Evonik

Marta Canas Ventura

Marta and her team experienced what many intrapreneurs dread: having to close down their project. However, it was an indispensable learning experience for them.

What is your journey into Intrapreneurship?

I have always been obsessed with the unknown and with what I do not know. I studied physics, where I was in direct contact with my professor’s start-up and the questions from the industry. It ignited my interest in bringing these scientific ideas to the world. 

My first position at Evonik was in the Strategic Innovation Unit Creavis, where I was responsible for assessing new ideas from both a technological and a market perspective. I had the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting and futuristic topics, mostly focused on sustainable solutions, operating in a multidisciplinary and motivated group of colleagues.

One afternoon, we were testing one newly learned ideation method and came up with an idea for a digital business model in the chemicals industry. The goal of the idea was to reduce waste by gathering and analyzing data from across the value chain. We submitted our idea to the Global Ideation Jam. The Global Ideation Jam, developed together with Nosco, is Evonik’s innovation challenge to collect high-potential ideas and foster the entrepreneurial spirit across the globe. Our team ended up winning. The idea was, and still is, with great potential, but it has been parked for now. Despite this, it has been a great experience. I have learned and grown a lot through this journey – working on the idea, receiving coaching from Nosco, learning new tools and making an impact on the innovation culture through leading by example.

What happened after your idea was selected and where are you up to, today?

My initial focus was to build a team and make sure they were engaged and motivated. The project required a wide variety of capabilities. I did not cover all of them, so I was dependent on my team.

To begin with, I spent a lot of time talking to different people, getting a diverse input of knowledge. I validated various use cases, 40 in total. We decided to buy in extra help to help check these cases, by interviewing people, e.g. going to the pharmacy, talking to patients. By the end, we narrowed the number down to 3 different ones. 

We then built a mock-up of the app we wanted to develop for each of the cases. Based on the learnings, we were able to build our MVP internally. I learned a lot in the process of having to talk to people without having the technical solution ready. The MVP turned out to be a real break-through. 

However, we did not manage to cross the threshold the business side was expecting. I do still think it is a great idea with great potential, and maybe one day, it will be picked up again, by us or someone else.

What does a typical day look like?

I would spend time talking to different people – externals with industry or technical knowledge, experts in my network, and people suggested to me by others, e.g. my team members. I had a team to help, but it was not fully allocated. In essence, I was working alone, trying to keep the unofficial team motivated to participate as much as possible. My focus was always to keep them in the loop and to make sure they identify themselves with the problem that we were trying to solve. The result was an extra motivated team creating value that exceeded any expectations. We were working as a genuinely entrepreneurial team, intending to identify the hypothesis that we were working with and prioritizing them. It was about looking for ways to test them, even if it is not the expected procedure, and it was about engaging people to support us even if it was not the way you would usually do it.

What have been your biggest challenges?

New ideas come with uncertainty. We focused on reducing these, but no matter how hard you work, some will remain. The main challenge was presenting uncertainty to our stakeholders and decision-makers as something to embrace.

Being an intrapreneur in a big organization comes with the advantage of having easy access to many resources, and there are processes in place to handle everything. However, if we were to follow these processes strictly, we would not have gotten as far as we did. We had to find other ways. Otherwise, nothing would have happened. The challenge is to know about the processes, and then find ways of getting around them.

The challenge is to know about the processes, and then find ways of getting around them.

Can you share a success story?

To me, the real success was getting to create the MVP. It was a success because we were able to bring all these competencies and skills together - more than 140 people helped. Thanks to all their contributions, we were able to test an MVP in the real world in a relatively short time and low budget. And that was an eye-opener and an example to follow for many other colleagues. Those of us that participated are currently acting as multipliers of the intrapreneur mindset in very different functions within the company. 

What is one thing about intrapreneurship that you think is important to succeed?

The most important thing is to have a dedicated team. Using the power of motivated teams means working with people who love what they do, and that makes the difference. To succeed, you thus need to foster your team.

We, as individuals, are the ones building mental barriers, and in a corporate environment, it happens quickly. Breaking through these barriers is not an easy task, but when we manage, it can create so much value – to you, to the company you are working for, and to the next ones engaging in intrapreneurial projects.

Recommendations

BOOK

Orbiting the giant hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace

BEST ADVICE

“Get a mentor” – one that can help you assess the progress of the idea, from an outside-view (e.g. when it is time to pivot/stop).

QUOTE

“Be the change you want to see in the world”

PODCAST

Influence CHANGE at Work.

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