Every business is an incubator

We probably all agree about the great amount of wealth entrepreneurs create for our society. We love to see their latest ventures thrive and we are all eyes when a successful entrepreneur announces a new project. Having started and co-founded a few businesses myself, I am in the first row to celebrate Quebec’s latest entrepreneurial revival.

But what if entrepreneurs were their own worst enemies?

A coin is always two-sided. For every new venture that carves its niche, reinvents its industry, and gets all the attention, there is a cost. A cost for other entrepreneurs who give up some of their market share, become obsolete, or worse, are so frightened that they try to survive by blocking newcomers, instead of taking their arrival as a chance to make their own business better. Success can blind us. Being an industry leader for too long can make us forget what brought us there: the energy to build and create something new, something better, and something which can change the industry from what it was before we arrived. The answer to that is intrapreneurship.

When the most valuable employee doesn’t even look like one! Most entrepreneurs have heard the term and already mastered the concept. For others, intrapreneurs are, as Edelman’s global strategy director, David Armano puts it, “individuals who possess entrepreneurial traits but work best within the structure of an organization, versus being out on their own. These individuals are naturally drawn to change proactively seeking it out and often looking for ways to bring about change within their own organizations.” Intrapreneurs are a business’s most valuable asset. We must embrace their ideas, and provide them the space and resources to bring their ideas to life for our mutual benefit.

Taking risks is not for everyone Some may ask why an entrepreneurial mind would wish to give his idea to someone else. Reasons are many, the first being that everyone has his own definition of success. You may wish to build a company and run it on the long term; others prefer to see their ideas come to life, take pride in their success and immediately go on to something new. Some may aim to start their own business, but have too much of an aversion to risk to do it on their own. That is where their employers come in, taking a share of the profit in the process. In exchange for support, a share of the risk and resources, you get to remain a disruptive and creative force among your industry, and continuously reinvent your various revenue streams. Just think of Apple’s revival when they launched the iPod back in 2001.

There is nothing new about the concept I am far from bringing anything new to the table with this concept. Intrapreneurship meetups already take place worldwide, and many businesses have already seen the potential of investing in an employee’s project. We just have to think of Google’s famous 1% policy, where employees can invest 1% of their paid time to work on personal projects on Google’s behalf. But Google aside, companies who benefited from employee initiative- either starting a new joint-venture or re-inventing their current business model- are numerous. The PlayStation came from a Sony employee who spent hours modifying his daughter’s Nintendo. The Post-it sprang from a 3M employee who saw potential in a failed attempt at creating a new superglue.

Adapting the model to Quebec’s reality But what about here? Why are we speaking so little about it? Are we still too afraid to praise the success of others, or even ourselves, to support the creators of tomorrow’s corporate landscape? Or is the model not adapted to our reality? I believe our Quebec society is perfect for intrapreneurs. All we need to change is our mentality. I believe our people may be a little risk-averse, as employee wages tend to be lower than elsewhere. We have built many leading companies in the last few decades, which would have more interest in reinventing themselves as they start to see foreign investors as the easiest way-out or means of survival. Above all, our younger generation shows more business creativity than ever before. All we have to do now is disrupt our model. Try to stop punching clocks and paying a minimum for the hours worked. Stop forcing employees to take vacation during the slow season. Let’s give them back their free time. Encourage them to work on their ideas, and give them part of the ownership for doing so. It can only be a win-win situation. Our business will get a new edge from spin-offs, new products and game-changing practices. You say you fear losing your most brilliant employee as he leaves to manage his new spin-off? So what! You will still be rewarded for his work as his shareholder- and you likely wouldn’t even have realized he was brilliant had you not given him this opportunity!

There is a world of opportunities. All we are missing is the manpower to take action Business opportunities are limitless, and Quebec’s young brains never stop coming up with new, revolutionary ideas. What they need is the time to build them, and, sometimes, the security to keep feeding their families while doing so. As entrepreneurs, we have the power and tools to offer them, and ourselves, an opportunity to show the world that our companies are built to disrupt tomorrow’s market, not fade with yesterday’s.

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