Entrepreneurs

Kendra Kuppin: What’s an Intrapreneur?

Any derivation of the word “entrepreneur” coupled with a company that brings in over $50 billion in annual revenue probably seems like a divergent concept.

At least, that was my impression when I first heard about the opportunity at ZX Ventures.

I was in my first year of business school at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and had just stepped away from being an entrepreneur for close to three years. I had founded a company called Spice & Spoon, a cocktail services platform (think cocktail classes executed by mixologists for private parties and corporate team building/events).

I was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and felt strongly about ownership, building new things, and solving consumer problems. On the other hand, I was exhausted by the struggle for resources, access to the right people, and financial limitations.

Coming into my MBA program I was hyper-focused on food & beverage innovation and looked across opportunities in various companies. If I had to summarize what drew me to ZX, it would be three things:

  1. Opportunity to learn (from people and process),
  2. Real authority and ownership (in a major way that I did not see elsewhere), and
  3. Big dreamers (a reflection of the passion and enthusiasm you might not expect from an industry giant).

Fast forward two years and here I am, working to build a startup within an existing company. When people ask what I do, I sometimes say “intrapreneur,” other times I’m a “founder,” a “global manager,” or that I work in “new product innovation.” All of these titles and associations are true. As amorphous as this may be, the way I describe what I do is the perfect characterization of what my job entails – constant evolution and bringing together dichotomous mindsets and processes.

At its core, I am an employee of Zx Ventures, the global growth and innovation group within Anheuser-Busch InBev, paid a salary like any other company employee; however, I’m given the freedom and decision-making rights of an entrepreneur.

I control my product, from recipe to design; I own my execution strategy; I pitch to raise money internally, just like an independent founder might pitch to a VC. Funding is in no way guaranteed, and there’s a burden of proof. I have ownership, I’m building something new, and I’m solving a consumer problem.

Overall, this job sounds pretty awesome right?

And it is. It is awesome. When operating within this kind of structure, the benefits are countless: from deep industry knowledge, to distribution, to best practices, not to mention the greatest asset—access to the best and the brightest people. However, I’ve had to learn how to overcome different types of challenges from the ones I overcame in my days as an entrepreneur. The constraints are real, and the expectations are high.

I can also say what I do as an intrapreneur is not unique to the rest of the company; at least not at the heart of it. My fellow MBAs have started building careers across our many functions, from marketing, to finance, to strategy. We call ourselves a company of owners – so no matter the function, we are all constantly challenged to be drivers of our change. It may not be in everyone else’s job description, but from my perspective, at Zx Ventures we’re all intrapreneurs.

Kendra, GMBA Class of 2018, a pitching on Demo Day during her Zxlerator internship. She’s now a full-time “intrapreneur” as a member of the Explore team.

Kendra, GMBA Class of 2018, a pitching on Demo Day during her Zxlerator internship. She’s now a full-time “intrapreneur” as a member of the Explore team.

What is the Zxlerator Program?

By Luke Cherrington

We recently kicked off our second ZX Ventures Zxlerator in the heart of NYC. We have an amazing cohort of 50 (!) intrapreneurs and summer interns tackling 14 huge challenges. This is all driven by a key question, “How do you start new companies inside a large organization?” Let’s discuss.

Zxlerator is the internal accelerator program of ZX Ventures and AB InBev.  We think we’ve built something unique.  Accelerator programs tend to be run by investment vehicles with external, existing startups. Think Techstars, Angelpad, YCombinator, etc. They take an early stage company and give support, mentorship and investment to make it grow faster (i.e. “accelerate” it). We’ve built on this concept. Using Zxlerator, we take internally-generated ideas and put them through a structured three-month program to see if they can develop into validated, launch-ready businesses.

During the program, existing employees and summer interns work together to identify a real problem, validate a solution, and build a viable business model. Basically, they start a business. These ventures are early stage – often starting from just an idea – so we start out with an intensive two-week boot camp. This is a crash course in how to start a company. During boot camp you’ll hear phrases any experienced entrepreneur would recognize. Build, measure, learn. Desirability, viability and feasibility. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Now that we’re into the core program, teams have a slew of internal and external mentors to call on, and programming designed to help them leverage our core business.  We’ll wrap the program with Demo Day, and make final decisions on which ventures we’ll fund.

The ventures in Zxlerator, first and foremost, are solving real problems for real people. We’re not looking for incremental innovations to existing products or processes within our business. Our core innovation team can (and does) crush that type of innovation. We’re focused on new problems that have yet to be addressed. We also expect teams to adapt and pivot from their initial thesis. Testing, learning, and potentially changing course if they find a more important problem to solve. It’s agile innovation.

So why did we create Zxlerator? Simply put, we needed it. If you’re going to fail (most new product innovations do), better fail fast and fail cheap. Learn, adapt, and try again. This isn’t exclusive to AB InBev. All companies are quickly understanding it’s critical to add this new methodology to time-tested innovation. Exploring, validating and launching new ventures on the pillars of lean and design thinking. It’s also imperative internal intrapreneurs are given a vehicle to build inside their company. Zxlerator is our vehicle.

And it really is all about the people. Whether for interns or longtime employees, Zxlerator offers the experience of an entrepreneur with the support and resources of a global company. From the very first day of the program, they are treated as founders who own a business – and are expected to demonstrate the ownership and urgency worthy of the title.

We have every confidence this summer’s cohort is going to absolutely rock it and build investment-ready businesses. It is an experience unlike any other – transformative for both our participants and our company – and we couldn’t be more excited to see where the teams land.