Intrapreneurship must be a core discipline in all companies

13 April 2018

By Erik Wirsing, Vice President Global Innovation at DB Schenker, IDCP* participant 2017-2018



Corporate Intrapreneurship Programs will keep good people within the company and empower new business models. Intrapreneurship is all about empowering your workforce to think like owners, and identify and implement new ideas to move the business forward: eliminating barriers to happy customers and colleagues.



A famous quote from Henry Ford is “If you always do – what you always did – you will always get – what you always got.” (Henry Ford). Nowadays this sentence is to be taken with caution, because whoever continues to do what he has always done, will probably be replaced tomorrow. Therefore, it is essential to have people who know the business, who are willing to look beyond their own horizons and who have the courage to try out new and sometimes radical topics. If companies are unable to set up a framework and processes for these people internally, they will lose these colleagues, create new competitors and, last but not least, they will still have major problems playing a role in the market tomorrow.

The technological advancements today are more on the cutting edge than ever before and we need to ask ourselves: where does all this innovation come from? How do we avoid the destiny of once so many prosperous companies?



To thrive in the future, organizations need the ability to experiment rapidly with new products and new business models. They have to empower the most creative people and they have to engage repeatedly in a process of innovation in order to unlock new sources of growth and productivity. An intrapreneurship program must support employees in developing new business models with the aim of a possible spin-off. Assisted by internal and external experts and coaches, these employees must have the opportunity to become entrepreneurially engaged, to develop and implement their own business ideas and impulses in order to make a possible contribution to shaping the “core business of tomorrow”.

In addition, a company must be able to implement an appropriate culture for this mindset and it has to be actively supported by the management. Employees facing such a challenge must overcome as many barriers as possible and at the same time they should be given the confidence to continue to be employed in the company in the case of failure.

Embedding the entrepreneurial function in the organizational structure, creating career paths and assessment processes that value innovation and making use of innovation accounting, ultimately lead to an organization that embodies the concept of continuous transformation.



Every employee should be given the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, recognizing entrepreneurship as a core discipline. There is a growing trend of successful employees leaving companies to start their own ventures. Creating a platform within the organization where employees can innovate and create new products is the basis of corporate innovation. One of the challenges to set this up is to encourage employees, in addition to their regular tasks, to spend a certain percentage of their time working on what they think will most benefit the company.

Companies today need to organize internally and create an environment for their employees where they can test new ideas, run pilot projects, fail, and most importantly learn from failure. This kind of environment will breed a new form of attitude towards transformation and innovation. An attitude where the fear of failure is minimized, and accountability and persistence are amplified.

In addition to a corporate culture that actively supports such projects, a necessary financial framework and duration must be set. In addition, a clear procedure must be defined for dealing with the success and failure of new business ideas. Sometimes it is even more difficult to connect successful topics with the core business than to stop failed ones.


First steps

To become an intrapreneur:

  1. The beginning: Check your own motivation, because your inner drive leads you to success
  2. Shape your idea: Analyze your environment and spark your imagination to generate ideas
  3. Improve: All ideas are initially bad ideas – let them grow into a good one
  4. Check: Check your idea with experiments and develop it continuously
  5. Repeat: Test and improve your idea extensively – over and over again
  6. Infiltrate: Present your good idea to decision makers within the company


Such a program needs a new style of leadership:

  • Creating space for experiments but with liability constraints
  • Learning to make investments on the basis of evidence, experimentation, and vision, not just ROI forecasts
  • Creating milestones that can work even when there is no accurate forecast
  • Providing professional development and coaching to help people to get better at being entrepreneurs
  • Recognizing that high risk and uncertain projects need a separate and rational way to attract talent
  • Creating new incentives and advancements


Companies have to be hungry and open enough to reinvent themselves and to throw well-worn traditions overboard. Only those who are ready to give something new an adequate space will make a significant difference tomorrow. Standing still is always a step backwards.

Entrepreneur + Employee = Intrapreneur


Background information

This opinion piece is one of the deliverables of participants of the *Innovation Driver Certification Programme (IDCP). 

Author: Erik Wirsing, Vice President Global Innovation at DB Schenker, IDCP participant 2017-2018

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Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion piece. Any views represented in this post are personal and belong solely to the author and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity.

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