‘Skunk Works’ Projects Stoke ‘Intrapreneurial’ Fire
Perhaps during no other era in modern history has entrepreneurship been more meaningful to the business world. Companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google went from garages and dorm rooms to tech giants with dizzying speed. There are few companies in the retail industry that wouldn’t spend lots of cash on that kind of creative spirit and risk-taking moxie if it came in a bottle (assuming they had lots of cash to spend). But perhaps getting successful ideas stirred up doesn’t have to be all that costly.
Dan Schawbel, a managing partner of consulting firm Millennial Branding, offers a range of techniques for nurturing entrepreneurship in a recent article on TechCrunch. There seem to be enough sizes and shapes of programs to satisfy just about any company.
Corporate entrepreneurship programs predate the PC/dot.com revolution by decades, according to Mr. Shawbel. He points back to Lockheed Martin’s "Skunk Works" — an internal seat-of-the-pants outfit said to be responsible for conceiving a number of innovative aircraft designs beginning in the ’40s.
To build a lasting culture of growth and innovation, however, companies are looking for systematic ways to recruit the smartest, freshest young talent and create a supportive, entrepreneurial atmosphere. It’s estimated that 30 percent of large companies are providing seed funds to finance "intrapreneurship," according to Mr. Shawbel. One of the most famous examples comes from 3M whose "Bootlegging Policy" resulted in Post-it Notes. Today, similarly, Google encourages employees to spend 20 percent of their work time on developing customer-centric new products.
Alternative approaches to internal development include buying start-ups and fishing for ideas outside of the company. An example of the latter include Amazon Web Services’ "Start-Up Challenge" that offers cash grants of $50,000 for the best ideas that apply their technology to business.
And yet, entrepreneurship doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. The Bar Code Media Group, for instance, has thrown down a challenge to designers to enliven bar code scanner hardware. It refers to the utilitarian, customer-facing gear as coming in "50 shades of gray … white, off-white, putty and black" and is looking for out-of-the-box thinking. The winner and finalists will see their designs published in The Bar Code News. The winner gets $300 from the Group.
"My prediction is that in the future, all companies will resemble startups and have a startup culture, regardless of size," writes Mr. Shawbel. Most would see that as a Utopian vision, but undoubtedly entrepreneurship should be within the reach of all companies. You just have to think creatively to get it started.
- How Big Companies Are Becoming Entrepreneurial
- Skunk Works – Wikipedia
- Amazon Web Services Start-Up Challenge 2011
- New design wanted for Barcode scanners – 99designs
What types of challenges would you like to see retail chains tackle with greater entrepreneurial spirit? What down side do you see (if any) in stimulating more internal entrepreneurial thinking?