Housing Partners’ TAIM Product Owner Oliver Florence talks about how you can successfully operate as an entrepreneur in the right organisation with the right support.

The Rise of the Intrapreneur

Entrepreneurial spirit has long been associated with start-ups, lone wolves and superstar CEOs – however, within many organisations there is a quieter power at work. Intrapreneurs drive innovation within businesses by using larger organisational structures to negate risk whilst enacting change. Identifying a company’s natural innovators and giving them the freedom and budget to introduce new products and processes is a novel way to prepare for uncertainty.

The term intrapreneur was first used by Presidio business school founder, Gifford Pinchot III in 1978. To him, intrapreneurs “are employees who do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for his or her start-up. Dreamers that do.” These individuals can identify ideas, create new products and propel them forward with a drive to grow the company beyond personal financial gain or the desire only to increase the bottom line. Given the proper support and resources, entrepreneurial spirits can apply their new ideas in an environment with less risk.

Failure to notice and nurture these employees can come at great expense to a company. A notorious example of this was engineer Steven Sasson who invented the digital camera whilst working for Kodak. Leaders at Kodak scoffed at the invention and failed to adopt the technology, now such an ubiquitous part of our culture. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012, with a direct cause cited as its missed opportunities in digital photography. Adopting innovation in a company’s practice has to be a vision shared by all employees – one individual may be brilliant but without consensus and support, may flounder or even leave and become the competition.

“While it’s true that every company needs an entrepreneur to get it underway, healthy growth requires a smattering of intrapreneurs who drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development.” Richard Branson

An intrapreneur’s role includes looking outwards, spotting how not only their industry is changing but what risks and opportunities are presenting themselves across the business, social and political landscapes. These weathervanes aim to future-proof the organisation, securing it for the long-term. Imagining the entrepreneur might conjure to mind an intense and unrelenting maverick forging an empire from nothing. However, according to Business Quick, this isn’t always the case; in the past 30 years, 70% of transformative innovations have come from corporate employees, building from within.

To encourage quick innovation chosen members of the team need to know that they can enact changes within an agreed remit and budget without having to gain multiple layers of approvals or work within tight constraints. This requires a high level of trust from an overseeing SMT that these intrapreneurs can calculate risks appropriately, while taking the leap with an idea. Harvard Business Review calculated that in an organisation of 5,000 employees, around 5% or 250 will have an innovative disposition and of those, maybe 25 could be great intrapreneurs that can identify and build new business from within.

At Housing Partners, we spoke to TAIM Product Owner, Oliver Florence. TAIM’s software is in constant iteration and upgrade cycles under his lead. Oliver presides over software building done in real-time, reactive to clients’ experiences and challenges. With smaller, less budget dependant innovations, he and the development and testing teams bring solutions quickly to the customer. Where larger, more expensive operations take place, approval is first sought from our SMT.

“I don’t own the product in an equity sense. What being a Product Owner means is that I own the concept of the product. It’s my role to make sure that there is a roadmap and a vision for it so that the team knows why it exists and how we sell it and so on and so forth… That is what the Product Owner does: works as part of the development team and then represents all of the stakeholders involved in the process.”

Oliver Florence, TAIM product owner, Housing Partners

According to Oliver there are two takes on being a Product Owner. The first emerged from software development methodology. As such, the Product Owner is the link between the customers, the business and the team of people who actually build the software. “The product owner describes to the development team what they should build and you do that by collaborating between them and the customers.” Olliver tells us, “You make sure that the thing you are building is actually valuable to your target market and then communicate with the business well, so that they know what you are going to deliver.”

Oliver does this in his role as Product Owner, but also encapsulates the more modern interpretation of the role where “you kind of do a bit of everything and actually go out and support the Sales Team and help develop the marketing material and do all of the other bits as well. I do the latter role at Housing Partners. Our organisation is smaller, which means there is just a lot more cross over in your role anyway.”

“Mel (Product Owner of Housing Jigsaw) and I are responsible for sourcing new product ideas. It’s very entrepreneurial in its essence because what we have to do is go and find what we think will be a successful product idea to take to market, we develop a business case for it alongside the Sales and Implementation Teams, then pitch it to the business and then we work collaboratively with the business to let the stakeholders have input. Then if the SMT want to go ahead with it, we proceed based on the research we’ve done and business case we present.”

At Housing Partners, we encourage an intrapreneurial attitude different to the non-conformist whose job it is to shakes things up. The people we choose to nurture are network builders; those who spot new ideas and link them directly to those that need to be involved to achieve them. Simone Ahuja, Founder of Blood Orange identifies two leading characteristics of the intrapreneur; Passion and Purpose.

In the housing sector these driving forces are never far from the surface. As Oliver puts it, “This sector is absolutely packed full of forward-thinking, innovative people. I think that they have been poorly served in the past by software providers. So, I think that if there is a perception that this industry isn’t up to date, as it were, that isn’t in any way the fault of the practitioners. Because everyone wants to get the best outcome for their tenants, and they are open to doing whatever it takes to get that done.”