Eyeforpharma interview “Taking the entrepreneurial approach”

Read this insightful “Taking the entrepreneurial approach” interview conducted by Eyeforpharma on the impact of hierarchy and how executive mindset inhibits adapting to the rapidly changing commercial landscape.  It outlines how “intrapreneurs” and internal “angel investors” can get large, mature organizations moving again!

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‘School for Intrapreneurs” finalist in eyeforpharma awards 2015!

We are honored by eyeforpharma’s announcement for Boehringer Ingelheim “School for Intrapreneurs” to be a Finalist for yet another award: the prestigious eyeforpharma Philadelphia awards 2015 in the Most Impactful Emerging or Global Initiative category!

One juror, for example, believes the Boehringer Ingelheim School for Intrapreneurs adds value beyond the pill to patients and customers: “Great program that ensures that the company keeps up to date and a competitive edge. I also like that everybody has the opportunity to contribute and participate.”

The winners will be announced on April 7th during the upcoming eyeforpharma Philadelphia 2015 conference (from April 7-8th, 2015, Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, PA.), so join the conference and stay connected via Twitter at #efpPhilly

About the Awards

The eyeforpharma Philadelphia Awards recognize those in the pharmaceutical industry who are driving pharma forwards not just with higher short-term profits, but with better customer innovation, value and outcomes leading to longer-term success.

eyeforpharma’s mission is to make the pharmaceutical industry more open and valued, which means these awards are a literal translation of why we exist. It is our responsibility to shine a light on where pharma does well, to inspire others into similar or better action.

‘School for Intrapreneurs” nominated for 5th annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards

We are honored that the Boehringer Ingelheim “School for Intrapreneurs” got nominated for Market Gravity announce the fifth annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards in New York.

The awards will be held at an inspiring new venue, 7 World Trade Center, and include the opportunity to explore some of the top corporate innovations in North America, network with innovation leaders, and hear from our guest speaker from Virgin Galactic.

The awards recognize and celebrate the achievements of individuals and teams who are working within large companies to deliver game changing innovation and growth.

Meet me at the 5th annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards, New York City, Nov. 4, 2014

After four successful years, Market Gravity is proud to announce the fifth annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards, and this year the Awards are coming to New York.

The awards will be held at an inspiring new venue, 7 World Trade Center, and include the opportunity to explore some of the top corporate innovations in North America, network with innovation leaders, and hear from our guest speaker from Virgin Galactic.

The awards recognize and celebrate the achievements of individuals and teams who are working within large companies to deliver game changing innovation and growth.

Angel Investing within the Company – Insights from an Internal Corporate Venture Capitalist

Breaking through the crust

One of my favorite and most successful approaches to building a powerful intrapreneuring ecosystem is internal corporate venturing!

It is an exquisite tool to cut through the crust of ‘red tape’ that bureaucracy builds up over time. Internal corporate venturing or “Angel investing” allows for nimble decision-making with a lean process to give disruptive innovation ideas a chance again in a large company.

Seed-funding promising ideas

How does it work?  Think of becoming a venture capitalist within the company: You invest in ventures within the organization and help building ‘intraprises’ in contrast to funding start-up enterprises outside the company. The difference is a you don’t venture for your own profit but for the better of your organization.

The idea here is to seed-fund promising disruptive ideas that otherwise would not be implemented or even seriously considered. These opportunities –typically‑ were rejected by the ‘corporate immune system’ previously, when an employee with an idea approached their line manager or a governance committee of sorts requesting approval to ‘try something out.’

POC over ROI

Often enough, there is no clear return-of-investment (ROI) predictable for these early ideas.  What you may be looking for is rather risky and experimental, a proof-of-concept (POC).  The metrics for payoff and ROI of disruptive ideas does not follow the same approach we are used to measure the more predictable returns of common cost reduction and incremental improvement projects. Disruptive POC projects often don’t have an ROI projection when you explore technology of sorts or its application that may become a game-changer for our future business.

In my experience, communicating the POC nature of the project over focusing on ROI can actually help!  It prevents the ‘organizational immune system’ from kicking in early on, since there is little threat to established practices.  Why?  It does not come across as competing with ‘big elephant’ projects over significant amounts of governed resources following the conventional processes of the company’s machinery.  Instead, we just try something out!  It’s a little experiment that doesn’t change anything, so it poses no threat to established practices, investments or the power-base of individuals defending their fiefdoms.

Aspired returns

Having said this, there is of course a commercial end to all projects. After all, we have no resources to waste and will have to demonstrate down the road that our ‘experiments’ pay off somehow. Our working assumption is that the disruption should lead to a ten-fold (10X) payoff – at least.

Personally, I prefer aiming at a bold 100X ROI target; two orders of magnitude, that is. It sets an ambitious target and -if things work out- a great success story. It’s a powerful point to make for disruptive innovation as part of our innovation ecosystem and shifting the mindset within an organization.  Sharing these success stories with executive stakeholders is crucial (for future support) as well as with employees (for future ideas).

Governance and authorization

Interestingly, what employees are looking for more than funds is authorization to do what is right and worthwhile for the company. Often, the obstacles are perceived and only exist in peoples’ minds. These barriers are formed by many factors over time, such as the management style they experienced and organizational silos that mold a company’s culture as well as the employees’ mindset.

In this particular company, a lean oversight board makes funding decisions. It is composed of a diverse team of more forward-thinking executives and a very lean decision process. The team acts as enabling ‘go-keeper’ for accelerated innovations instead of pushing the breaks as ‘gate-keeper.’

The little monies offered for trying something new only help smoothen the path for innovators in the company. The most important part is them feeling empowered and “authorized” to take action that overcomes complacency, inertia and organizational paralysis. On the spectrum of strategic innovation roles, the board serves as a “sponsor” and sometimes as a “coach,” when an idea aims to overcome internal barriers to increase efficiency, for example.

Dealing with Risk

The purpose of this governance board is to enable the exploration of disruptive ideas by giving internal innovators a chance. The focus is on projects that can be characterized as early stage experiments to explore transformative enabling technologies and value-adding services of higher risk or less predictable outcomes than conventional project portfolios in the mature organization would feel comfortable with.

Naturally, this approach comes with an elevated risk of failure when projects do not produce profitable outcomes or simply prove infeasible or poorly timed.  This ‘price’ is accepted as long as it generates learning.

The potential damage is low, since we are talking about swift and low-cost experimentation: try often and fail fast. Thus, these risky projects complement regular and more conservative project portfolios in the various businesses of the organization. In addition, the innovation project portfolio is somewhat risk-balanced, which avoids having too many high risk projects that may jeopardize the likelihood of profitability across the portfolio.  Reality is that also the disruptive innovation project portfolio has to demonstrate tangible returns over time, so the mature organization sees the economic benefit of experimenting and not shut down this ‘playground.’

Branding the projects as experiments with a proof-of-concept (POC) endpoint helps to calm the ‘organizational immune system’ and to argue that these risky ‘small elephant’ projects complement the other ‘big elephant’ project portfolios across the organization.

Getting Funds

Here are my experiences as an internal corporate venturer or ‘angel investor’ from the past years: First of all, I don’t have much money to spend. The budget I have for this kind of ventures is pathetically meager – and I overcommit it all the time! Nonetheless, I came in under budget once again by 46% last year. It sounds like an oxymoron, and since I don’t have a money tree growing in the backyard, how does this work?

The secret is in the psychology of acting as the “first investor.” Think of this way: when someone wants you to invest into their idea first with nobody else having made an investment before you, you are skeptical and most hesitant to put down your money, right?

All I do is to commit paying for an idea in full to overcome this initial threshold and get things started.  What typically happens next is that an executive from the business affected by or potentially benefiting from the project hears of my investment, reconsiders and wants to get on board too – as a second investor. Once the ‘innovation guys’ have put money down first, the investment in the idea appears less risky to the business executive, so either we split the bill or the business takes on the cost completely!

I’ve seen it happen many times with managers turning around 180 degrees after they had rejected the idea previously. This is how to deal with them: to save (their) face, don’t point out their earlier resistance but rather thank and recognize them for their support and foresight as valued contributors to change and success for the organization.  Celebrate them as enablers, win them over as allies and keep the connection for future collaborations!

Alignment and validation

Don’t be mistaken, funding by the business is not only crucial given the fact that my funds are few.  It is even more important because it validates that the idea makes sense to the business.  It aligns with strategy and goals of the organization but also helps implementing it once the business has ‘skin’ in the game! Otherwise, even if I funded a project alone, the intrapreneur running it would have a hard time getting it implemented without the support of a business sponsor.

So all it takes is making it easy for business executives to invest in a good ideas by making them feel comfortable not to invest first, which reduces their perceived risk and lowers their threshold to act.

Key Learnings

  • The lean innovation governance board is an instrument for reasonable oversight that benefits from diverse perspectives.
  • The “Go keeper” instead of “Gate keeper” process is crucial as is the willingness to accept risk of failure for disruptive projects.
  • The model proves highly effective to get around a convoluted “red-tape” bureaucracy as well as generating a surprisingly high return-of-investment (ROI) – even without the latter being the primary focus.
  • The “first investor” psychology validates the alignment of ideas with business needs and strategy while opening the flow of funds from the businesses and facilitating the implementation.
  • This internal corporate venturing or “angel investing” approach became a beacon of hope for employees and a very profitable innovation engine for the organization that starts to change the organizational culture to the better.

 

Be the next Steve Jobs!

Can you innovate?

It a strange question.  Isn’t it astonishing how many people say “I am not creative” or believe “innovators” are so much different from themselves.  As if innovators are an enlightened lot of geniuses that come up with breakthrough innovations that nobody else could have thought of or made happen but them.  Icons such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stand out.  They apparently think differently and changed the world.

The question for the rest of us is: could I be a Steve Jobs too?  Or do have to be born gifted to be able to innovate in ways that “make a ding in the universe” like Steve Jobs?

Are you a Steve Jobs? (photo credit: http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Technology/images/steve-jobs-3g-iphone.jpg)
Are you a Steve Jobs?
(photo credit: http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Technology/images/steve-jobs-3g-iphone.jpg)

You can learn creativity!

If you ask kids in kindergarten or preschool if they are creative, they enthusiastically respond “Yes!”  At that age we are convinced we are creative and express our views, thoughts and ideas in many ways.  We design rockets to Mars or create new animals, nothing is out of bounds or out of reach.

What has happened to us that we believe as grown-ups and employees we can no longer create and change the world? I heard “I could never do that” and “nothing will change anyway” too many times.

Good news is that genetic predisposition only attributes one-third to your creativity and innovative-ness (if this is a word), while two-thirds are skills that can be learned, as research confirmed many times over (see Marvin Reznikoff et al, Creative abilities in identical and fraternal twins, Behavior Genetics 3, no. 4, 1973).

Therefore, innovation can be taught, “nurture trumps nature.”  So, you can learn it too!

Are you an intrapreneur or entrepreneur? 

However, not everyone wants to take the risk and uncertainty to make an entrepreneurial dream come true by starting a new business on their own.  Many of us work in large organizations and would like to improve the company from within somehow.

This is where intrapreneuring comes into play.  Intrapreneurs are also called corporate entrepreneurs, since they apply entrepreneurial methods within the organization to create intraprises.   (See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)

What innovators have in common

So is there anything that great innovators share and which we ‘mortals’ can replicate or do similarly to succeed? – In fact, there is!

In his iconic book “The Innovator’s DNA,” famous disruptive innovation guru Clayton Christensen (who is also known for coining the term ‘disruptive innovation’) identified four common catalysts that sparked the great ideas:

  1. “a question that challenged the status quo,
  2. an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
  3. an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
  4. a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity”

This comes down to the four following behaviors, as Christensen found out:  questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

Thinking different

While, typically, the underlying information is not unique, the innovator’s associative thinking combines information and connects dots that seem random or unrelated to others.  They create a picture or vision of a need or opportunity to pursue.

Now, on your way to become an intrapreneur (or entrepreneur), how can you get to these insights, find a suitable target and make it happen?

There are two basic steps:

  1. Don’t work alone
  2. Seek a fertile environment.

1. Don’t work alone

An  African proverb says “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together”.  Developing and bringing a disruptive idea to life takes time, work and -more than anything- collaboration.  It’s not a fast shot and you will need help.  What you can do is tapping into more brains: ask others and bring together a diverse team around an idea.  You want to get as many different perspectives to see the fuller picture, risks, needs, opportunities to tackle the problem you are working on.

You may be blindsided or unaware of things critical for your success including much needed political cover, validating your assumptions or technical aspects outside your expertise.  If you try to do everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure for a simple reason: you are not an expert in everything!  Stick with what you are good at and let other experts help you with what they are good at.

2. Seek a fertile environment

If you want to start your own business as an entrepreneur, you may want to move where you find the best condition for a supportive business environment, an ecosystem.  For entrepreneurs, for example, Stanford University and Silicon Valley remain a major tech magnets with ample and easy access to top talent and money.  Also accelerators can serve this purpose.  Comparable conditions for an innovative ecosystem exist at the US-East coast in the Boston area.  Depending on your business idea, other locations and ecosystems may be more suitable – do your homework and find the right one for you.

As an intrapreneur, your available ecosystem seems more limited: it typically is the company you work in that defines the perimeter of your freedom to navigate.  Your advantage here can be that you already know the environment and who could be supporting or funding your idea.  If not your, you could more easily ask colleagues for help than people outside your company could, which significantly lowers the bar for access to resources.

Let’s continue by focusing on intrapreneuring.  Compared to the entrepreneurial world out there, within an organization you may have more opportunities to help shape the fertile ecosystem for breakthrough ideas if none exists yet.

Now, if you are stuck with a company that does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may consider becoming the innovation leader (see How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)) to build an ecosystem within a large organization.

– Stay tune to find out how.

Join me at the Customer Experience Summit 2014 in Princeton/NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014