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Intrapreneurs could drive the next wave of innovation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here’s how

Companies that truly believe in and back intrapreneurship within their ranks can tap a large, existing pool of talent, and fuel smart and innovative solutions. Several businesses across the world are leading the way with dedicated programmes for intrapreneurs.

Vishal Krishna
2nd Apr 2019
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What do Spencer Silver, Steven Sassoon, Paul Buchcheit and Ken Kutaragi have in common? They're all intrapreneurs whose products made a massive impact on the world. Spencer developed the Post-It note while at 3M, engineer Steven Sasson invented the portable digital camera at Kodak, Paul created and launched Gmail when at Google, while Ken, a relatively junior Sony employee, is the brain behind Sony Playstation.


Intrapreneurship may have not been around as long as entrepreneurship, but it’s gaining ground steadily. The term was popularised by Steve Jobs in a 1985 Newsweek article where he said the Macintosh team “was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship… a group of people going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company”.


Across the world, intrapreneurship is coming into its own with corporates empowering employees to start up on their own.


Corporate Intrapreneur program


Also read: What makes you an Intrapreneur? Are you mere a side-kick of an Entrepreneur?



Hemanth S M and Pavan Govindan, the Founders of IERO, an AI-based retail recommendation engine, are two strapping young engineers who believe in the power of AI. Their intrapreneurial startup, which is funded by Bosch, was founded after the duo approached the board of Bosch, in India and in Germany, for support. Three years later, they have more than 10 clients that have signed up to use AI in retail stores. Bosch supported them by giving them access to their clients globally and funded the company too. The company is now called Bosch IERO.


IERO empowers organisations through digital initiatives spanning across domains, including retail, hospitality, automotive, office, and homes.


“It has taken us a good three years to make the product globally scalable. It addresses issues of data protection and engages with customers only when they opt for the programme. It enables retailers to engage customers, based on their intent in physical stores,” say Hemanth and Pavan.


Bosch has several startups under its global program. Iero is the first in India. The company did not want to disclose further details of its intrapreneurship program.


While Bosch is seriously looking at scaling up its Indian intrapreneurship programme, what about the 1,100-odd global in-house centres or innovation centres in India? These GICs are set up by global MNC's to harness India's engineering prowess. There aren’t many examples.


But, there is a burning desire to make this happen.


“I would be very happy to see my 150 employees in my India centre become entrepreneurs and change the world,” says Raghu Belur, Co-founder of Nasdaq-listed company Enphase Energy, which is valued at $1 billion.


Clearly, businesses across the world have realised the importance of encouraging innovation within the ranks. That's the reason Google allows 20 percent time (one full day per week) to employees to work on a Google-related passion project of their own choosing or creation. Shutterstock hosts an annual 24-hour hackathon to let employees to pursue ideas that will benefit the company. Global materials science company WL Gore offers employees “dabble time” - 10 percent of their work day - to work on personal projects and develop new ideas.



Also read: Flipkart mafia gave us not just Udaan and Curefit, but successfully bootstrapped startups too



Go GICs


Global GICs are setting in motion a new wave of entrepreneurship by scouting for ideas from in-house teams. 


A visit to Societe Generale or CA Technologies, in Bengaluru, will show you how these companies are convincing employees to think like entrepreneurs. CA Technologies has, over the last three years, invested in three internal startups in the SaaS space: Waffle, Forty2.io, and Yipee. Unfortunately, these companies could not scale, but CA Technologies still has a robust platform for its intrapreneur program. 


Societe Generale, on the other hand, is taking things further with its intrapreneurial programme, which it launched in 2017 in India. It has the global stats to prove that it could make things work in India:

  • invested 150 million euros in the Innovation Fund
  • more than 15,000 participants in the intrapreneurial programme
  • more than 600 startup concepts based on 17 strategic innovation themes
  • accelerated 70 startups in countries


In India, Societe Generale has worked with Catalyst and signed contracts with companies like Stride.ai (an enterprise-grade SmartKYC application) and Tookitaki (offers softwares to enable sustainable regulatory compliance programmes).


Danish shipping giant Maersk launched OceanPro, a 120-day tech accelerator programme, to partner with startups and boost innovation and tech-driven solutions in India. It has already signed contracts with some of the eight startups that graduated from the first cohort.


Maersk recently disclosed that Dhruv, one of its internal startups, had created software that could track containers in the ocean without using any hardware devices. Founder Deepak Kapoor built a global data mashup by correlating events, ports, ships, and IoT data to create a global container tracking app. Customers can use this app to self-serve and apply it to supply chain solutions, industry trade financing, and equipment management. One of the top startups in the Maersk Ocean Pro programme, Dhruv is known to have built a large data lake integrating umpteen IT and OT systems.

Most of these intrapreneurial companies cannot take the IP out of their mother companies, but - if and when the business grows - founders have complete control over the direction of these business units within the mother company.


These are just a few examples of an effort to encourage people to take to entrepreneurship in GICs.

Atit Danak, Engagement Manager at Zinnov, a global management and strategy consulting firm, says,


“Corporates are doing a fine job in supporting entrepreneurship in India. There are a few who are doing the intrapreneur programme and will inspire others to get into it, too.”


What about Indian companies?


RSB Transmission, a Pune-based automotive company has invested in Cympl, a mobile game studio and publisher, which boasts of eight million users. The company, founded by Ratikant Behera and Rituraj Behera, hopes to make Indian gaming popular, and has launched cooking and action games.


“We have achieved scale, and with the help of the corporate have been able to keep ourselves focused on engaging Indian customers with made-in-India games,” says Ratikant.


This business was created at RSB Transmission to diversify the group into future avenues of business. The automotive company funded this gaming company.


Meanwhile, $50 million data centre company Ctrl-S incubated Cloud4C, which aims to change the way banks work with data centres. Cloud4C has cloud-based architecture that can back up voluminous core banking data in multiple copies.


The name 4C is derived from its four-copy cloud architecture, designed to provide the highest uptime, disaster recovery, and security. Two copies of data are kept in the primary data centre with synchronous replication and high availability, which lets banks access their data at any time. The third is kept at another data centre as a backup, while the fourth copy is kept as a backup at a different data centre (in another seismic zone) using asynchronous replication.


“The cloud makes it easier in terms of pricing, and their data is protected," says Sridhar Pinnapureddy, Founder of Cloud4C.


The company’s architecture is fully compliant with best practices mandated by the RBI, SEBI, NYSE, and HIPAA. Over 2,000 customers are using Cloud4C’s cloud services, including PWC, Aditya Birla Group, Bharti Airtel, Exide Industries, Daimler Chrysler, and IndiaFirst Insurance.


Sridhar neither discloses revenues nor how much has CTRL-S has put into his company. Indian companies are also investing in real deep tech. Mphasis, the software services company, has incubated Next Angles, which uses AI to track anti-money laundering, financial crimes, and trade-based laundering.


Srikumar, Suresh Nair, and Mallinath Sengupta were happy in their corporate jobs till they realised that capital markets were spending loads of money on compliance and yet could not figure out how to battle money laundering.


“The core intelligence comes from knowledge models, which are deep-domain models on particular aspects of banking work. This is different from conventional big data-driven data science. The core aspect of such expert systems is a branch of science called ‘ontology’,” Mallinath says.


The company does not disclose its investments, but is part of the overall Mphasis Corporation and has access to all Mphasis banking clients.


Zinnov has a startup called DRAUP; the platform empowers sales teams with scalable, contextualised and real-time actionable insights. Draup is founded by the founders of Zinnov; Pari Natarajan runs Zinnov, while the other co-founders, Vijay Swaminathan and Vamsee Tirukkala, run Draup.


The platform is powered by machine-generated insights and models, and augmented by a team of analysts adding their learning-based insights to provide knowledge about companies, executives, competitors, and the broader ecosystem.


DRAUP has a network of subject matter experts across 10 industry verticals, 70-plus researchers focussed on in-depth primary research and analysis, and 100-plus sources from where over 1TB of data is captured and analysed every quarter, to build actionable insights.


Vijay Swaminathan, Co-founder of Draup, says,


“Sales teams are looking for insights while making presentations to clients. Many times the knowledge is already in the company; AI can contextually find the knowledge sought after by the sales team on a real-time basis.”


The startup is scaling up in the US and does not want to disclose its revenues or investment numbers.

Another company to watch out for is Summit, a startup from Symphony. Run by Satyen Vyas, it offers software to manage enterprise applications and networks. The company has close to 50 clients and is successfully helping companies transform in the digital era with AI assistants.


While these are great examples, there need to be many more coming out of Indian companies. It’s time that corporates who often cannot find innovation run intrapreneur programmes and also work with external startups.


Mohandas Pai, Chairman of Aarin Capital, says,


“I have always said that entrepreneurship will create jobs in this country. With more innovation, you will find corporates employing many more Indians, and startups will help corporates achieve their goals too.”


Also read: Meet the Zoho Mafia: these five startups launched by former Zoho employees are going global


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