Intrapreneurs: Fostering Digital’s Newest Entrepreneurs

welker-usethis“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Kristine Welker, vice president, publisher and chief revenue officer of Dr. Oz Magazine at The Hearst Corp.

I just embarked on my third startup, and it is as thrilling as the first.

I love everything about the startup life, from the high stakes to the fast-paced environment. But all of my startups have been within the same company. There’s a name for people like me: intrapreneurs.

I didn’t invent the term – defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as someone “within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation” — but it’s a moniker I’m proud to wear. Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs move quickly, go with their gut and are not afraid of a clean slate. Some find it overwhelming, but to us, it’s inspiring.

Young companies, such as Facebook and Google, maintain a startup mentality with think tanks, hackathons and entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) programs. In response, well-established organizations have begun creating entrepreneurial initiatives to find intrapreneurs and fuel innovation. Walmart, for instance, has spearheaded WalmartLabs, a team focused on transforming ecommerce and re-engineering digital shopping platforms. Universities, such as Georgia Tech, are innovating from within by embracing online educational degrees that place the same value on digital education as on-campus learning.

Meanwhile, even legacy media companies, including The New York Times and Hearst [disclosure: I work there], have learned to foster their own disruption with idea labs dedicated to product innovation, resulting in new storytelling formats and forging successful tech partnerships with companies like Google.

These heritage organizations understand that while marketplace shifts transcend all industries, technology can also be the bridge between existing models and new ones. The key is dedicating resources to finding their “startup mojo” and cultivating intrapreneurs who understand there is no legacy in digital.

Lessons Learned

Through my years of intrapreneurship, I’ve learned a few things along the way about entering a well-established organization as an intrapreneur and applying the startup mentality to legacy companies. A few I’d like to pass on:

• Choose the right company: How do you know if it’s “right?” Start by looking for a history of bold and unexpected innovations. Are they early technology embracers? Do they make surprising, but ultimately profitable, business decisions or acquisitions? Are their C-level executives considered thought leaders within the industry? If so, your own pioneering spirit may be welcome there.

• Consider your direct leadership: Try to work for someone who values curiosity, rewards prudent risk-taking and recognizes your potential by giving you the whitespace and resources to effect change.

• Listen to the market: As media professionals, we have a nearly omniscient view of trends, as well as the instinct to know which are here to stay. If something is on your radar and not falling off, that may be a cue to pivot with technology and find new revenue and business opportunities.

• Create a culture of innovation: All too often, talented employees feel like they need to leave to succeed. In many cases, the next big thing may be sitting right next to you.

• Seize opportunities: This may require challenging the conventional wisdom of your mentors and managers. It’s not about checking off a box or following a traditional career path. Think of it as a journey, your career narrative. What do you want it to say?  You may find a startup is more rewarding than a move up the corporate ladder.

Those with an entrepreneurial spirit shouldn’t see growing with the same company over time as a throwback. If you choose the right corporation, there can be myriad opportunities to influence change from within.

Big companies, rather than looking outward for unconventional thinkers, should find and reward their intrapreneurs. They just might be the next big thing to impact the bottom line.

Follow Kristine Welker (@kristine_welker), Hearst (@HearstCorp) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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