‘Intrapreneurs’ and human-centred innovation

They call themselves ‘The Berlin Consulting Dudes’, and they are making waves in how German businesses engage with people in the process of innovation. The focus of this Berlin-based startup, Intraprenör, is on helping companies do ‘human-centred innovation’.I was fortunate to catch up with one of the company’s co-founders, Gregor Kalchthaler. He says they have found a small but growing niche. “Old economy businesses want to know how to become new economy businesses. They are struggling to do it alone, and they come to startups like us, to help them think differently”. We both agreed that most businesses looking at innovation tend to focus on the tech angle, but do little on the human or people angle. Given that innovation is not just about devices and tech, but also necessarily must engage people, the human-centered approach is gaining a lot of traction.

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Gregor gave me an example of one of their clients, a budget supermarket chain that was focussing on sustainability and wanted to convey that to its customers. Unlike premium stores who’s customers may understand ‘sustainability’ and value it, a budget store doesn’t have that luxury. So instead of trying to push sustainability down the throats of the customer in a clinical way – the only way they knew how, the company hired Intraprenör. The guys at Intraprenör immediately took a human-centred approach to the challenge. They followed some of the customers of the budget supermarket store, engaged with them, embedded themselves in their daily lives for a few days. They explored their motivations, attitudes, aspirations, behaviour – to understand what makes them tick . They didn’t just call a focus group and ask a set of questions – in the usual market research way. As a result they found a clever and relatable way to explain the fair trade and sustainability approaches of the supermarket chain without using those very words.

They work very closely to build a team in a client company that can become champions for innovation inside the organisation – thus creating “intrapreneurs” within the firm to drive innovation continuously.

I also found Intraprenör’s approach to how they work and organise the business very interesting. Gregor tells me that they recently shifted to a 4-day work week Why? “Most of our clients can’t take decisions after 1pm on Friday, so why would we work? Instead, we give one day to work for our team to work on something for themselves and maybe bring that to the business”. They also don’t have dedicated finance or other support teams. Each founder works on each assignment from end-to end, from drawing up the contracts to invoicing. “That instils a sense of ownership for each client. Each person is very independent from one another.”

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The facility used to be a massive coin factory, and is now a hub for creativity.

As we wrapped up our meeting and I walked out, I was fascinated by the space that Intraprenör occupies. And as it turns out, the space has a remarkable story. The entire building complex used to be a massive coin factory from 1930s to 2003. It was then suddenly abandoned a few years after the Euro was minted here. The visionary Berlin city government decided that they didn’t want to give it to the highest investor but to the best concept. The legendary supporter of the Berlin startup ecosystem, realtor Andreas Kruger (who connected me to Gregor and this meeting) helped push the project, and now, the facility is home to several startups and creative economy businesses.

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