Entre-Employees Bring Innovation In-House
Subscribe today for Free Enterprise Updates
- Latest business trends and best practices
- News about legislation and regulation impacting business
- Business how-to articles from industry experts
- Commentary and interviews with newsmakers in business and politics
Entrepreneurship is most often associated with start-ups and young companies, but some established businesses are finding ways to foster and benefit from it by empowering employees to produce their own products and even start new businesses on company time.
It may seem counterintuitive, but giving “entre-employees” an opportunity to pursue their own ideas on the company dime can lead to big breakthroughs and new products that help companies maintain their entrepreneurial edge.
Making Time to Innovate
Some companies have introduced Innovation Time Off policies.
For example, since 1948, 3M has encouraged employees to use 15% of their work week to focus on their own ideas, using company resources to produce new innovations. This led to the creation of products like the Post-It note and more recently, a new kind of sanding paper. The success of this innovation time policy has encouraged other companies to follow suit.
At Google, employees take 20% of their work week to do whatever they want. Employees can use this time to play a game or take a long lunch, but the intention is for employees to use this time to pursue ideas and projects that interest them. This has yielded important breakthroughs , such as Gmail and Google News.
"When you're passionate about something and it's an idea you believe in, you're bound to work harder on it," Google employee Alec Proudfoot told CNN in 2008. "Just about all the good ideas here at Google have bubbled up from 20 percent time, or something like 20 percent time, where people have their own idea and run with it.”
Quicken Loans’ r BulletTime program, which gives employees half a workday a week to focus on personal projects, produced asmartphone application showing the location of the company’s more than 100 conference rooms. As a result, employees more often show up on time for meetings.
When high salaries and extra vacation are no longer enough to entice the best and brightest, particularly young employees just entering the workforce, policies and programs that allow employees to focus on their own ideas can be a critical selling point.
"The younger generation wants something more,” says Inc. columnist Paul Spiegelman. “They’re realizing that their work should be something more than just a paycheck…The employers that let their employees pursue their personal vision will have the best chance of attracting talent.”
AppDirect, a cloud service marketplace, allows employees to develop their own products during business hours and then launch startups based on those products. The company’s three-year Developer Incubator program gives full-time employees an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship and develop a startup. Employees spend their first year working on AppDirect projects and then turn to developing their own product and company for the remaining years. During this time, they use AppDirect’s facilities and resources and enjoy a regular paycheck – something most entrepreneurs forgo when growing their startup.
AppDirect’s President and CEO Daniel Sacks says, “the program is a unique, innovative way to engage developers and give them a risk-free way to pursue their dream of launching their own startups. We not only want to work with great engineers, but also enable them to make the jump from developer to entrepreneur.”
While innovators receive entrepreneurship support and education, AppDirect receives access to innovative, motivated employees who contribute to a culture of problem solving and new ideas. AppDirect is itself a young company, and giving innovators a place to develop a new business without giving up equity or ownership to their employer has helped AppDirect attract the employees it needs.
Even without the potential to launch a startup, programs that allow employees to follow their innovative instincts attract high-skilled workers because,says Forrester Research analyst Doug Williams, “It's energizing for employees to take a break from their day-to-day business and think creatively about solving other problems or using technology in a different way.”