alignment with the corporation so that intrapreneurship is embedded in the corporation development in a sustainable way.

Failing to define your reason why can lead you to lay out a lackluster program without clear objectives and identity; besides, if the purpose is not focused, it will not be folded in the company DNA. Last tip: it’s wise to translate the purpose into quantified objectives and metrics before launching the program for intrapreneurs rather than during the run of the program!

Some relevant examples of intrapreneurship purpose are:

  • Deutsche Telekom Incubator UQbate targets employees who want to realize their idea, and become entrepreneurs: yes, en-trepreneur, and not necessarily in-trapreneur!
  • Bouygues “Innovate like a startup” is an intrapreneurship program to help the Group reinvent its business activities;
  • Air France program is at the crossroads of transformation, and business;
  • Deutsche Bahn intrapreneurship enrolls employees, and business units for creating new digital business models.

2. What are some the key pitfalls for companies to consider when designing an intrapreneurship program? Where do things often go wrong?

Intrapreneurship is a powerful engine which requires handy driving: in my opinion, sponsorship of the program, clear deadlines and tight intrapreneurs’ coaching, and business commitment, are the most prevalent. These are the steps 3, 5, and 6, I tackle in the book The Intrapreneurs’ Factory:

  1. You have to spot the right sponsors: those who will give a face to the program, and who will have enough time to follow-up, once per quarter, on the intrapreneurs and their projects, and how the program for intrapreneurs pans out;
  2. Another challenge is to create a positive ecosystem around the intrapreneur, and turn non-expert collaborators into innovation leaders: coaching is paramount as well as helping to weave a network of allies to leverage the company’s resources; the rythm of intrapreneurs’ project is often different from that of the corporation: it’s a creative tension that disrupts the corporate culture. Lean, flexible, and fast incubation sees, in a few months, a consistent and cohesive team test, learn, iterate, and pass the gates toward product/market fit, efficiency, and reliable scaling: to achieve this, the intrapreneur team needs daily guidance;
  3. The relationship with the business has to start upstream. It’s built on trust to spot, and materialize the opportunity created for the business unit: henceforth intrapreneur and its partnering business unit have to prepare jointly the scale-up of the innovation.

The Intrapreneurs Factory3. What should people look for when choosing a sponsor for an intrapreneurship program?

One frequent risk is to select a sponsor who is great in terms of visibility but lacks time to give a hand to intrapreneurs’ projects and program monitoring, or even who is just very difficult to access. Another risk is the sponsor evolution over time: 2 sponsors are definitely a security as one sponsor might leave along the way, and leave the program orphaned.

4. When it comes to intrapreneurship program design, is there such a thing as too much or too little process? Are there process elements every program should have?

Classic program milestones are: identifying intrapreneurs, selecting, and incubating them and their projects. This process takes place once or twice a year in what is called an Intrapreneurs Season. Other companies don’t handle seasons, and process intrapreneurship along the way, all year long. I believe one interesting way is to combine best of two worlds: welcome ideas and intrapreneurs all year long, share with them the tools to progress on their idea, and see how they develop their autonomy, and attract resources on their project to initiate a team; then select the best projects based on employees’ votes, and during seasonal events and jury, that will finalize the selection for formal incubation.

Most incubation frameworks are based on lean startup whose key principles are: checking the problem of the customer that your innovation is trying to solve, checking the solution fits, developing MVP (Minimum Viable Product – the minimum viable version of your product, with just enough features to collect user feedback, and validate hypothesis-), learning, iterating, and improving to reach the fit of your product with a significant market.

More than an overdetailed process, intrapreneurs have to embrace this philosophy of short innovation cycles. Airbus believes the perfect program is the one which adapts to each personality, with close one-to-one coaching. Telefonica thorough roadmap stands out as it is an instructive guide for intrapreneurs: this clear framework, truly helps intrapreneurs.

The main risk here is not be clear enough on expectations and speed of incubation, and let the initial energy dilute and timeline extend, instead of keeping a creative tension, with sprints clearly focused on catering to customer needs.

5. How much support do intrapreneurs need to be successful? And what types of support do they need?

Intrapreneurs need a clear status, time allocation, and resources (budget, and human skills joining the team). Furthermore, because many intrapreneurs have no experience in innovation project management, or venture creation, tailored coaching is of the utmost importance on the following dimensions: keeping intrapreneur mood elated, ensuring team cohesion, explaining the innovation path (lean startup) and maintaining the creative tension, and helping the intrapreneur to connect to allies, and attract resources.

6. How important is business unit commitment to intrapreneurial success and what is the best way to cultivate it?

Onboarding business units in the program from the outset is essential, turning them from passive bystanders to active stakeholders, to prepare the go-to-market and the scaling of the intrapreneur’s innovation. I’m convinced that one will not become an active stakeholder because you will sell him your innovative idea. Business units engage when innovation solves a problem for them, or create a business opportunity: this is what the intrapreneur has to look for.


Some interesting devices are:

  • VINCI applicants have to craft a new business value proposition, and to suggest new business ideas that would be relevant to at least 2 brands of VINCI;
  • Nissan Innovation Lab has spotted 7 thematic verticals (for instance, factory 4.0): each vertical covers one or several business units. Business units involved can send one intrapreneur per vertical to be incubated at the Lab.

One can imagine that if intrapreneurship pays back, business units will develop their own intrapreneurship program.

7. What should people plan for as initiatives near the end of the process? What should be considered in relation to whether to exit or scale?

I’m an advocate for fast incubation, aiming at demonstrating a first market traction with MVP in 6 to 9 months. Of course, this is not suited for all kinds of innovation, but in the digital industry, it makes sense. Once this achieved, there is still a long way to go to ensure the efficiency of your venture,and prepare to scale: the various items to check are summarized in the scale-up canvas, and this is where the landing bsuiness unit will play an active role.

Scale Up Canvas

In term of exits, four scenarios arise frequently:

  1. The intrapreneur project lands to a business unit or corporate functions; it can become a business unit itself;
  2. The intrapreneur project is handled through a dedicated scaling-up unit in the core company, with business developers dedicated to the commercialization of the innovation;
  3. The intrapreneur project turns into a separate legal entity, created by the company with majority shares (subsidiary); minority shares can be allocated to the intrapreneur at preferred rate;
  4. The intrapreneur project turns into an external legal entity created by the intrapreneur (spin-off into a startup, with minority shares for the group or no share at all.

8. What role can (or should) the building of an intrapreneurship program realistically play in the shaping of a company’s evolving culture?

Intrapreneurship is not for elite: entrepreneurial mindset can blossom outside the intrapreneurs’ incubation stricto sensu. Intrapreneurs act as agents of change: other collaborators are impacted when they see their colleague pitching, when they contribute to an intrapreneur project, or when they adopt intrapreneur way of completing an innovation project, a mix of determination, listening, and frugality. Corresponding events and online communications demystify entrepreneurial spirit, and make it viral.

Corporate epmployement branding is impacted as well: in Germany, a series of large companies are creating Corporate Startups programs to attract young graduates with a startup culture, and way of working.

More broadly, many programs for intrapreneurs have included a focus on societal impact criteria in the call for projects: Intra4Good initiated by BNP Paribas is a community which connects intrapreneurs who pursue a project with a social impact. BNP Paribas, Danone and Engie have also partnered to launch a top-notch joint intrapreneurship program #Intrapreneurs4Good.

9. Is intrapreneurship something that only takes place inside the organization or does it require interactions outside the organization too?

Intrapreneurship is part of a broader innovation ecosystem that includes new business models, digital acceleration, open innovation, and cultural transformation. Pioneering companies are paving the way forward by combining innovation streams: Vinci Leonard mingles intrapreneurship, open innovation, prospective, and cross-BUs projects, while Total hosts intrapreneurs selected in his startups studio and Orange Belgium or Icade Startups Studio shape innovation squads composed of intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs.

10. What are some of the more popular success metrics when it comes to evaluating how well an intrapreneurship program is performing?


The 20 intrapreneurs stories of the book unearth multiform benefits and outcomes:

  • The ability to capture customer insights, marking off the problem at stake, and swiftly testing new business in this sandbox;
  • The transfer of a dizzying innovation skill set, the desire to take risks, and the transformation into a startup leader, someone who is going beyond his own limits;
  • The visibility for the idea owner, and a chance to convince a sponsor;
  • The incorporation of social into an innovative and business-driven service;
  • The adoption of digital by the traditional business;
  • The birth of new business line, and other business outputs that matter differently: an internal service that can save huge amount of money, a cross-units project that facilitates transversality, a reuse of underutilized assets;
  • The propagation of an entrepreneurial culture, where employees take initiative.

Intrapreneurship is a powerful and sustainable tool to create new business lines, and foster personal development of employees. Moreover it’s a global agent of change, as intrapreneurs impact many colleagues in the course of their project. Give your innovation a chance to be quicker, more frugal, and closer to the business through the Intrapreneurs’ Factory!

You can get your copy of The Intrapreneurs’ Factory by clicking the link.

Get the Change Planning Toolkit from Braden Kelley

Image credit: Nicolas Bry

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