Interviews

How to make your company "intrapreneurial"

5 min read

08 July 2013

How can SMEs foster "intrapreneurship" in order to maintain their competitive edge as they grow? Jane Galsworthy of GrowthAccelerator explains.

Is your company “intrapreneurial”? We hear regularly about the need for large companies to encourage “intrapreneurship” – staff at all levels behaving as entrepreneurs to stimulate innovation. But, what about small and medium sized businesses? 

It’s often taken for granted that growing businesses are constantly innovating, or it is assumed that the creativity, energy and risk appetite of their founding entrepreneurs automatically rubs off on all staff. 

But the people that excel at turning their leader’s vision into reality may not have the time or skills to come up with fresh ideas themselves, and push them through to fruition. And as companies grow and formalise new structures and processes, it can be easy for that original entrepreneurial zeal to be lost. 

So as the government focuses on innovation in UK enterprises to spark recovery in the economy, how can SMEs foster intrapreneurship to drive growth through continuous innovation? Here are my five top tips to small and medium sized business leaders:

1) Play to your size

As an SME business, you have agility on your side, so use this to your advantage. Fewer people and bureaucracy means a lot more flexibility and, in turn, more room for new suggestions and innovations. 

Ideas can also be trialled a lot more easily and pushed through a lot faster. SMEs in the retail and hospitality sectors, for instance, are encouraging staff to road test new ideas in pop-up premises, trialling the proposition, gathering market intelligence and generating word-of-mouth publicity in low-risk, temporary settings.

2) Empower your team 

People are attracted to working in high-growth businesses by the exciting, fast-paced environment and the greater influence they can have over both their own roles and the direction of company as a whole. 

Don’t crush these personal drivers of your staff. Giving employees the autonomy, space and encouragement to innovate will create new revenue streams and ways of working, whilst keeping your best talent engaged.

3) Create a culture of innovation 

Although it’s always a good idea to analyse your team members’ strengths and weaknesses and match skills to specific roles, don’t forget that great ideas really can come from anywhere – from the trainee to the bookkeeper. 

Make sure everyone is involved in innovation, and build a culture in which anyone can be an intrapreneur. Hold regular company brainstorms or creative away days to generate new ideas, and push your team to challenge accepted operating norms in their daily work to identify new efficiencies.

4) Reward innovation 

Share the spoils of successful new ideas by offering financial incentives to team members who create or develop an innovation that results in profit for your business.

5) Monetise what you do 

It’s not just new products, services or business models that can result in profit. New ways of working or solutions to problems that your team has created day-to-day could be sources of new revenues. 

If your team develops something that saves your company time or money, whether it’s a new billing tool or a revolutionary database, the chances are that someone else would find it useful too. And they may just pay you good money for it.

This is just what web developer OFEC Consulting did. This Oxford-based business develops high-end and technically sophisticated websites for its customers. The team created a product which alerts companies if their website goes down so that they are able to react quickly without the glitch impacting negatively on business. 

Initially developed as a useful tool for OFEC to use for the websites it manages in-house, the team realised that this could be an invaluable tool for other businesses. They are now taking this product to market, to produce a whole new revenue stream for the company.

New ideas, which at the time may appear insignificant, can be the key to business growth and success. SME founders have great entrepreneurial drive, but it’s equally important to foster this spirit within the broader team to ensure all employees are as creative and ambitious as their leader.

Jane Galsworthy is innovation team director at GrowthAccelerator.

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