Outside Inc.

Corporate Social Entrepreneurship

My conversation with Isabelle Coppens from Outside Inc. began during my visit at Enviu – we realized we had too much to talk about and would follow up a few days later via skype. I prefer in-person interviews; Social Venturers is about the people, as the name suggests, and even though a lot of my client work happens via skype – or maybe because of that – I love the opportunity of meeting people in person and in their environment whenever possible.

Outside Inc. facilitates Corporate Social Entrepreneurship and initiates startup acceleration programs together with partners. Our conversation focused on the former, it’s not too often that I meet Social Venturers keen on working with corporates to create value. I was curious to learn more.

Intrapreneurship as R&D

Their concept basically reflects what I have learned to be intrapreneurship: identifying entrepreneurial individuals within a business and developing innovative solutions within and for the company they work for.

Social Intrapreneurship - generating innovation in-house with the resources available. Click To Tweet

I think intrapreneurship is a great tool for business development. I am convinced that it offers a great opportunity to foster a company’s competitiveness by developing products and services co-created by the team members that have close and regular customer-contact. It allows a business to generate innovation and new approaches in-house with the unique set of resources available. The costs are relatively low; little need for external consultants who don’t know your business and/or culture to begin with; solutions are developed by team members who have a strong buy-in and can see a project through. That said, why doesn’t every company run intrapreneurship programs as part of their R&D?

Defining the Challenge can be a challenge in itself. Click To Tweet

Outside Inc. for example, runs a 30-day program stretched over a time period between three to nine months depending on the client and nature of the project. Their four-step approach is adapted to the client, the team, and existing entrepreneurial culture. Outside Inc. facilitates identifying a social challenge as an opportunity and potential intrapreneurs with whom they go through a process of ideation and pre-selection of possible solutions. In step two, the intrapreneurial teams refine their concepts through bootcamp sessions, coaching/mentoring, business plan development and building networks around their business ideas. With a fine-tuned business case the teams run against each other during demo day securing internal buy-in. Outside Inc. helps the the winning solution(s) in scaling their concepts through growth and networking support.

The costs of Intrapreneurship

A straightforward affair. What are challenges in implementing such programs, I ask. “For companies, defining the Challenge can be a challenge in itself. Clients identify an issue they want to work on. Once we start working with the larger team, we sometimes realize that the real cause of the issue is entirely different. In that situation it can be difficult being open to solutions since leadership has a pre-conception of what the solution should look like when, in fact, the teams on the ground have a different sense of how to approach the issue. We do a lot of mediation.”


Outside Inc.’s 4-phase Intrapreneurship process

So there it is, one of the core challenges of intrapreneurship – allowing mindsets to shift to create something new and innovative in an existing context – from coming up with new approaches to implementing them, and all the change that comes with it. It sounds like a painful process for the intrapreneurs and I believe the challenge for facilitators like Outside Inc. lies in managing all stakeholders while staying true to their social mission and creating innovation.

Social Intrapreneurship: shifting mindsets to create something new in an existing context Click To Tweet

At the same time, I imagine it to be an exciting process seeing old patterns and beliefs broken. Once Isabelle and her team have their first client testimonials, they will probably have to go through a few cycles of evaluation and testing to see how this mindset-shift can be facilitated and become less painful for the parties involved.

Even though intrapreneurship is not for every company and every product/service, I believe it is heavily under-utilized. I have come across similar approaches to enabling social innovation within companies left and right. I am curious to see how enablers such as Outside Inc. stay true to their social mission when working with corporates, and how sustainable this innovation is once the enabler has gone home.



Spotlight: Wouter Kersten

Wouter Kersten

What drives you?

Combining positive impact with entrepreneurial activity. I like to boost that process (whenever necessary) by making new connections and restructuring information, for example by asking different questions, testing them and conveying these attitudes to others. “Only if you ask different questions will you get different answers.

Biggest SocEnt trend have you seen over the last 5 years?

Seeing platforms like Social Enterprise NL pop up in the Netherlands has proven that there is a lot of momentum in the field. We are all doing something relatively new here; social entrepreneurship is still in its early childhood years, certainly in the Netherlands, so we are all trying out different approaches to find the right balance between being efficient and being relevant with what we offer.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I am reading „Gone Girl” which got adapted into a movie which was screening last year;
My last sort of work related book was Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki;
And the next book I am looking forward to is the autobiography of Mark Twain.
The next ‚work related’ book I will read is WISER. Getting beyond groupthink to make groups smarter by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie.



Wouter has a background in industrial engineering and management. He joined a telecommunications company because, as he says: ”I like working with people and solving problems, but at some point I was fed up with solving problems for big companies, earning them another million with something that for me did not seem very valuable for society. I thought moving to a smaller company would change that, but it still wasn’t the kind of meaningful work I was looking for. So I decided to invest in my new future; I did a one-year master program in Environmental Science, during that time I encountered Enviu (which at that time basically was a cool name, a pilot with a few interns and a web-site) and became involved in setting it up. Unplanned, but in hindsight not by coincidence, for the last 10 years I almost always have had two employers in parallel because I like operating in the two worlds of academia and practitioners.” Right now, for example, I work at Enviu and at the University of Delft: I love making new connections between ideas and people, and see the sparks when the two worlds meet!”

Read Wouter’s guest blog post on efficiency and relevance!