What Does Large Company Entrepreneurship Mean? (Explained)


Written by Peter Keszegh

Entrepreneurship isn't just for small startups; big companies are getting in on it too. For digital marketers, business owners, and entrepreneurs, there's a lot to learn from these giants. 

This article looks at large company entrepreneurship examples, showing how big businesses are thinking outside the box to stay ahead. They prove that even the biggest companies can innovate and act fast, just like a small startup. 

Let's dive into how they do it and what we can take away to apply to our own ventures.

Empty Interior of a Modern Office

Understanding large company entrepreneurship

When we think of entrepreneurship, we often imagine small startups. But there’s an increasing trend of entrepreneurship in bigger enterprises. Referred to as large company entrepreneurship, it involves the adoption of startup-like qualities by large companies to innovate and stay competitive.

One key aspect of this entrepreneurship style is a focus on innovation and agility. Unlike startups, large companies have budgets, but often lack the agility required to innovate. By fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship in their company, they’re able to do exactly that.

Empowering employees is also a key part of large company entrepreneurship. Companies are letting their employees think outside the box, and even work on new innovations during paid working hours.

That means they’re free to think about projects that may become the next big thing, or work on small projects dedicated to finding a niche or new products.

By adopting many of the qualities of startups, businesses can react much more nimbly to changes in the market, keep their workers motivated, and come up with more revenue streams. 

For example, Google’s famous “20% time” — where employees spend 20% of their working hours on passion projects outside their regular responsibilities — is a policy which helped lead the company to create products like Gmail and AdSense.

But it’s also not without its challenges. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship within a large enterprise requires a shift in the mindset of its employees and its leadership — first, it’s about being willing to take risks, then it’s about seeing failures as part of the innovation process, rather than a roadblock.

In short, large company entrepreneurship is about thinking and acting like a startup by businesses large enough to afford innovation. As digital marketers, business owners and entrepreneurs, there’s much to be learned from how enterprises are combining their creative fantasies with the rigors of scaling.

Employees in the Room Having a Board Meeting

Innovation in large company entrepreneurship

Innovation is the cornerstone of large company entrepreneurship, giving corporations the ability to move swiftly — similar to their smaller, startup counterparts. 

But more than just creating new products, this type of entrepreneurship is about rebuilding — processes, efficiency, old ways of reaching customers. The business landscape evolves every day, and companies unable to keep up with that pace will be left behind.

Because of this, companies are pouring more money into research and development (R&D) and attempting to create an environment where “thinking outside the box” isn’t such a cliché.

Think of companies like Apple and Amazon, who without innovation would have never been able to stay atop of their respective markets. Apple’s continuous evolution of both the design and usability of its products keeps them on top of the tech world. 

And Amazon’s ability to constantly push out new products, like the Alexa and fresh grocery delivery, all while exploring alternative markets like cloud computing and artificial intelligence, keeps them ahead of the e-commerce pack.

Incorporating innovation into a large company's DNA is a bit more difficult than for a startup. It generally involves:

  • Creating specific teams that exist solely for the purpose of R&D.
  • Encouraging internal innovation projects thought of by employees.
  • Collaborating with a startup (either independent or sometimes internal) to help think of new projects or technologies.
  • Investing in new technologies that could drastically disrupt your current business model.

Companies who decide to make innovation a priority report higher year-to-year revenue growth than those who don’t. And this trend isn’t just among the tech community — industries far and wide, from manufacturing to healthcare, are all seeing the benefits of innovation-driven entrepreneurship.

So in short, it isn’t just a matter of semantics when we say “innovation is everything” in the world of large company entrepreneurship — it truly is the pulse of this kind of company, from all industries.

Happy People Doing High-Five

Case studies: Successful large company entrepreneurship examples

Let's take a closer look at some big companies that got it right. This section is all about their stories, showing how large company entrepreneurship leads to real success and big changes.

Google Search Engine on Screen

Google’s “20% time” policy

As mentioned earlier, one of the most well-documented instances of large company entrepreneurship is the Google "20% time" policy. The initiative allowed employees to commit 20% of their time to any passion project — regardless of alignment with job description. 

The result was nothing short of success, generating some of the organization's most-used products. Gmail, the world's leading email service, and Google News, a news aggregator, were both products of this program. 

There’s so much potential in allowing employees to innovate and explore at their discretion. It shows that, when employees are encouraged to carve their own path, they can often develop solutions as impactful to the company as they are relevant to the consumer.

By having faith in their personnel to manage their time and direct their ideas, Google established a standard for the tech industry, and beyond, to innovate freely.

Most importantly, the policy shows the power of an environment that fosters experimentation. It sends the message that, at times, the products and services with the potential to revolutionize the market are only one new initiative away, provided that talented individuals are given the time to color outside the lines.

The Google "20% time" policy reinforces the idea that established companies can have a competitive edge by encouraging innovation across the board, promoting a culture that nurtures creative problem solving and endless improvement.

Amazon Concrete Building During Night Time

Amazon's culture of experimentation

The bedrock of Amazon's success is a relentless culture of experimentation. It's in the DNA of every member of the Amazon team to try new things, take bold risks, and learn from failures. Their theory: in the ultra-competitive world of e-commerce, inaction means irrelevance.

For instance, Amazon Web Services (AWS) started as an experiment to take advantage of Amazon's excess computing capacity, but it's now the global standard for cloud services. 

Similarly, Amazon Prime, a trailblazing customer loyalty program, was a calculated risk — and is now a fixture of Amazon's ability to enhance customer satisfaction and retention.

These examples underscore the importance of creating a culture in which trying new things is the norm — and where nobody expects everything they do to be an instant home run. Put simply, by focusing on learning and rapid iteration, Amazon continues to win at the game they started.

But Amazon's journey with experimentation is about improving and optimizing what it does as much as it is about inventing for its future. This relentless mix of effort ensures it continues to pivot quickly to new market dynamics and customer needs.

In short, Amazon’s culture of experimentation is a powerful demonstration of how more mature companies can retain a mindset and ethic of continuous exploration and learning as a route to ongoing innovation and growth, and an excellent blueprint for how to build such an environment.

Person Writing on Pink Sticky Notes

3M's Post-it Notes invention

The story of the invention of 3M’s Post-it Notes is one of large company entrepreneurship and innovation, arising from an unexpected discovery.

In the late 1960s, 3M scientist Spencer Silver was trying to create a super-strong adhesive, but instead he accidentally developed a low-tack, reusable adhesive. Without quite knowing what to do with this strange new material, Silver’s colleague Arthur Fry used it to make bookmarks for his hymnbook.

Fry’s insight eventually led to the development of Post-it Notes, one of 3M’s most successful and iconic products. The invention of Post-it Notes was made possible by fostering an environment in which employees are encouraged to share their passion and pursue their big ideas, no matter how odd they may seem.

This case demonstrates 3M’s commitment to this open culture of innovation in a number of additional ways. Another example is its “15% culture” — similar to Google’s “20% time policy” — which allows employees to use 15% of their work hours to work on projects of their choosing. 

This policy led to the creation of Post-it Notes and countless innovations from 3M. Since Silver and Fry’s idea was born in 1968, 3M has sold over 140 billion Post-it Notes.

The journey from a failed adhesive to a product so common and useful for so many consumers in businesses and homes shows that the path to success can be unpredictably indirect. It may also be one of struggle and determination. 

In the end, the invention and rise of Post-it Notes provides a perfect example of the value of exploration and being open to the serendipitous. That is, sometimes, innovation doesn’t have to be discovered as much as it needs to simply be noticed.

Black Samsung Android Smartphone on Top of Brown Wooden Tablke

Samsung’s strategic shift to high-tech

Samsung’s transition to high-tech reflects a larger tale of entrepreneurial capitalism within large corporations. Founded in 1938 as a small grocery trading company, Samsung underwent a dramatic transformation in the last quarter of the 20th century as it pivoted toward electronics and high-tech industries.

This shift was more than just a change in product line; it entailed a complete reboot of the company’s habits, mindset and business model.

Samsung’s decision to move into electronics during the late 1960s represented a visionary leap and a willingness to bet on a future where immediate returns were far from certain. But Samsung’s tenacity in the pursuit of progress allowed it to dominate a series of digital product categories.

The firm didn’t simply ride waves of technological change; it anticipated and shaped them through massive and sustained commitments to R&D, leading to a series of innovative products and technologies that placed Samsung at the forefront of today’s digital age.

In short, Samsung’s strategic shift to high-tech shows how a company can reinvent itself through entrepreneurial behaviors and mindsets. In doing so, Samsung joins a handful of other large companies in writing the next chapter of the history of entrepreneurial capitalism.

Successful multiethnic business colleagues in modern office

Strategies for fostering entrepreneurship in large companies

The business landscape is constantly evolving, and it’s forced large companies to seek ways to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in their people. Fostering entrepreneurship is no longer just about staying lean and being hungry — it’s about pushing for innovation and agility in markets that demand both.

What organizational practices and behaviors can large companies adopt to promote entrepreneurship in their culture? Here are some practical strategies you can use to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship:

Empower teams with autonomy

Giving teams the freedom and autonomy to explore, experiment, and execute their ideas is one of the most effective ways to foster entrepreneurship in large companies. This approach not only accelerates innovation, but also increases employee engagement and satisfaction.

By establishing clear goals and boundaries, companies can ensure that this heightened level of autonomy does not lead to chaos, but rather focuses creativity towards meaningful business outcomes.

Encourage a culture of experimentation

A culture of experimentation is essential for entrepreneurship to thrive. This means accepting failure as part of the innovation process, and recognizing the value of the lessons those failures teach.

Companies should set up mechanisms that allow employees to test their ideas cheaply and quickly, without the fear of being harshly criticized if those ideas don’t proceed as hoped.

Invest in employee development

Entrepreneurial skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and adaptability are not innate — they can be developed. Investing in employee development programs that build these and other relevant skills will equip team members with the skills they need to think and act entrepreneurially, both now and in the future. 

These programs can take many forms, including workshops, mentoring schemes, and access to external educational resources.

Foster cross-departmental collaboration

In large organizations, silos can kill innovation. Encouraging collaboration across different departments can spark new ideas and perspectives, which can lead to the development of innovative solutions that would not be possible in isolation. 

This can be done through cross-functional projects, organization-wide idea-sharing platforms, and regular networking events.

Create an internal venture fund

If companies want to truly invest in entrepreneurship, they could make an internal venture fund that provides the seed money for promising projects developed by their employees. 

This will give employees the resources they need to start turning their innovative ideas into a reality. It will also send a powerful signal that the company is committed to supporting entrepreneurial initiatives.

The fostering of entrepreneurship requires that large companies build entrepreneurial practices and behaviors into their everyday practices and behaviors. Companies can be proactive in becoming agile to innovate and stay competitive — and reap the rewards innovation can bring.

Woman Writing in Paper

Overcoming challenges in large company entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship within large companies faces unique hurdles. These challenges range from bureaucratic red tape to a resistance to change among the workforce. 

Overcoming these obstacles is a necessity for fostering innovation and ensuring competitiveness. Here are some ways big organizations can address the barriers to successful corporate entrepreneurship:

Make decision-making processes efficient

The pace of innovation simply doesn't jive with the bureaucracy and convolution of many big companies. One way to work around this is to make the processes that make the big decisions more efficient, so that they can be made quickly and have projects up and off the ground in an agile manner. 

One potential way to do this is by creating teams that are dedicated solely to making decisions about these entrepreneurial projects, meaning they need fewer layers of approval to be greenlit.

Cultivate a risk-tolerant culture

This is a big one — creating an aversion to risk that plagues many large organizations simply won't cut it if you're trying to disrupt industries the way successful corporate entrepreneurs do. 

Your organization needs to do more than just tolerate risk; it needs to see it as a vital element of the growing and innovating necessary to stay competitive.

This means you should celebrate team members who throw their hat over the wall and try something innovative — even when it doesn't work out — and embrace the lessons learned from these situations to make future attempts more successful.

Break down silos

Big companies need to rid their organizations of the silos and barriers that create a bottleneck in the process. Promoting cross-departmental collaboration, and creating platforms for sharing the ideas that are so crucial to entrepreneurship is an important first step. 

In practice, this might include setting up regular innovation workshops, or organizing mixed-team projects aimed at solving company-wide problems.

Provide resources and support

Even the best ideas can fall flat if the team working on them lacks the resources or support necessary to develop them into something viable. 

Creating an internal framework for supporting these entrepreneurial projects — like an innovation lab — can go a long way to making sure teams have the time, money, and freedom they need to develop the strongest projects into real products or services.

Embrace digital transformation

In today's fast-moving market, going digital is not just a question of who is the most innovative — it's an absolute necessity for anyone who is hoping to compete. 

In practical terms, this means not only integrating the latest and most powerful technologies into your ecosystem, but adopting a digital mindset that will empower your entire employee roster to think about how digital might solve old problems, or create totally new ones altogether.

These obstacles can be turned into the building blocks for a future full of entrepreneurial energy, so that big companies can arm themselves with all the resiliency, adaptability and agility usually seen in a startup.

People Using a Board for Presentation

Measuring impact of entrepreneurship in large companies

Quantifying the impact of entrepreneurship within large organizations is critical in understanding its worth and guiding future investments in innovation. Here's how companies can measure how well adopting an entrepreneurial mindset works for them:

Define what entrepreneurship means in your organization

The first step is to clearly outline what entrepreneurship means to your organization. Is your focus to develop new products, enter new markets, improve operational efficiency, or increase customer satisfaction? 

When these actions are defined, it's possible to develop specific, measurable objectives, and goals.

Identify KPIs

Once your objectives are identified, in order to track your progress, align key performance indicators (KPIs) with those objectives.

Consider metrics such as the number of new products developed, percent revenue from new products, market share gains, customer acquisition rates, or operational performance improvements.

Tracking these KPIs on a regular basis provides concrete evidence of the impact of entrepreneurial efforts.

Looking at innovation life cycles

Measuring the impact of big companies’ new ideas can also involve looking at the full innovation journey. This means examining how an idea grew from its starting point, went through development, and turned into what the product or service is today.

For example, how long does it take for an idea to “make” its way into a prototype or a working model? How many of these working models are “sold” as a product or new way of executing work and serving a customer need?

If companies understand their innovation life cycles and journeys, they can find ways to make these easier and faster.

Use employee feedback

Employee engagement and satisfaction are key metrics of an entrepreneurial culture. Using both surveys and feedback mechanisms will help measure how these initiatives are impacting team morale, creativity, and willingness.

High levels of employee engagement generally correspond with successful entrepreneurship results.

Analyze customer response

Customer feedback is incredibly important when it comes to measuring the impact of new products or services that result from invented activities. Consider direct customer feedback, customer satisfaction scores, and net promoter scores (NPS). 

Watching shifts in customer behavior, such as increases in use, or higher conversion rates, offer further insights into the success of these actions.

Evaluating long-term benefits

Some impacts of entrepreneurship, such as the changing of a company's position in the marketplace, may take time to surface. Long-term metrics, such as mark recognition surveys, loyalty metrics, and competitive analysis, are required to measure the longer-term benefits of these activities.

Focusing on case studies and storytelling

In addition to the above hard numbers, storytelling around successful projects can be a powerful way to show the impact of entrepreneurship. 

Case studies not only showcase the company’s successes, but also the challenges, the lessons learned, and the innovation journey taken. They serve as both a motivational tool to teams, and an evidence-based way to measure impact.

Measuring the impact of entrepreneurship within a large company takes a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional financial metrics.

Such a comprehensive view not only emphasizes the value of encouraging entrepreneurship within an organization, but guides future strategies that can support long term innovation and competitiveness.

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Final thoughts on large company entrepreneurship examples

Encouraging entrepreneurship within a large organization is critical to innovation and staying ahead of the competition. These large company entrepreneurship examples show how big names can drive growth if they embrace creativity and risk-taking.

You can incorporate change from the top-down by giving permission to be creative and providing resources for experimentation. This not only drives growth, but when successfully done, builds a lasting and engaging culture, laying the groundwork for the long-term success of the company.

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