Intrapreneurship is a superpower that drives innovation for any organization, waiting to be unlocked.

To harness this power, corporates should prioritize people whilst blending innovation and creativity with structure and focus. Embracing the chaos in between is crucial.

Easier said than done? Read what Daniel Alexus (Head at Ericsson ONE) shared during our recent Innov8rs Learning Lab on Culture, Talent & Teams how they created a unique program that encourages disruptive innovation and breakthrough ideas inside a big global company.

Why Unlock Intrapreneurship?

While it's true that large corporations that have been around for decades have the resources and experience to innovate, they may not always be good at valuing the entrepreneurial skills of their employees. This is because big corporations tend to have well-established structures and processes that prioritize stability and efficiency over risk-taking and experimentation.

As a result, more entrepreneurial-minded employees may feel stifled within such an environment. They may not have the opportunity to fully express their creativity or explore their ideas. This can lead to frustration and a lack of fulfillment and ultimately prompt these employees to leave the company and start their own businesses outside.

Moreover, entrepreneurial employees who leave the company often take with them the knowledge, skills, and ideas they have developed while working for the corporation. This is a loss for the corporation, as they are losing valuable talent and innovation that could have been used to improve their own operations.

Ericsson has experienced something similar. Founded in 1876 in Stockholm, Sweden, Ericsson employs over 100,000 people in 180 countries around the globe. The company has always been good at innovation. Yet, a few years ago, they realized that rather than keeping and building new ventures internally, their talents often decided to leave the company and start their businesses outside. This, of course, translates into zero value creation for Ericsson and the loss of brilliant people.

To address this issue, they have started an intrapreneurship programs called Ericsson ONE that foster internal innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, providing employees with resources, support, and incentives to explore their ideas and take risks while still working within the company.

“If corporates provide the right support, they can turn ideas into unicorns. This will also empower employees to take risks and pursue new ideas.”

Intrapreneurship does require a repeatable, structured setup to be effective. How does Ericsson ONE work?

Intrapreneurship at Ericsson: Ericsson ONE

At Ericsson, they have a strong vision and are committed to creating a world where limitless connectivity improves people's lives, redefines business, and pioneers a sustainable future. This clear vision drives the overall company’s strategy, which centers around delivering superior customer experience and providing reliable and easy-to-use solutions for businesses.

To execute on this strategy, they first and foremost unlock the power of internal entrepreneurship through Ericsson ONE. They also rely on M&As, internal movements, and advance top-down strategic business initiatives to secure growth and capitalize on business opportunities.

Ericsson ONE is an internal accelerator for Ericsson employees with groundbreaking new business ideas. Through Ericsson ONE, they're given the opportunity to develop their ideas, build successful ventures that go beyond the core business, and become CEO of their own company.

Through Ericsson ONE, intrapreneurs are provided with everything they need to turn their ideas into reality, including: dedicated resources, training, funding, coaching and, most importantly, access to Ericsson's unique assets. In fact, they can leverage Ericsson’s technology platforms, extensive portfolio of 60,000 patents, global network of customers and partnerships, and a talented pool of 100,000 people with diverse capabilities. "By offering our employees this opportunity, we support them at every step of the innovation process while developing new products that benefit our customers”, says Daniel.

"Throughout the intrapreneurship journey, it's key to foster a culture of experimentation, risk-taking, quick iteration, and failing forward. Customer value creation must always come first".

The Ericsson ONE team, led by Daniel, has established a highly effective intrapreneurship process – based on lean startup methodology – that consists of several structured stages. It all starts with employees submitting ideas through Ericsson's open ideation platform, Idea Drop. The Ericsson ONE team reviews initial ideas and moves the most promising ones forward to the next stage. Intrapreneurs then undergo a rigorous incubation process that involves rapidly creating, testing, and validating their prototypes and building an MVP. As they progress through the stages, intrapreneurs need to pitch to various stakeholders to secure further investment.

So far, less than 1% of ideas have successfully made it to ignition, i.e., the phase where the venture is finally launched and the focus is on rapid growth and scaling. However, those that do make it to this critical point receive substantial investments to ensure that they launch and scale a new venture that fits the market and customer needs.

All the submitted ideas undergo a rigorous evaluation process based on four key criteria: desirability, feasibility, viability, and impact. Each criterion plays a varying role at different stages of the process. During the earliest stage, the focus is on addressing customers' real needs, so desirability is the most critical factor. As the idea progresses through the prototyping and production phases, feasibility and viability become increasingly important. In fact, on one side, it’s critical to determine whether the idea can be brought to life with the right technology, distribution channels, and talent within the company. On the other side, it’s essential to evaluate if the idea has the potential to become a sustainable and scalable business over time.

The fourth criterion, impact, holds equal importance across all phases. As Daniel explains, at Ericsson, ideas’ impact takes priority over financial opportunity because they want to ensure that the new businesses contribute to creating value for customers and the planet.

Ericsson ONE’s Projects

Every year, hundreds of intrapreneurs get the chance to turn their ideas into reality through Ericsson ONE. So far, more than 11,000 users have engaged on the Idea Drop platform, resulting in the submission of over 3,000 ideas and more than 250 investment decisions. Daniel shares updates on four promising projects Ericsson’s intrapreneurs are currently developing. He also discusses Digital Humans, a project that successfully graduated from the program in December 2022.

Connected Recycling: turning trash into cash. A revolutionary solution for the waste industry

Landfills are reaching capacity, and the amount of waste being burned has achieved unprecedented levels: plastic production and incineration spew out 850 million tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere each year, causing irreversible damage to our planet. A team of Ericsson ONE intrapreneurs is developing Connected Recycling, a solution to “save the world, one polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle at a time”. They plan to leverage the Ericsson fintech initiative, the Ericsson Wallet Platform, to turn trash into cash. By using this platform, they aim to financially incentivize recycling at scale in the Middle East and Africa region. Through direct financial compensation to consumers' e-wallets for every PET bottle they deposit, the team believes they can encourage people to recycle more effectively.

Connected Machine Vision: accelerating the adoption of machine vision in smart manufacturing

Ericsson Connected Machine is a revolutionary software platform that offers a cost-efficient and flexible machine vision solution for the manufacturing industry. Using cutting-edge artificial intelligence, it can support multiple cameras and use cases through a single system, making it easy to meet the unique needs of different production lines and factories. The solution has already been successfully demonstrated both internally, within Ericsson's own production line in China, and externally. The results are impressive, with production accuracy reaching over 99% compared to existing solutions.

Safe Work: modernizing and automating safety for field workers. Saving time and lives, and creating human impact

Preventable occupational incidents and illnesses are responsible for nearly 2 million deaths and $3 trillion in costs worldwide each year. Smarter solutions and technologies are crucial for improving workplace safety and reducing or avoiding preventable injuries and fatalities. Ericsson Safe Work aims to both modernize and automate safety for field workers, ultimately saving lives and time. By utilizing AI, Computer Vision, and IoT technology, they want to make the workplace safer and compliance easier for companies.

Drone Mobility: connect and control digital airspace securely

Drone Mobility is a cloud-based platform that facilitates safe, secure, and efficient drone fleet operations using Telecom Network Intelligence. This platform enables enterprise decision-makers to connect and manage drones securely and efficiently, with live streaming of drone data available through computers or mobile devices.

Digital Human: enabling the next generation of connected human experiences with real-time translation

Ericsson Digital Human leverages AI to effortlessly synchronize the video of any speaker with the audio in any language. This innovative solution bridges the gap between audiences worldwide more effectively than ever before, enabling meeting participants to speak, listen, collaborate, and connect in their preferred languages.

Intrapreneurship & Failure: Lessons Learned

Things rarely, if ever, work out as planned. Intrapreneurship programs are no exception. As innovators, we must accept this truth and embrace the chaos that comes with it to take corporate innovation to the next level. Failing forward – and so, turning failures and mistakes into opportunities for growth and learning – should become our mantra. Rather than being discouraged by failures, we should view them as a necessary part of the learning process and use them to inform future decisions and actions. This approach helps us move forward and encourages experimentation, risk-taking, and a growth mindset.

According to Daniel, embracing failing forward from the get-go always leads to more innovation and creativity within the company while also building resilience and perseverance. He emphasizes the importance of encouraging people to try and fail rather than not try, as setbacks are a part of the game.

In 2019, Ericsson bet on a tool that would unify all home smart devices to offer connectivity, entertainment, gaming, and 5G on a single platform. Unfortunately, despite having developed the product, they were forced to discontinue it in 2021.

However, the experience taught them three important lessons that continue to inform their intrapreneurship actions. First, listening to end-users is a priority. Second, testing the distribution channels' readiness needs to be part of the process. And third, it's important to figure out how much investment is required before embarking on a new venture.

“With innovation, it's often a case of either going big or going home”, concludes Daniel.