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Intrapreneurship stories to learn from

According to Deloitte, 88% of Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are no longer present in 2015. To understand what keeps a company profitable and sustainable, we can learn from other innovative companies.

Take the search engine, Ask Jeeves, which you can’t find anymore. While Google certainly isn’t the first search engine of its kind, it’s lived to tell the tale. How have companies like Google done it? 

The answer involves an approach to innovation that involves intrapreneurship. In this day and age, with technology exponentially increasing the pace of innovation, companies cannot be complacent. Another example is Blockbuster, a foreshadow of what happens if we don’t predict or adapt to trends.

Stifling the creativity of employers who have innovative ideas limits a company from moving into the future. Another example is what happened to Kodak. Kodak electrical engineer, Steven Sasson, invented and created the first digital camera. He presented his idea to executives, who saw the camera as a threat. They allowed him to produce a prototype, but he was asked to keep his invention quiet and the camera never became a reality. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy when they could not compete on the market of digital technology.

Many companies, however, have found successful ways to encourage intrapreneurship and develop these ideas into product lines. Here are some of the most inspiring intrapreneurship stories we can learn from. 

1. The Apple McIntosh

The idea: Steve Jobs and 20 Apple engineers split off from Apple to create the Apple Macintosh computer. The group operated independently, “without adult supervision,” as Apple officials put it at the time. 

The result: This group of creative employees created more diversity and competition for Apple’s main line of products. This eventually led to Jobs’ temporary leave from the company


2. The Post-It Note

The idea: 3M Spencer Silver invented a sticky adhesive that Art Fry, a fellow 3M employee discovered when searching for a way to keep pages in his books. 

The result: Silver and Fry began developing the product after realizing the potential to share messages around the office. Fry supplied the company with the sticky notes and they were loved by everyone. Post-Its now generate ~$1billion annually.


3. Sony PlayStation

The idea: While now a globally recognized phenomenon, the PlayStation was initially a project that garnered resistance. Sony junior staff member Ken Kutaragi, a self-proclaimed ‘tinkerer’ worked with Nintendo developers to make the PlayStation a reality.

The result: Nintendo rejected the idea, but Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) has become the company’s most profitable business line. Kutaragi became the Chairman and Group CEO of SCE and became “The Father of the PlayStation.”

4. Google’s 20%

The idea: Google’s 20% time is a famous example of large-scale intrapreneurship. Google introduced a policy called “Innovation Time Off” where engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their paid time on projects they are passionate about. 

The result: Various independent projects have now become major Google lines of business, such as Gmail, Google News, and AdSense.


5. Starbucks

The idea: Starbucks, founded in 1971 had a mission to become a “third place” to go, to provide a relaxing environment and experience for its customers. One barista decided to start writing the names of customers on cups.

The result: The idea was shared with the corporate office. Months later, this ‘first-name’ approach became a standard at every Starbucks store. The company has since launched designated advertising efforts to promote this personalized touch. Today, this ‘first-name’ approach is used four billion times a year at 30,000 locations globally.


6. Southwest Airlines

The idea: Flight attendant Martha Cobbs became tired of her standard safety announcement monologues, and decided to add some humor and heart into it. “In the event you haven’t been in an automobile since 1960, our flight attendants will now show you how to fasten a seatbelt.” Comments like these would leave passengers laughing.

The result: Cobbs garnered YouTube fame through recordings of her announcements, and Southwest began to encourage staff to embrace humor. Southwest Airlines’ safety announcements are estimated to be worth $140m a year in increased customer loyalty.


7. Amazon Prime

The idea: Could you imagine Amazon without Amazon Prime? Amazon’s The Prime membership idea was created by Amazon employees led by Amazon VP Greg Greeley, who believed that customers would pay more to be part of an exclusive membership that gave them two-day delivery, considered a luxury back then.

The result: Prime now generates over $19 billion per year on subscriptions alone and 1 in 3 Americans has a Prime membership.


8. McDonald’s Happy Meal

The idea: In 1977, St. Louis regional manager, Dick Brams began trying a new meal just for kids. He pitched his boxed idea to management, and two years later, McDonald’s rolled out its first circus-themed Happy Meal.  

The result: Happy Meals have become so essential to McDonald’s business and brand identity  that 3 million Happy Meals are sold every day.


9. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos

The idea: In the mid 1980’s, Frito-Lay CEO announced an initiative for all 300,000 employees to “act like an owner.” Richard Montañez, a janitor, took up the CEO’s offer and met with him. Noticing that there was no product catering to Latinos, he added a home-made spice mix to some Cheetos and brought them to his meeting. 

The result: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is now one of Frito-Lay’s most successful launches ever. Montańez later became a VP of MultiCultural Sales and Community Promotions at PepsiCo, amassing a personal fortune of over $20million.