By Jan Kennedy
Many of you have been closely following the developments of AfCE since our launch in 2014, when we were just the seedling of an idea, to try and shape how corporates innovate, by offering a more entrepreneurial approach. Many of you have been following us more recently. This is a letter to all of you! We summarize the most important steps in our journey and the components that we feel made our success.
Vision – Plan for Growth
What we did: 500% Growth, 400 Intrapreneurs trained
In 2017, whilst experimenting with our approach to intrapreneurship programs, we managed to grow by 500% YoY and this year we also doubled our revenues, proving market traction. As of today, we are close to having trained 400 Intrapreneurs, in 21 countries using 5 languages.
At AfCE “training” does not mean you have attended a one-day workshop or completed a small online course. We mean that 400 Intrapreneurs have been thoroughly guided along their own entrepreneurial journey with structured curriculum and mentoring over a period of at least 3 months, potentially up to 9 months, achieving great results in exploring and validating new innovative ventures.
I am exceptionally proud of these forward thinking employees who take up the challenge to do, what is arguably one of the most difficult tasks one could pursue within a corporate, and show resilience, openness, and creativity to learn a new mindset and skill that is corporate entrepreneurship.
What we learnt: Build a program that can scale. Have a product roadmap from day 1 even though you test and roll them out iteratively.
People – Work With Experts
What we did – Grew our mentor team to 30 international mentors
I know our growing pool of 30 mentors are super proud too and I’d like to thank them for their amazing support and guidance of our teams.
What we learnt: Maximise the client & program value by involving world-class mentors that can cover all potential areas for what’s important.
Problem – Solve a Customer Problem End2End
What we did: One Framework: Ideation > Discovery > Incubation > Launch
2018 was about going beyond our flagship Corporate Startup Accelerator program and evolving an end to end support structure that guides Intrapreneurs through the 4 main phases of Innovation: Ideation, Discovery, Incubation and Launch (learn more about the innovation phases in my video).
Let me touch on some of the big implementations we made and the plans we are forging.
What we learnt: Show the whole picture. Structure your Program and Services along your Customer Journey.
Product – Create Quick Wins for Your Customers
What we did: Launched and improved Adobe KickBox Program by 400%
One of the biggest achievements this year was re-designing the original Adobe Kickbox Program into a more serious innovation program.
I was sceptical at first, but later saw how combining some of our e-learning, mentoring and assignments could improve what Adobe had started. Our Kickbox is already showing a 400% improvement in conversion rates of teams successfully advancing to the end of the program and we view it as a great opportunity for organisations to get started with and to scale innovation at lower cost.
Our lead Project Manager Merlijn as well as Wen Xin were instrumental in the Kickbox effort. Soon, this program (along with everything else we do) will be available in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Chinese.
What we learnt: Build on/Leverage working models and improve further instead of re-inventing the wheel from scratch. We also learnt that organisations appreciate it if employees can learn through supporting eLearning anytime & anywhere on their own pace.
Customer – Understand Their Needs
What we did: Created A Lean Experiment Playbook with 25+ Examples
A team’s ability to quickly run lean startup experiments to test assumptions is probably the biggest hurdle facing intrapreneurs. Our partner CTO Narjeet Soni along with lead mentor Caroline Hooft-Slootweg have streamlined how our Prototype Fund works.
Through a digital Lean Experiment Playbook, where 25 experiment types are explained with examples, we can link teams to the exact developer, marketing, design and project management resources they need to set up their customised experiment, quickly and at low cost.
Depending on the scope of the project and budget, we can scale the fund up or down and balance budgets across multiple teams using different amounts to ensure each team maximises the funds available. As we advance into 2019, we will further specify this offering for various industries where we know running experiments is difficult, for example within pharmaceuticals or the food industry. It will also be possible for clients to use the Prototype Fund separate to any AfCE mentoring program meaning they can plug it into their existing programs and activities. We have already experienced a leading innovation consultancy using this approach to better serve their client.
What we learnt: Put yourself in your Customer’s shoes and deeply understand what they struggle most with. Solve their biggest pains.
Early Adopters – Know & Stay Close
What we did: Created 3 Executive Offering for Innovation Leaders
By the middle of 2018 we became somewhat concerned we were neglecting the needs of Innovation Managers, as most of our focus was on developing Intrapreneurs. Ultimately, their is a danger of creating “orphan products” if management are not ensuring our teams innovate on the right things, as well as doing the innovating right. We therefore further partnered with one of our longest serving mentors Dan Toma and decided to take some pages from his book The Corporate Startup co-authored with Tendayi Viki and Esther Gons.
The result is 3 executive offerings designed to support the activities management need to lead at the Ideation Phase, the Discovery Phase as well as the Incubation Phase ensuring our team’s innovation efforts are not in vain. You can check them out here (Portfolio Mapping & Innovation Thesis, Innovation Accounting for Discovery and Innovation Accounting for Incubation). Thanks to our COO Valerie who put this together with Dan and has started rolling these offerings out (Valerie is also a lead mentor).
What we learnt: Continously improve your products by working with the best in your field and involving your Early Adopters and Extreme Users.
Engagement – Keep users engaged
What we did: Added Innovation Certifications for Employees going through our programs.
During 2018, I personally became concerned that we were not living up to our name of being an Academy. We are not consultants and we are a bit different to your typical agency. I’m not actually sure what category we are, as we are not a traditional educational institution either. Maybe we are a modern hybrid of all 3?
Let me know if you have any ideas, but the point is that by going through our programs, which are quite tough, you develop an entrepreneurial mindset and skills. If you perform well, or at least satisfactorily, you should be recognised for those skills and the performance you gave during the program. With the help of our designer Tiffany working with Merlijn, we therefore created 6 levels of achievement.
These are awarded when participants complete different variations of our programs as they progress through Ideation, Discovery, Incubation and the Launch phases of the Innovation process. Each level is represented by a badge depicting a famous relevant Entrepreneur as well as a digital certificate that can be added to your LinkedIn profile under achievements. The whole setup looks really cool and our participants are loving sharing their certificates on social media. Check out our new certifications (see an example).
What we learnt: Think of ways to gamify and incentivize your users. Measure activation, retention and referral along your funnel to understand how well your product is performing and how satisfied your customers are.
Innovation – Keep re-inventing yourself
What we did: Offer Train The Trainers so companies can faster scale their innovation programs and become less dependent on external consultants.
And the above leads me to a final implementation which I am really happy about. We’ve been wanting to do it for a long time but our clients were not yet ready for it. It has always been the goal of AfCE to create sustainable and scalable innovation programs using an entrepreneurial approach.
We believe that this is only possible if the mindset and skills are completely transferred to the best Intrapreneurs and Innovation Managers so that they themselves can become the internal mentors, rather than needing to use AfCE mentors. Yes, AfCE is disrupting its own business model – but that’s what real innovators do, right? If you don’t disrupt your own model, then someone else will, and we’ve designed that into our model since day 1.
This means, we are now actually at the point to offer train the trainer programs to Intrapreneurs who have proven themselves and are ready to become internal mentors themselves, meaning our clients won’t need to pay us nearly as much for their next implementation! Let me just pause here for a second, as many people believe train the trainer means something like: “I talk to you for a day about what you are going to do, and then you are going to be able to go off and do it, perfectly of course”.
I believe you can only mentor someone if you have yourself “been there and done that” with the stories and scars to show for it. Our train the trainer programs are therefore built on top of our other programs so that the mentor in training is being shadowed and guided during real world implementations. They will receive “mentor” badges and certificates across 6 levels depending on what level (and which programs) they want to offer internal mentoring to others for. We are also offering this for the Innovation Managers, not just Intrapreneurs, in order to create a sustainable and scalable ecosystem.
What we learnt: Think about ways to disrupt yourself. Keep upgrading your business. Do what’s right for the customer. Provide maximal value. Good work comes from experience, not theoretical reading.
Marketing – Be where your customers are
What we did: Updated the entire website, marketing materials and social channels
So as you can see a lot is happening. Our new website reflects a lot of this and Malisse has been instrumental in making that happen, along with new marketing collateral and setting up a partner network for like minded organisations to join our quest.
You should also notice our online presence a lot more in 2019 as we start to push out online marketing initiatives . In 2019 we will do more to celebrate the success of our teams and the strategies our clients are implementing, similar to this Harvard Business Review article about Bayer’s Corporate Entrepreneurship programs.
What we learnt: Doing good work is your best referral. Help your clients win and shine.
We have also beefed up our business development team so that I receive support in discussing corporate entrepreneurship strategies with more innovation managers in more languages – Aernout, Karl-Heinz and Sofia will be ready to discuss program designs with more prospects from January 2019.
You will see our team at the
- Merit Executive Education Summit in Vienna (Jan 16/17)
- the Lean Startup Summit in Berlin (Feb 11/12)
- the Innovation Roundtable in London (May 14th).
Let us know if you plan to attend any of those and we can book an appointment to discuss your needs.
Thank you all for your support and for following our journey. Here’s to helping over 1000 Intrapreneurs in 2019 make a real difference in their organisation and the world!
Founder & CEO