What does it take to be a successful corporate entrepreneur?

A quiet transformation has been happening in the world of big business innovation, one that has, until now, been overshadowed by the much louder start-up revolution.

Corporate innovators are launching winning new products, services and businesses created with purpose, from 3D mirrors that help consumers make in-store purchase decisions at Rigby & Peller, to new ventures like Future Lab that turned LEGO into the biggest toy manufacturer in the world (2014).

These propositions are designed to have impact and those responsible are seeking, and gaining, recognition for them. Corporate entrepreneurs are hungrier than ever for success, both commercial and personal. And a drive to deliver new experiences is appearing across all sectors, not just among disruptive-startups-turned-digital-giants like Google and Amazon. So what do these innovators have in common? How are they driving a culture shift at board level, finally breaking the constraints of business as usual?

Characteristics of successful corporate entrepreneurs

  • Customer-centricity – Successful corporate entrepreneurs are more focused than ever on customer insight, realigning their businesses to deliver exceptional propositions
  • Boldness – They enjoy stepping outside of their comfort zone to challenge their thinking and take purposeful risks to create commercial opportunities
  • Empowerment – Individuals and teams working in innovation are winning their boards’ trust, gaining recognition that failure is a necessary part of the innovation process

Tami Hargreaves, Digital Consumer Payments for bPay, at Barclaycard, winner of the Innovators’ Choice Award at the recent Market Gravity Corporate Entrepreneur Awards, advises, "...learn fast, be brave, be courageous and allow yourself to fail, but learn quickly from it. Course-correct and pivot".

Embedding the role of the corporate entrepreneur

Corporate entrepreneurs are establishing and defining their roles within their businesses, with commercial growth at the forefront of their minds.

It’s not about clichéd teams in skunkworks, dressing down, sitting on beanbags and breaking the rules – these intrapreneurs work across all functions, from strategy to proposition design, technical and beyond.

Putting innovation at the heart of business

As innovation becomes embedded throughout their businesses, intrapreneurs are causing a corporate cultural shift and seeking recognition for the role they play in growing their businesses.

It’s not just about ‘me too’ products – they want to change their industries and the world with new innovations and ventures. Genuine, purposeful market disruption is on the cards from big businesses.

So what do we expect successful corporate entrepreneurs to be driving in 2016?

  • Greater emphasis on innovation culture, codifying innovation as a core pillar of their businesses
  • More incubation and acceleration to develop winning innovations in-house or in partnership
  • Increased emphasis on the customer, incorporating customers into the development process earlier and in wider, more creative ways, from co-creation to competitions and more


The big business revolution is finally stepping out of the start-up shadow and is only going to get louder.

What are you driving forward in 2016? What other traits do you think successful corporate entrepreneurs have? Let us know @Market_Gravity.

For the 6th year running, Market Gravity hosted its biggest 2015 Corporate Entrepreneur Awards. Over 400 of Europe’s most creative and disruptive entrepreneurs joined us in London to celebrate big business innovation. We saw a record number of nominations this year, with over 100 submissions across the four independently judged categories. A range of industries were represented across the awards categories, including automotive, charity, oil and gas, beverages, financial services, real estate, hospitality and gambling.

Read about the winning innovations at the 2015 Corporate Entrepreneur Awards here.

Hear what the winners had to say in our highlights film.

Empowerment to the people

How can big businesses get back to the innovation and execution efficiencies they need to compete in the aggressive global markets of today?

In my last blog, I discussed the role of growth in cities and big business and concluded that big businesses across the world struggle to grow, due to inefficiencies in their operating model.  Furthermore that this was driven by falling transaction costs and that now was a more important time to innovate than ever before.

I’ve recently been listening to Creativity Inc. the story of Pixar told through the eyes of its president, Ed Catmull.  One of the key themes he discusses is the idea of empowerment of its employees, but how does one stimulate this whilst not losing control and momentum.  Enabling people to feel empowered through accountability and responsibility for their work yes, but there is also need to create passion.

Reflecting on many big businesses that I see today, hierarchy and operational performance metrics take passion away from frontline employees, who wish to deliver for their customers.  Whilst many managers want their employees to have this empowerment and passion, they also have concerns that creating these ‘flatter’ structures may destabilise the operating model into chaos and losses.  So how can this be avoided?  Holocracy may hold the key not just to getting the business to be more passionate about its customer, but also to unlocking innovation and growth.

Holocracy is an organizational operating model that removes hierarchical control within an organization whilst delivering clear accountability.  The holocracy model actually has more structure than the traditional hierarchical managerial models, but does this through creating smaller highly accountable and empowered teams with clear remits.  It shouldn’t really be a surprise that this model has emerged, considering the paradigm forces that advances in communication technologies have driven (see my previous blog).  There are many examples of businesses that are seeing success and sustained profits using this model, from Uber and Airbnb to Zappos and even Ed Catmull describes Pixar’s success through an organizational model such as this.

In my previous blog, I also discussed the role of social networks within cities as a key driving force for faster innovation rates and how innovation is generally much slower in big businesses in comparison.   So here’s the kicker, if senior managers want their businesses to innovate and grow faster they need to create ‘flatter’ organisational structures that empower their employees to take responsibly and become empowered so they can in turn empower their customers.

At Market Gravity, we are experts at empowering teams in big businesses to work together and make big ideas real, if you'd like to find out how get in touch.