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Intrapreneurship programmes often get criticised for being unstructured and ineffective.

Innovation consultant Alberto Onetti recently wrote that the majority of intrapreneurship programmes he has seen fail to produce meaningful results [and suggests ways of doing them better].

Worse yet, in a piece about the “dark side” of intrapreneurship, Tim Heard, founder of the Circle of Entrepreneurs, told the stories of entrepreneurs left in limbo, with little support structure.

So when I got the chance to have an inside look at SAP’s entrepreneurship programme recently, speaking with Vishal Shah, one of the entrepreneurs who has come through the programme and with Alexandra Begue, head of growth at the programme, I was curious to see how this one measures up.

The programme was revamped in 2015 and since then has assessed something in the region of 3000 ideas and produced 3 businesses, one of which has gone on to become its own business unit.

How the intrapreneurship programme fits in with the rest of SAP

Like many large organisations, SAP has a large number of innovation initiatives, for both “internal” startups that had been incubated within SAP and “external” startups that might want to work with SAP .

On the external side, SAP.iO Foundries is a network of equity-free accelerators for startups and SAP.iO Rising Stars is a program that helps promising startups scale up their partnerships with SAP.

On the internal side, the SAP intrapreneurship programme is a company-wide, internal scouting programme and SAP Venture Studio is a venture building unit in which takes the most promising of those scouted projects and turns them into commercial businesses.

These internally-built ventures most often become part of one of SAP’s existing business units. SAP Supplier Financing, for example, was a successful venture built by Vishal Shah, founder and general manager, in the venture studio. It was eventually merged with SAP’s Ariba Network, the ecommerce network.

How the intrapreneurship programme works

There is a call-out for ideas every spring between April and May, which will typically result in around 500 ideas submitted to the innovation team. Submitting an idea involves recording a short video, explaining the project and answering 6 key questions around whether the project can achieve mass scale, whether it can be efficiently tested and if SAP can leverage any particular advantage in pursuing the idea.

The innovation team will cull the initial 500 ideas down to 100 which will go through to a fast-track validation phase that takes around 3 months. The fast track teams receive mentoring and help in developing their idea.

Some 25 of the most promising of the ideas will go through to an 3-week accelerator programme, where they get an even more intense crash course in entrepreneurship and venture-building.

At the end of the accelerator programme, the teams pitch to an investment committee and around a handful go on to join the SAP.iO venture studio.

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