In my role as Head of Startup Initiatives at Swisscom I am not only responsible to scout the “right” startups for the different business units at Swisscom. In addition, my team is running an intrapreneurship program called “Kickbox”. How are two approaches connected and how to they interfere with each other?
The intrapreneurship program that we are running is inspired by Adobe´s Kickbox initiative that fosters employee innovation activities through a combination of providing resources (time and budget), a structured stage gate process and strong entrepreneurial coaching. We´ve been running the project over a year now and have so far coached over 100 so called “intrapreneurs” into taking their project from idea stage into implementation. More about “Kickbox” here.
So far, 100 participants went through the Kickbox process. 15 of them made it to the BlueBox (2nd phase), where they can develop a pitch for the 3rd phase, the GoldBox, which means an investment into product development and freeing up resources out of their current positions. They also receive the opportunity to test their prototypes with potential customers. Two of the 100 participants already made it to the GoldBox, which means that they can push their project, fulltime, forward.
We had several discussions during the process that illustrate some of the dilemmas around external vs. internal innovation:
Invest in our own solution or buy what is readily available?
One of our teams plans to develop a solution that could be part of our services to end-consumers. There are two options how to move forward: If we let the Kickbox team develop it, we´ll need to invest CHF 0.5-1m and at least 18 months to come to a stage that is comparable to a solution readily available today. We would own the full IP and could even sell the software to outside entities. In the alternative scenario, we would use a solution from the market which is already tested and thus reduce the risk. And we would only need to pay the license and not cover the full development cost.
Who owns the IP of an internally developed solution and what happens in case of a spin-off?
We have had some kickboxers struggle with the idea that the IP of their activities should be with Swisscom and not with themselves. In our program, we offer to use company resources (money) and develop the projects fully during your work time. So it seems natural, that the employee cannot assume to benefit from any upside (e.g. revenues) without having to invest by sharing the risk. It is a different discussion if Swisscom doesn’t want to take an innovation to the next level and an employee decides to leave Swisscom to build the idea without corporate support. In that case we typically don´t want to own the IP but let the employee take over what was developed – if no substantial conflict of interest arises.
Do we want to develop solutions that fish in our customer´s ponds?
Another conflict arises out of the fact that some of our most innovation growth areas will compete outside of the core business of Swisscom. And this will touch markets where our telco customers operate in today. We had several cases in which we had to discuss without account managers if/how a kickboxer might be entering our customer´s space. Together we try to weigh out the risk of investing a couple of million revenues of a customer in our core business for an “experiment” of one of our intrapreneurs.
So, I guess it will continue to be like this: On the one hand, I am an evangelist to leverage external innovation because it can enable a faster go-to-market, minimize the technology risk and doesn´t require investment into developing a solution. On the other hand, we are pushing internal innovation through enablement of our intrapreneurs residing within Swisscom to explore new fields and transform the whole corporation towards being more innovative!