Why Intrapreneurship Matters

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion around bringing entrepreneurship to government.

Code for America has a great fellowship program that brings people from the tech world to work for 1 year with cities. The White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program serves a similar focus – matching small teams of outside entrepreneurs to solve government programs.

While I’m a fan of these programs, I do think there is an underlying belief in this outside entrepreneur model that the key to government innovation is outside talent and ideas. Outside ideas are important but I’d argue that many of the hurdles to government innovation isn’t a lack of new ideas but are often far less glamorous, but equally important – the difficulty of getting buy-in for new approaches, hard to change existing processes, and difficulty finding time to work on new initiatives.

Often, those ideas of change already exist in government – they just haven’t gathered attention and momentum. In my 6 years at DHS, that’s often how I felt – my co-workers and I had a lot of new ideas for technology and processes; but it was difficult to find the energy to move them forward.

That’s why I love the HHS Ignite program. It’s beauty is its simplicity. HHS employees can submit an idea for initial $10k seed funding on a project that can be completed within 6 months. With up to 8 project winners, this is a great way to see a number of upcoming projects but also a way to surface and support new ideas with the time necessary.

The beauty of government is that we already have millions of passionate public sector workers who want to innovate and solve new problems. As we look to solve new problems, let’s make sure we focus as much on fostering intrapreneurship as we do on outside entrepreneurship.

How is your agency fostering intrapreneurship?

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love it! great insights on roadblocks to change, this is a conversation we need to keep on having… inspiration is a real need for any team.

Noha Gaber

Totally agree, Steve! Intrapreneurship absolutely matters. Government employees possess a wealth of institutional knowledge and mission relevant ideas. I think programs like HHS Ignite and other innovation challenges and competitions present one approach to helping surface some of these ideas. But at the same time they can be viewed as this separate silo of “innovation” something that many government employees just don’t engage in because only a limited few can “win” the competition. We should be thinking about mainstreaming innovation, making it relevant to everyone’s job and helping employees to tap into their ingenuity to collectively help solve problems. I think what we’re now seeing in many sectors is a shift away from a view of innovation that focuses on a single innovator working away on their own or in a small team until they achieve a break-through to a view of innovation that embraces connecting collaborators across organizations, sectors and disciplines to get their brains together to solve problems (see for example, Time magazine’s cover story on finding a cure for cancer: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2139170,00.html)

I like the Coast Guard Innovation Group’s motto that Terry shared the link to below: Collaboration fuels innovation!

Karla Brandau

I definitely believe in intrapreneurship in government. Permitting employees to be entrepreneurial minded might have the unintended consequence of keeping valued employees who feel stifled. I have posted some innovation ideas at http://www.karlabrandau.com/innovation. I hope you enjoy them…and don’t be scared by the title, “Rise Above Your Competition which speaks to a corporate audience. The creative ideas work in any environment.