Building human systems for permanent, repeatable growth

Dec 8, 2020 · 7 min read

How to Find, Support, and Encourage Entrepreneurial Activity in YOUR Company

By Viv Goldstein, Vice President of Executive and Organizational Development at Bionic

It is safe to say that all corporations want to be focused on value creation, innovation, and growth. The need to be innovative, agile, resilient, and to foster the entrepreneurial skills that enable such growth has never been more critical. Yet, at Bionic, we often hear the leaders of corporations lament, “we just don’t have the right entrepreneurial talent inside our organization.” Our belief is that this talent does actually exist internally, and can and will flourish with effective support and structure.

Having spent the last 15 years enabling growth within the world of enterprise, I firmly believe that every successful organization has natural innovators within their company. It is up to corporate leaders to foster an organizational culture, mindset, and environment that lets innovators willingly surface, further develop their skills, and protect them while they work in a new way in order to leverage those brilliant minds. They must be set up for success, otherwise they’ll get frustrated and go back into hiding — or, even worse, simply leave the organization entirely. An ecosystem that openly supports these internal entrepreneurs — who we refer to as “intrapreneurs” — in a unique and differentiated way will enable them to thrive, deliver results, and live up to expectations.

There is no doubt that creating the right human systems will permit and encourage the development of successful intrapreneurs, and optimize the effectiveness of growth efforts. Though it is always tempting to quickly kick off new innovation projects with our partner companies, we try to start the journey by working with HR leadership to embrace and lay out the following approach first:

  1. Find intrapreneurial talent and set clear expectations.
  2. Support intrapreneurial talent by giving them the opportunity to further develop relevant skills.
  3. Hold intrapreneurs accountable for making progress and delivering results.
Human Systems Components

Recruitment: Find intrapreneurial talent and set clear expectations

Intrapreneurial behaviors are radically different from traditional corporate behaviors, so employees who exhibit such behaviors may have felt stifled or rejected by the corporate machine. Individuals who push for innovative ideas, break bureaucracy, or try new ways of working end up feeling like they’re living in a whack-a-mole game. They put their heads above ground to make a suggestion and someone says, “Oh no, we can’t behave that way!” or “We tried that 3 years ago and it didn’t work.” So, they instinctively duck back down again. Once they’ve experienced that a few times, they get such sore heads that they hide, stop making suggestions, no longer feel comfortable working in innovative ways, or decide to leave the company. Instead of having this talent feel shunned, we should find and nurture them.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Intrapreneurs need to know that they will be safe and valued, and that they will not only be allowed to experiment, learn, and work in a different way, but in fact it will be actively encouraged.

So to find them, we have some alternate considerations:

  1. Focus on recruiting for behaviors rather than exclusively functional or domain expertise. Natural curiosity, willingness to drive change, and openness to failure in pursuit of learning are critical mindsets.
  2. Don’t solely rely on internal job postings. Look for talent by finding those who “self identify” through participating in Innovation Sprints or challenges, Startup Weekends, and Hackathons.
  3. Find the “natural disruptors:” Those that challenge the status quo, cut through bureaucracy, and look for a better way to get to a solution.
  4. Recognize that these individuals may not be on a leadership/management track.
  5. Be agnostic to people’s current level within the organization.

In working with partner companies, we create a radically candid internal job description that outlines the role, how the innovation team will operate, and what the company expects it to achieve. While it is important that the intrapreneurs exemplify the company values and beliefs, we want internal applicants who are excited about working in a different way. We want those who thrive in ambiguity, are customer/consumer obsessed, impatient for change, and are naturally curious. The job description needs to state clearly that the role is critical and that they will be supported through coaching and constructive feedback, and assuring potential applicants that new, different, boundary-pushing behaviors will be both welcomed and rewarded.

We craft unique interview questions that will help identify applicants who truly fit the intrapreneurial profile, looking for key traits including curiosity, humility, passion, and collaboration. The interview questions and guidelines that Bionic suggests help companies validate that the applicants are those who constantly push to go faster and challenge the status quo. We frequently ask, “What was the last customer need you solved?” or, “What was your last failure? What did you learn from it and what are you now doing differently?” We’re looking for natural disruptors.

Photo by Kvalifik on Unsplash

When recruitment is handled well, intrapreneurs understand their roles from the beginning and know they’ll have the opportunity to further develop the skills and capabilities that fuel innovation and growth.

Development: Support intrapreneurial talent by giving them the opportunity to further develop relevant skills

Since your intrapreneurs need to possess and practice very different capabilities than those needed within the core, companies must actively support them in further developing those skills. At the very beginning of the work with Bionic’s partners, we implement a customized online assessment of the intrapreneurs’ skills against a proprietary set of capabilities and behaviors. A baseline is built from these results, and we use this to measure and support their growth by creating an iterative learning journey for the individual and team. This journey consists of coaching, a structured curriculum of workshops, and asynchronous multimedia training.

It is critical to create a safe space where intrapreneurs can continue learning skills and capabilities through a comprehensive developmental plan. Without this training and support, innovators within your company will feel isolated, frustrated, and unsure if they’re actually creating meaningful solutions. Together, we ensure that the changes in mindset, knowledge, and capabilities have become systemic and transferable through the journey.

Accountability: Hold intrapreneurs accountable for making progress and delivering results

Working in new ways requires a new level of accountability and an alternate approach to performance management, career pathing, compensation and incentives.

We recommend the online assessment is taken every three months to drive continuous improvement, with feedback provided by peers/team members, sponsors, managers, and their Bionic coaches, for a comprehensive review. Not only do we focus on the results of the individual, but we also look at team development. After all, entrepreneurialism is a team sport.

The assessment is based on levels of proficiency in the following three categories:

  1. Deliver New Growth: Identifying and taking validated ideas from seed stages, through product market fit to commercialization and build.
  2. Growth Mechanics & Tools: Reducing uncertainty through building a validation engine that will enable rapid experimentation and provide evidence in answering the critical path questions.
  3. Growth Mindset & Behaviors: Being curious and avid learners, continually challenging business as usual, and obsessed with the customer and their problem.

At Bionic, we believe that measuring personal and team growth is a part of the learning journey, and that journey should include continuous, ongoing development.

We also believe — and I have to tell you that this is the most challenging part — intrapreneurs should be rewarded in a very different way from the core. In leaving a structured “day job” with a well laid out career path, intrapreneurs recognize they may be moving to a higher risk role, yet also potentially creating significant corporate growth. Their compensation needs to recognize this, so we look at incentivizing key milestones, creating team level rewards, and simulating the risk/reward that true entrepreneurs would receive. We outline alternate compensation models, such as a reduced base salary, phantom stock options, synthetic equity, a percentage of the value created, growth dividends, and even the elimination of traditional bonuses and pay grades. Not easy, but critical.

All three of these practices matter

Why is this way of working with talent necessary to drive growth and innovation? Because it helps intrapreneurs feel empowered and held accountable for their impact and the way they work. It positions companies to determine progress being made, and understand areas for further team and individual development. It creates total flexibility for career pathing, compensation, and performance management integration. This three-pronged approach to finding, supporting, and encouraging entrepreneurial activity has proven successful in building innovation within existing corporations.

Expecting people to behave in a different way without helping them get there simply doesn’t work. Instead, if you want to cultivate your naturally gifted internal entrepreneurs, tell them exactly what’s expected of them, help them get there, and hold them accountable. Of course, there are nuances for every organization, but once you have the framework, you’ll be inspired to get started.

If you’re interested in fostering a thriving innovation team inside your organization, we would love to help you. For more information, visit and reach out to


At Bionic, we seed + launch startups that discover and…


At Bionic, we seed + launch startups that discover and solve new customer problems for the world’s most competitive companies.


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At Bionic, we seed + launch startups that discover and solve new customer problems for the world’s most competitive companies.


At Bionic, we seed + launch startups that discover and solve new customer problems for the world’s most competitive companies.