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How 'intrapreneurship' is changing the business landscape

Intrapreneurship is the practice of fostering an innovative, start-up mentality within a larger company. (Getty)

It’s not easy to stay quick, nimble and fast on your feet when you’re over 100 years old, and that’s especially true even if you’re a business. That’s why Ontario insurance company Trillium Mutual turned to the concept of ‘intrapreneurship’ to help them stay competitive. 

“It’s a really different approach than corporations that have been around for a really, really long period of time have taken — just having the agility to make mistakes and move in a different way,” Tracy MacDonald, vice president of corporate services at Trillium Mutual, tells Yahoo Canada Finance. “We think that’s what’s certainly going to allow us to be nimble and change and have long-term sustainability.”

The concepts behind intrapreneurship allows their 138-year-old company to match some of the entrepreneurial spirit that drives many of today’s start-ups. It also helps them avoid getting stuck in the rut of business as usual that has been cause of some of the the recent downfalls of well-established companies. 

“At all levels of the organization, it provides ownership and to the long-term sustainability and having skin in the game for solutions versus being directive and it really gives a lot of feeling of having control over the direction as to where the next set of solutions will be,” MacDonald says. 

Trillium Mutual learned about intrapreneurship from Communitech, an Ontario-based business innovation hub. They define the concept as the ways a business might get their employees to look at things differently and come up with new ideas that could make an impact going forward and change the status quo. 

“All companies of all shapes and sizes are either looking at this or are active in the area,” says Glenn Smith, vice president of corporate innovation and client success at Communitech. “I think that’s simply because the competitive landscape around them is changing at such of a fast pace.”

However, they say companies like Trillium Mutual, which has about 70 employees, they maybe more intraprenistic by nature due to their small size. 

“[For] smaller companies, intraprenurship is more or less inherent because the employees within that business often might be wearing more than one hat and that type of role … does tend to attract more entrepreneurial individuals,” he adds. “Where as in a larger business, as that business scales and grows into an enterprise, roles become much more defined, much more boxed in.”

Paul Cubbon, the leader of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group at the UBC Sauder School of Business, says intraprenurship has already caught the eye of many multinational companies, including Unilever, P&G, L’Oreal, Coca-Cola and 3M. 

“This is an established trend with established companies. Many larger companies have long-standing, internal innovation groups that operate fairly independently of the day-to-day operating groups,” he says.

Adobe has been a leader in the space with Kickbox, an innovation process they developed in-house and made available for others to use.

And it isn’t alone in practising what it preaches when it comes to intrapreneurship. Mississauga, Ont.’s RIC Centre, which teaches corporate intrapreneurship to clients says they use some of the concepts they teach to businesses in house as well. 

“In many ways we’re like a start-up. We’re a relatively small group. We operate very close to the ground level, and we work shoulder to shoulder with entrepreneurs,” RIC Centre’s executive director Pam Banks says. “I would say that the way we operate and deliver business is very much focused on that lean start-up model, which is really core to entrepreneurship and startups.” 

As for Trillium Mutual that launched their first innovation team in January, they say the results so far have been promising. 

“I think it’s been great, it’s evolutionary, and we’re learning all the time — that sort of developing those thoughts into our everyday process,” MacDonald says. “You’re going to try things and they’re not going to work out and you’re going to pivot and do something different.”

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