From Idea To Impact: How 6 Intrapreneurs Did It

We’ll be featuring 25 intrapreneurs on stage during Intrapreneurship Conference Stockholm, all sharing their approaches, their tactics and their results so far, as well as their challenges and failures, all to help you take the next step with your intrapreneurial venture or program.

As a taster, we asked six of them to help us understand- how did they move from idea to impact?

Craig Foster is the Managing Director of HomeServe Labs, a spinout of the home assistance company HomeServe.

It was set up as an innovation hub tasked with figuring out how IoT would shape the future of their business. This led, accidentally, to becoming a B2B insurtech company: LeakBot, a smart IoT leak alarm that can detect a leak anywhere on the main water system and is being used by the insurance industry to reduce the cost of water damage claims.

What’s the biggest difficulty/obstacle that you are facing (or faced) with realizing the project?

Craig: “Biggest problem was finding a big problem worth solving. In the early days many of our products and business models were nice ideas but were not a 10x better solution to a problem that people cared about. Even the early version of our leak detector didn’t really solve a big problem that customers wanted to solve and were frustrated with current solutions.

Our big “a-ha” was when we pivoted from B2C to B2B when we realized our technology solved a big high value problem for the insurance industry.”

How did you find out the real problem and made the shift?

Craig: “Initially we thought our leak detector would be a great product to offer to existing Homeserve customers. We ran a really simple MVP, by means of a direct mail test. We mailed 1000 customers, even when the product didn’t exist. Maybe one person took up the offer. At the same time we did a load of face to face customer interviews, in customers’ homes.

We quickly realized the product wasn’t solving a problem they really cared about.

The pivot was when we realized the product solved a huge problem for the insurance industry. If you looked for it this information was in the public domain (water damage claims cost the UK £629 million in 2014, and water leaks rank second for home insurance claims), but it was a chance encounter with someone in the industry when they said: “You guys are barking up the wrong tree”, so we pivoted and changed the model to be B2B2C with the home insurer as the customer for whom the biggest problem is solved (reducing escape of water claims).”

What are your strategies for moving from idea to impact?

Craig: “Think big, but start small. Have a big idea of how technology can be used to reinvent the value you create for customer in your market space, but then start with small iterative experiments to test out your assumptions.

Insulate yourself from the “sucking sound of the core”. We are outside the core business process, with ring-fenced budgets, and a multifunctional autonomous team.”

How did you manage to become autonomous from the core business process?

Craig: “The key to this was the fact that I spent several weeks at business school learning about corporate and digital innovation with our CEO. This created a high level of mutual understanding and trust between us, and it also meant that the CEO was really bought into why the innovation hub needed to be separate.

He then helped the organizational transition to ensure we had the appropriate level of freedom from the regular processes and corporate functions

Sometimes we hit instances whether the middle level of management would try and pull us back in, but having the air cover of the CEO was key.

It also required a certain mindset of “just do it” on my part — if there was a grey area I tended to just do it and ask for forgiveness later.

So my advise to others would be: Start small, stay under the radar and get some traction. It is exhilarating.

Most of the barriers to success are only in your head. It is exhilarating to start something up from nothing and work with a passionate team who are inventing the future together.”

Mats Berglind is the first person hired as an Innovation Manager at Swedavia, so his focus has been on promoting innovation 100 percent of the time.

At Swedavia they recognized the need to think more experimentally, and how by doing so learn things faster.

What are your strategies for moving from idea to impact?

Mats: Today we have a basic idea management process with the capability to actually evaluate ideas in a hands-on kind of way.

Earlier we spent too much time on theoretical business cases, depended and relied too much on best practice of others and had pre-studies that could last for many months that means that moving from an idea to impact took forever.

We now have in our IT department, a basic Idea management process with the capability to actually evaluate ideas in a fast, hands-on kind of way based on the Lean Startup methodology. Our strategy is quite easy, it is to shorten the time to be able to answer the question: “Is this a good idea”?

This means that not only will the time from idea to impact shorten but also we will get rid of bad or not suitable ideas at an early stage based upon actual insight — not based on personal beliefs.

At the conference I will present how we at Swedavia evaluate some of the ideas in what we call “The Function Factory” and also give some real examples of what learnings we have done in e.g. indoor positioning, app notification and data quality.

I’d advise other innovators to choose your fights carefully, identify your ambassadors early on, and share, share, share.”

Christian Beil has a somewhat unusual job title: Senior Innovation Design Expert at BASF, a multi-national chemicals manufacturing corporation.

Not too long ago the company celebrated its 150th anniversary, and in the spirit of their “we create chemistry” strategy, there was a lot of room to try out new ways of driving innovation.

Consequently, they have launched the Creator Space program to turn front-end innovation into a fast-paced learning journey that brings people together to imagine and co-create the markets, technologies and business models of the future.

How has your company created an intrapreneurial culture?

Christian: “It starts on a very high level with the implementation of our “We create chemistry” strategy, that includes “Creativity, Openness, Responsibility and Entrepreneurship” as core company values. As a result, we initiated the new Creator Space program that is all about intrapreneurship.

Within the Creator Space program we apply the Lean Startup approach. We support the teams in developing a proper assumptions based on business model as well as an experimentation plan. We ensure the right team setup and provide the budget for the experimentation phase.”

What makes a team have the right setup?

Christian: “When we talk about the team setup for the experimentation phase, we have clear requirements on the time the core team members should spend for the project. We always require at least 50% of their time. For the core team we also require a project manager and a business person. In case a new technology is involved (and not just pure business model innovation) we also add a tech person to the core team. For all 3 types we have ideal profiles we will compare with when we get the nominations.

From our Creator Space team, we do always have one person supporting the team (in topics such as: acceleration, methodology, trainings, challenge sessions,…) and we provide the budget for the experiments.

This also means that we pay the salaries for the core team members, so it becomes easier for the Business Units and the Technology platforms to nominate someone, as they don’t have to pay for it.

To further improve what we are doing right now we are working with HR on a kind of incentivisation program for the team members. I’m not talking about monetary incentives, it’s more on the end of visibility (e.g. installing an innovation belt system) and giving the team members the freedom to also support other teams on a longer run (building a community of practitioners).”

You mentioned in our talk that in some cases you believe that it would be easier to run an innovative project without the company’s boundaries. Can you give an example?

Christian: “One example on company’s boundaries is a very simple one but shows how complicated things are in a big company. In one of our projects we want to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and we found some interesting materials outside the company.

Going now through the internal purchasing processes to get this material is delaying the whole project. In an external startup you would just go and buy it and test it out.”

How do you validate that those in the Creator Space are working on meaningful problems?

Christian: “All our projects within the Creator Space program are co-created with other stakeholders and they are based on a proper exploration.

The goal of our first phase in the program, the exploration phase is to build a hypothesis on a multi-stakeholder approach to fulfilling one or more market needs that, if realized, has the power to disrupt existing value chains and represents a threat or an opportunity for BASF. So we look for emerging ecosystems to understand the future needs and build a hypothesis on the future challenge and how we should position BASF.

With this we go into the next phase, the ideation phase, where we run a set of different ideation activities with different stakeholder (employees, customers, suppliers, external scientists, NGO’s, public,…) with different ideation methods (jamming, idea contest, idea pitch, customer, co-creation,..) to generate ideas for the identified needs. We select some of the ideas to further elaborate them to concepts and some of the concepts (especially those where a new business model is required) are taken up for the experimentation / validation phase.

Especially in a B2B environment you should build your ideation on a solid market exploration. Don’t forget the three principles of lean “Ignorance”, “Perspective” and “Build-Measure-Learn”- and you’re off on the right foot.”

Harvey Wade is part of the Services Innovation Excellence Centre at Cisco, which builds innovation capability to drive business outcomes and value for stakeholders.

Through a combination of enabling ideas, building skills, culture and capability and running innovation activities, the team accelerates the success of Cisco Services.

Harvey’s role is responsible for leading and developing the SEIC Innovation Maturity Model, including the framework, assessment, innovation training, tools and tool development, as well as overseeing innovation activity. The role also plays a key role deploying the Maturity Model with strategic partners and has overall accountability for the SEIC innovation training and toolkit, both internal and external deployments.

Harvey will talk about how they support the innovation ecosystem in Cisco by ensuring that their leadership know how to lead for innovation, so that innovation doesn’t just survives, but thrives.

Why is leadership that important for innovation?

Harvey: “For many leaders, particularly those running large, well established businesses, it can be a daunting prospect. In an environment where tangible results are everything, the ambiguous and uncertain nature of innovation can feel like a distraction, forcing it into the back seat. And this failure to plan for tomorrow means there won’t be a tomorrow. Innovation isn’t just for startups. Even small investments today can reap significant dividends down the line.

An effective leader doesn’t need to be the expert in every department. Innovation is a collective, team effort and knowing personal limitations is a critical part of team building. Individuals can be recruited to fill any weaknesses, ensuring strong knowledge and skills in every position. Your primary role as a leader is that of the conductor, leading from the front, setting the tempo (and example), ensuring all team members work together towards common goals.”

You have distilled key behaviours for effective leadership, right?

Harvey: “Indeed. Effective leadership of innovation also requires essential behaviours that encourage a lasting, innovation-focussed mindset — from the postroom to the boardroom. In my experience, these are the eight required behaviours to accomplish this:

  • Demonstrate leadership support: “Walk the walk,” clearly communicate organizational innovation goals and provide appropriate training
  • Commit resources: Ring fence budgets for innovation and ensure employees have the time to focus on innovation objectives
  • Create leadership accountability: Report on innovation progress at the board level, build diverse portfolios of innovation projects and assign responsibilities to senior team members
  • Insight and business driven: Talk with customers to understand their problems, give innovation teams access to necessary data and insights, validate new ideas regularly
  • Collaboration: Assemble innovation teams based on unique skills or perspectives they bring to the table, encourage cross-organisational collaboration wherever possible
  • Rewards and recognition: Ensure both successful outcomes and innovative behaviour are recognized and rewarded regularly, encouraging employees to think boldly in everything they do
  • Innovate everywhere: Instill a “passionately dissatisfied” mentality amongst employees, create working environments that encourage the free exchange of ideas and risk taking with new innovation concepts
  • Entrepreneurial behaviour: Encourage an entrepreneurial spirit throughout the organization, leading from the front without fear of failure

What words of encouragement can you give fellow intrapreneurs who are trying to breath life into their ideas?

Harvey: “Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, why would they care or need your idea. Of course validate whether the problem that you are trying to solve really exists, but you need to be in their world — live and breathe it.”

Daniel Kullgard is the Innovation Leader at Cybercom Group.

During #IntraCnf Stockholm, Daniel will share his philosophy why early experiences and working prototypes help organizations to boost employees’ creativity and have major impact of the culture. Daniel will give practical examples from 40 Innovation projects that have been co-created with partners, clients and employees. He will also discuss why the best innovations starts with sharing a vision and losing control.

What are your strategies for moving from idea to impact?

Daniel: “I am a big fan of learning by doing. My strategy is to give everything a chance for a limited period of time. Even if it doesn’t work you have learned something.

When it comes to emerging technology it is a matter of numbers of projects, it is better to run a high number of short prototypes than to invest a lot of time in one specific project.”

What’s the biggest difficulty that you often face when working on innovative projects?

Daniel: “The biggest difficulty is to understand what to solve. It is also to have a team with the right mix of people. Software developers go a little bit too fast into the solution and requirements, specialists or project managers need to answers many questions before they start.

It’s crucial to spend time to understand how to let all team-members be stars in the project (but not at the same time).

Can you give an example of how you tackled the problem of understanding what to solve?

Daniel: “One example is a project we started with a brave client. It all started with a common idea (hypothesis) that VR would have major impact for their organization, but we didn’t really understood how it could be done. So instead of asking around people (who have never even tried a VR application) in the organization what they thought, we made a demonstration with a very simple 3D model in the “context” of their products. We invited everyone in the organization for a short demo in the coffee area — anyone who wanted had the opportunity to try it out.

About 40 people showed up and the impact was amazing, a lot of people came up with concrete problems that they saw could be solved with this new technology. We have now made two new prototypes in order to validate if this can be something valuable for the organization.”

Steven Babitch is a Design Strategist who has been doing design and innovation consulting over the last decade in both private, social and public sectors.

Currently, he’s a Presidential Innovation Fellow through the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, established in 2012 through The White House.

Outside of his work as a Fellow, Steve has been working with LaunchPad, a startup like group within The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, to tackle climate change innovation.

Steve has been working with a team in Brazil that is developing a climate innovation platform focused on helping small and medium sized entrepreneurs (SMEs) establish climate smart agricultural (CSA) ventures. The focus on these entrepreneurs is to help small and family farmers in Brazil, a growing segment of the Brazilian economy, dramatically improve their efficiency, crop yield and develop more sustainable practices.

What’s the biggest difficulty/obstacle that you are facing (or faced) with realizing the project?


“The challenge of framing the right problem is critical.

In order to do so, we have engaged multiple stakeholders, including Federal and State level government, private sector entrepreneurs and other key players in this domain to surface some of the underlying challenge and dynamics.

Some stakeholders in the public sector have been the driver of innovation, but often do not fully grasp the challenges that small and family farmers face. This hinders both the farmers advancement but also the private sector small and medium sized entrepreneurs (SMEs) from taking a greater role in advancing farmer green practices and the adoption of climate smart agriculture (CSA). SMEs are not provided with enough support to succeed.”

So how did you get to the core of the problem?

Steve: “By going deep in understanding the needs of entrepreneurs, and convening these stakeholders together, we’ve been able to build significant momentum and mitigate roadblocks that would normally prevent progress. We did this through direct convening of stakeholders, in context — on family farms, in workshop sessions at farmer cooperatives, exposing government stakeholders to the ground level world of entrepreneurs and family farmers.

Creating mutual understanding across stakeholders has been a significant win in building momentum and generating excitement.

One critical insight occurred during a workshop with SMEs. They had never heard of one of the most important stakeholders who best understands small and family farmers, the target customers of SMEs. These stakeholders are called the extensionists, who serve as an intermediary who help farmers understand and apply new technologies and agricultural practices to their farms. These extensionists have the trust of the farmers, who will ultimately decide on whether they will use the new technology and farming practices.

We are continuing to build momentum through direct engagement with SMEs through additional workshops and convenings. We are finding a smaller place to start in order to keep our focus sharp and demonstrate success before scaling more broadly. This includes working at the State level (which is still very broad), maintaining awareness at the Federal level, but further narrowing by prioritizing which SMEs will be the best place to begin in terms of defining the range of support. Lastly, we are focusing on which specific problems the climate innovation center should try to solve for SMEs, and iterate from there.

Join the conversation with these and 19+ more intrapreneurs on stage, as well as 199+ innovators in the room, during Intrapreneurship Conference Stockholm. Early bird tickets are going fast, so don’t wait too long with securing your seat.

Originally published at on March 6, 2017.

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