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February 1, 2017updated 02 Feb 2017 8:52am

Developing the next army of intrapreneurs – supporting UK innovation

Developing the next generation of intrapreneurs is vital to realising the innovation needed to drive productivity in the UK, argues Cisco's Alison Vincent.

By Ellie Burns

Towards the end of 2016, the Autumn Statement clearly set the scene in terms of the role innovation has to play in the drive to boost UK productivity and the significance of doing so.

Of the £23 billion in high-value investment expected to come from the National Productivity Investment Fund from 2017-18 to 2021-22, £4.7 billion has been set aside to enhance the UK’s position as a world leader in science and innovation.

Alison Vincent - developing next-gen intrapreneurs

Alison Vincent, CTO, Cisco UK&I

Furthermore, Prime Minister Theresa May earlier last week revealed her ‘active’ industrial strategy, announcing greater investment in the UK’s infrastructure, supporting the development of STEM skills and driving business growth across the country.

With more than £170m to be invested in creating new institutes of technology, it is clear that innovation is at the centre of the UK’s drive for growth and productivity, but how do businesses realise this potential?


Making the investment a reality

Businesses understand the importance of innovation and will be looking to capitalise on this investment – but good ideas have to come from somewhere and they need to be actioned to deliver value back to the business.

The assumption with innovation is that smaller is better, that small organisations are more agile and free of red tape, therefore find it easier to be innovative. However, the ability to develop new ideas and take them to market doesn’t only depend on a company’s size. With the right culture, employees and a flexible and inclusive company structure, even the biggest enterprises can be innovative.

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Larger organisations often have more resources to throw at an innovative idea but can struggle to identify and foster one in the first place, which is why they need to encourage intrapreneurship – the freedom to think and behave more like an entrepreneur, but within a larger business. Empowering these intrapreneurs is vital if companies are going to succeed in evolving, innovating and thriving as competition across the tech sector increases.


Elevating good ideas

There was a time when top-down management hierarchies were the norm, with power, change and innovation starting in the boardroom. Today, however, we’re seeing more companies take on more of an inclusive management structure that encourages ideas to filter up from every level and every part of the organisation. To do this effectively, organisations need to create an atmosphere where everyone is approachable and all voices have the right to be heard. There needs to be a clear path to the top.

developing the next generation of intrapreneurs

Taking the time to realise true potential

Once approved by the leadership team, good ideas take a lot of investment before they come into fruition. Whether it’s financial or the input of vital resources such as time, it is important that businesses give employees the support they need to develop new ideas. Even if that means taking them away from their day jobs at certain points or for a set period of time to really focus on making a new product or service a success. The opportunity to have that focus and mentoring can be the tipping point to true greatness and making a real impact.

Furthermore, when embracing an intrapreneurial ethos, businesses must give employees the chance to fail. If your employees are scared of failing they’re much less likely to risk pursuing what could end up being the next billion-pound idea. In contrast, if they have the network and the encompassing company culture that will nurture and help learn from these mistakes, innovation will no doubt follow.


Encouraging the intrapreneurial spirit

What is clear when discussing innovation is that it starts and ends with people! Building an intrapreneurial spirit with a culture that thrives on pushing boundaries, supporting technological evolution and investing time in new ideas has never been more important for businesses looking to innovate. Going forward, it will be the companies that have the right culture and invest in their employees – regardless of their size – that will develop the next generation of intrapreneurs and create ideas, solutions and technology that continues to drive UK digitisation now, and into the future.



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