Wikipedia defines “intrapreneurship” as “the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.”
These days, we see and hear the words ‘innovation’ and ‘innovators’ all over the place. The government regularly asks for approaches and methods that are innovative in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and large companies increasingly invest time and money into innovative intrapreneurial programs. When you search TEDx talks for ‘innovation,’ you come up with over 1,800 videos.
Large companies are certainly the pacesetters when it comes to embracing corporate innovation. Intuit organizes multi-day “lean start-ins” that bring employees together from across the company to teach them how to create new products, services, and business models. They do this using what they describe as ‘rapid experimentation.’ Whirlpool has innovation mentors they call “i-mentors” who use innovation tools to help business teams challenge the standard way of doing business. But even if you are a small business with a small budget, you can leverage innovation to your advantage and create a clear-cut return on investment for your efforts.
I will admit that when I started my company, I was lazy when it came to performing the day-to-day business tasks. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and I didn’t want to waste time on things I considered to be boring. If I had a need like tracking of contracts or simplifying a reporting process, I would search for a tool online that could make my life easier. I got to a point that I would try anything if it was $199.99 or less. I wouldn’t spend time on demos with sales people or wait for a proposal – I only looked for solutions that provided instant gratification. If I could pay with a credit card and download immediately, I was sold.
And so what came out of my online purchasing? A lot of credit card charges, unused software downloads and more computer viruses than I can count. A couple years into this frenzy of downloading, I hired a software developer friend of mine, Tim, who was learning to develop web-based applications while supporting software contracts. When he had down time between our clients, he worked on creating a tool that would let him develop code faster. As he says, “software innovation is borne from lazy developers.” As his programs developed, I realized that I had the perfect solution to my automation needs – my own in-house developer. And then, we began creating our own tools to solve our problems. Every time someone complained about a particularly cumbersome process, we turned to Tim and asked if he could create the program and how long would it take. He had the same answer every time, “Yes” and “two weeks.” Which is how he became known as “Two week Tim.”
He’s a little more realistic these days, but we are still continually developing new tools. We built software tools to automate and streamline processes for AP approval, work authorizations, performance reviews, travel authorizations, visitor control and much more. We call it our Small Business in a Box toolset.
But the real return came when we developed a business development system for ourselves, ProDash, and then realized that it was valuable to all government contractors. We saw a need for improvement in our business development process and created a tool that automatically retrieves new government proposal opportunities (RFPs) from multiple sources for potential contractors based on tailored company filters. The software also assists capturing teams in managing tasks and award pipelines more efficiently.
My point here is, that when there is a need, don’t always look for the obvious easy way out. The easiest way may lie within the talents of your organization. Do your research and utilize the resources at hand. You won’t be disappointed.
When I first heard the term “serial entrepreneur,” I had no idea what it meant.
It was only after my attorneys yelled at me for not keeping them in the loop with all my incorporation activities that I realized that I had become a serial entrepreneur. But what made it not so great was that I was an ADHD serial entrepreneur.
I was starting companies before I ‘finished’ the previous ones. Evidently I’m not unique in that aspect and there are pros and cons to this entrepreneurial path.
We all can understand why having one successful company makes it easier to start a second one, but what we often don’t realize is that if not done correctly, you risk not only jeopardizing the new company but the successful one as well. If you can successfully juggle the management of more than one company, you can create many advantages such as diversity, partnership and a brand extension.
Diversification with a second business can make sense in many aspects when scalability is a concern. Diversifying with a complementary offering can potentially stabilize the overall entities by blending cash flow generated from independent revenue sources. Jon Gillespie-Brown, a serial entrepreneur and author of “So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur,” describes diversity in business by likening it to a stool.
“If you’re running a smaller business, it’s tough to have a one-legged stool,” Gillespie-Brown says. “Having a couple legs gives you diversity, both in customers and in the stages of the business. In a recession, if one business is suffering, the other may be doing well.”
Another advantage is the built-in partnership. Developing partnerships between multiple common-ownership companies allows organizations to leverage the contacts and relationships of each other without the risk of entering into agreements with unknown or unproven partners. If the owner or CEO has current brand awareness, this can be a launching point for the credibility of the other company or companies and shorten the ramp up time to success.
My own ADHD serial business experience seems to follow the ‘stool’ concept, although I have to admit I really hadn’t planned it that way. After several years of building a fairly successful and growing government contracting business (Craig Technologies), I was presented with the opportunity to start a complementary manufacturing facility (Craig Technologies Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing Center). In addition to the manufacturing company we started GCC Innovative Technologies, which developed ProDashÔ, a government contracting ‘Software as a Service’ product. To make everything run smoothly and quickly, we made the decision to ‘share’ or ‘purchase’ infrastructure support such as HR, accounting, recruiting and payroll.
“An owner who can manage all of this can focus on the company that needs it the most, and if you have one firm that’s fairly self-sustaining, you can grab your best folks and use them to punch up the next company,” Gillespie-Brown says.
This is exactly what we did, although the path has not been that smooth. I realized, contrary to popular belief, that I am not Superwoman nor am I super human. Being pulled in multiple directions resulted in me being less than productive across all three companies. But, this led me to eventually find a battle rhythm and I managed to regain my previous levels of control and management.
Successful entrepreneurs seem to naturally want to continue the momentum of their success and expand their brand. Today’s market provides many opportunities for branching out and it is always tempting to try to capitalize on them. Just remember that it’s important that you evaluate your options with a serious and critical eye and move smoothly into the new businesses – poor expansion efforts can hurt your brand and your business more than if you didn’t expand at all.
I am proud to support this documentary film project. She Started It tells the story of women tech founders in the US and Europe, and aims to highlight successful role models for young women to encourage more girls towards entrepreneurship in the technology industry.