A friend of mine gave me a lapel pin in the shape of a cork screw. The card with it read, ‘Simple yet complex.’ Years earlier we had started a business selling wine albums for individuals that wanted to keep track of their favorite wines. I was working at HP at the time and made frequent trips to California for work so always spent a few extra vacation days selling the albums to the vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma. It was a kick to see the wine albums in the gift shops.

Of course while visiting the various wineries I was asked to try their newest wines. So you can imagine that by midafternoon I was ready for a nap by the pool. This little entrepreneurial venture taught me a lot about being an entrepreneur. All while having a full time job selling business computers in Boston.

The combination of working in a large organization and running my own business on the side laid the foundation for the rest of my career. It was the excitement of building a new business while having the stability of being employed that inspired and motivated me. It was not a conscious decision, it was something that seemed to evolve and develop over time.

It led me to other entrepreneurial pursuits inside large organizations. Identifying and developing new products and services and building new businesses. Each opportunity brought with it new challenges, lessons to be learned, problems to solve, obstacles to overcome and resistance to deal with. These became the parameters of work that kept me energized and engaged.

These are the same things that are driving workers today. They want an opportunity to be entrepreneurial at work. They want to take on the biggest challenges, solve the toughest problems, drive change, make a difference and have an impact. They want an environment that allows them to express themselves through their work. At the same time organizations want to become more entrepreneurial, generate new business growth; improve productivity and employee engagement, innovation and financial performance. They see entrepreneurship as a way forward.

So why is it we do not hear more stories about entrepreneurial success inside existing organizations? These are the very things that organizations want and need but struggle to achieve. What seems to be holding them back? What’s getting in the way? Why are workers so disengaged, disillusioned at work, electing to go out on their own? These are questions being asked in the C-suite and in the board room.

The problem is that entrepreneurship is not an intellectual exercise it is grounded and formed from experience. If there aren’t opportunities for workers to be entrepreneurial then you can’t expect them to be entrepreneurial. If there isn’t an infrastructure to support entrepreneurship then it won’t succeed. It is why so many organizations are turning to corporate entrepreneurship. They see it as an answer to these issues. That’s why we see incubators, accelerators and new venture businesses gaining a foothold in organizations. They provide the opportunity needed to help build entrepreneurship in organizations.

Corporate entrepreneurship is a work in progress for many organizations. Like the corkscrew pin – it is simple, yet complex. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. Most executives understand the need for corporate entrepreneurship but many under estimate what is required to successfully implement it. It touches all aspects of the business; strategy, structure, systems, processes, policies through to execution. It requires a systems view.
  2. It is not a silver bullet. It takes time and experience to develop the entrepreneurial capabilities that are needed to support and sustain corporate entrepreneurship. Being entrepreneurial is a way of thinking and acting that is foreign to the rest of the organization. It needs to be learned.
  3. It challenges existing business practices. Many of the things that are needed to support the core business are just the opposite of what is required to build a new business. It is a different business model.
  4. Organizational obstacles can get in the way. Some are obvious others are hidden. You won’t know what they are until you encounter them. It’s what you do with them that matters. Managing and overcoming obstacles.
  5. There is no road-map or guidebook for organizations to follow. Implementing corporate entrepreneurship will vary depending on the organization. Context matters.
  6. Leaders, who have succeeded in the past, have achieved their success by exploiting the core business not building a new one. Now they need to do both. Few know how. Develop entrepreneurial leaders.
  7. Existing mental models used to evaluate ideas are often grounded in the past not the future. They can marginalize ideas and stifle innovation. New thinking is required.
  8. Most employees will play by the rules. You need individuals that will step on toes and break rules to get things done. Internal entrepreneurs respect authority but are willing to challenge and question them. Focus on driving change.
  9. People and cultures are resistant to change. They are more willing to see a project fail than succeed. If it succeeds they will have to change. Integrate people into the process.
  10. Although the overall end goal of corporate entrepreneurship is new business growth short term financial pressure does not always provide adequate time to develop or demonstrate success. Balanced investment portfolio.
  11. Standard metrics used to measure success may eliminate opportunities with higher longer term potential. New metrics are needed to evaluate and monitor progress and success. Tangible and intangible metrics.

These are a few of the things can get in the way. They are also the building blocks for building corporate entrepreneurship. On the surface they are simple but in reality they are much more complex.

The ability to blend entrepreneurial pursuits within the context of an existing organization provides benefits for both the individual and the organization.

How would you evaluate your organization on these dimensions?


To help organizations understand their own entrepreneurial orientation we put together our Entrepreneurial Audit Self-Assessment. It is a high level self-assessment that provides a quick way for you to see if you have the building blocks in place to support entrepreneurship inside your organization. Besides its free! audit


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