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.