• Ferhan Bulca

    I am an executive leader and a serial intrapreneur focused on innovation and design thinking. My purpose in life is to create products and services that make the world a better place to live in.

    In the course of my career, I have developed a deep understanding and expertise on all aspects of technology commercialization and product/service development. As a result, I have built multi-million dollar businesses from the ground up.

    I am the creator and the Lead Instructor for Business Innovation Certificate Program at University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.

    I offer business consulting services and I am available as a speaker for private and public events.

    Watch my recent talk at Ashoka Canada's Changemakers event at University of Toronto on YouTube.

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Lessons from my grandmother’s life that I only realize after her passing

My grandmother passed away on October 29th, at the age of 89. Remembering my interactions with her and re-thinking how she lived her life, I realized that some of the career choices I have made are strongly influenced by my grandmother. This was a revelation to me.

Here is what she (subconsciously) taught me:

  1. Own your destiny
    My grandmother absolutely rejected the idea of abandoning her home and living under someone else’s care. Even after she reluctantly accepted to have a live-in helper, she insisted that she did most of the housework herself and took care of herself. All her life, she believed that if you wanted something done, you would do it yourself. Actually, I do not remember she ever telling this in words but her every action was a confirmation of what she believed.
  2. Be strong and be approachable
    She had a tough life, especially earlier on. Being the oldest of three daughters to a carpet tradesman, they did not have much to live on. She had to take care of her younger siblings to allow their mother to take care of their household when every housework was a manual task. She developed an enormous amount of strength and drive, which was visible until the last days of her life. Despite this drive, she never lost her human touch. Always genuinely happy to interact with her grand kids, I remember my early interactions with her with a smile on my face.
  3. Get things done first, rest later
    As you may get the picture, she was a go-getter. When I was a little kid, I would watch her in autumn when she prepared for the upcoming winter. She would make tomato paste, pasta, dried soup mix, sausages, pickles and many other staples for the winter. Everything was hand-made. She was known as the machine, who would get her preparation done and go help others.

Now she is gone but the lessons I learned from her will always be with me.

Thoughts on “4 Steps to Becoming a Successful Intrapreneur”

4 Steps to Becoming a Successful Intrapreneur by Will Yakowicz is an interesting read. In my opinion, it accurately and efficiently summarizes four attributes of a successful intrapreneur.

I strongly agree with all four and will discuss two of them here:

#2 Know what you are willing to invest: This is an area I constantly remind those who take my program at University of Toronto. Personal investments include time, effort and resources, on the obvious side. It also includes personal credit (of which you have a limited amount) in your company. Loss of personal credit scares many but a successful intrapreneur looks at the potential credit he/she could earn if their idea is successful. Fear leads to inaction, opportunity fosters action.

#4 Just do it already: Larger organizations require lots of planning, collaboration, prioritization, and approvals to initiate projects. A successful intrapreneur knows how much to plan and when & how to act. Results speak louder than paper studies. Knowing how to fly under the radar and when to show off successful results is a critical skill for intrapreneurs.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Financial Post Q&A on Intrapreneurship & Innovation

My Q&A session on intrapreneurship with Dan Ovsey of Financial Post is available here.

Dan did a great job in capturing the essence of my points. This is to add a supplementary piece of information regarding the five-step process I mentioned in my Q&A with Dan. You may find more information on my process at a series of my blog posts:

  1. Overview of the five-step process
  2. Step 1: Business design
  3. Step 2: Go-to-market strategy
  4. Step 3: Development
  5. Step 4: Launch
  6. Step 5: Monitor

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Why Intrapreneurship Is The Next Trend

“Innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have been trendy terms which had quite a bit of stage presence in the past five or so years. The next term that I expect we will see in the coming months and years is “intrapreneurship.”

There are two major indicators that make me come up with this prediction:

First, both US and Canadian governments put their weight behind entrepreneurship as a way to create new jobs in a longer-than-ever recession. Among thousands of entrepreneurs, who received support (government funding, coaching, mentorship, free work spaces, tax benefits, so on so forth), there are and will be successful ones. When I say “success”, I am not only referring to those who are made into poster-child cases, which are few. I am referring to those who succeed in establishing themselves as viable businesses, manage to carve out a market share and hire staff. These businesses will be run by founders for some time. Being entrepreneurs themselves, founders and early key employees will expect personalities and work habits that are similar to their own. These founders will also realize that their paradigm has to change as their companies grow and certain processes and procedures need to be incorporated. This is where intrapreneurs can help. They understand how to operate and be successful in large organizations where current structure typically hinders innovation. They also understand how to effectively use existing resources and structures to advance their goals. A seasoned intrapreneur can help successful entrepreneurs shape up their organizations as they transition from being a start-up to a growth company.

Second, both US and Canadian companies are hoarding historically high amounts of cash, which they have accumulated during recession. We had a few false starts in spending (investing in development) but these attempts did not continue. Corporations continue to be risk-averse and timid when it comes to getting into a steady cadence of investing their cash. As a result, corporate investment in R&D and new services remains low by historic standards. This cannot continue forever. US and Canadian governments started to put their weight on corporations to encourage them to put cash back into circulation through new development investments. Once the scare is over, corporations will be again in a race to outperform each other and deliver successful products and services to their markets. They will achieve this in two ways:

1) Acquisition of promising companies started by entrepreneurs. Integration of these companies and their continued success will require skills of intrapreneurs, who understand both sides of the coin.

2) Accelerate internal development. This is the sweet spot of intrapreneurs! They shine when there is sense of urgency and required support behind new products and services.

So, I think the time of intrapreneurs is near.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Intrapreneurship Is Very Real – Here Are a Couple of Examples

An article I read today titled Intrapreneurship Is A Myth – Here Is Why prompted me to draft a response because I could not disagree more with the author. Being one of those intrapreneurs, whom the author claims to be mythical, here is my counter-argument.

Large organizations innovate and renew themselves constantly. However, their innovation and renewal are focused on operational efficiency, profitability and maximizing return on investment while minimizing risk. This focus limits typical innovation in large organizations to incremental ones. Large companies rarely excel in disruptive innovation.

My first argument is that intrapreneurs are real, not mythical, but their focus is different from that of entrepreneurs. For example, Toyota’s revolutionary manufacturing system is the end-result of multiple intrapreneurs, who brought innovation in a very established sector and changed many principles that were considered “basic.”

My second argument is that intrapreneurs do deliver disruptive innovation in large organizations but not using the same approach as entrepreneurs. For example, the author states that “if intrapreneurship really worked, success as a startup would be almost impossible.” I think this is far from reality because sometimes intrapreneurs and large organizations leave certain initiatives to those who can do it better. For example, return on investment on a new initiative may not be attractive to a large organization even though they would be interested in it if someone built it. This is an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Recently, one of my start-ups completed a deal with a large multi-national on a product. While the multi-national acknowledged its need for the product years ago, it lacked skills, infrastructure, and logistics to develop the product. Instead, intrapreneurs at the multi-national sponsored a few entrepreneurs (I happen to be on the entrepreneurial side in this case) to develop the product. The multi-national brings in its expertise in global distribution and sales, thus creating a viable business.

And, one last example, directly from my past experience. When a multi-national organization decided to enter a new field, it hired a few people with the right skills and mindset (I was one of those new hires), established a partnership with a start-up, which was working on a promising technology and let the team go for it. The R&D team working on the project operated under its own rules, with its own leader, and separate from the company’s operational processes. The end-result was a breakthrough product in the a market that was new to this multi-national company.

In summary, intrapreneurship is real and it works. It is, however, not an entrepreneur in a large organization doing what an entrepreneur does at a start-up. An intrapreneur behaves like an entrepreneur but has to deal with a very different reality. As a result, produces different outputs.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Teaching Large Organizations How to Innovate

Reading Scott Kirsner’s article titled 11 Ways Big Companies Undermine Innovation (http://goo.gl/kaZFxX) brought up a number of thoughts and memories. Some of these memories support Scott’s observations and coincide with his experience. Some others, however, conflict with them. Being an eternal optimist, I tend to focus on the experiences that create a positive outcome and not dwell on those that did not work out well. “Just learn from them and move on” is my typical thought process.

Basically, I believe that large organizations have inherent advantages to be innovative. I wrote about these advantages in a few earlier blog articles (http://goo.gl/tlEU4m, http://goo.gl/UpKVGZ). This time, I want to share a few experiences. Due to confidentiality of some of the information, I will not go into much detail or reveal names of organizations.

One of my most successful initiatives was in a large organization, which operated in North America with approximately $2B annual revenues. The initiative was major both by my client’s and industry standards. It involved defining a business model and business operating system that was new to the industry, creating a place for this business system in the industry eco-system and launching a new business within this organization. This company did quite a few things right. I will share here the most important ones:

  • A clear definition of what success looks like was developed in the early phases of the initiative. The leaders of business, who brought me in, did not dump the work on me. Instead, they stayed involved and focused when I made them go through exercises to clearly define what success meant. Fortunately for me, they were already in the right mindset.
  • Commitment of resources and attention was at the highest level. After the definition phases, where leaders were intimately involved, one of the top leaders of the company remained as the sponsor of the initiative until the launch of the new business. He ensured that appropriate resources that I identified were available to the initiative, when needed. When internal resources were not available, he helped secure external skills without delay.
  • In a Skunk Works model, I was given significant leverage (or, enough leash to hang myself) in the organization. I created my own team of development, operated under my own conditions and bent rules in many occasions.
  • Early trials (alpha, beta, pilot, etc.) and learning from them were fully supported. “Try and learn” concept was contrary to the culture of this organization. Still, the leaders were open to a new way (to them) of doing things internally. Once they saw early benefits, they fully supported later market tests.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Monitor

This is the fifth and final posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Monitor phase are:

  • Keeping an eye on how your business is performing
    As the old management adage goes, you only improve what you measure. The success or failure of your business depends on what KPIs you monitor and what you do with them. Too many KPIs and you will be stiffled with analysis paralysis, too few KPIs and you will be shooting in the dark due to insufficient information. Finding the right balance and monitoring it regularly gives you the deep insight you need to manage your business.
  • Responding quickly and effectively to what matters, and ignore all else
    In contrast to the old management adage mentioned above, E.W. Deming says “you can only measure 3% of what matters.” So, you need to pick your KPIs carefully. The next step is creating a responsive culture, where ownerships and accountabilities are clearly defined, and response plans are articulated. Reactionary responses usually do more damage than what they fix, so plan out response thresholds and maintain a culture where accountability is king. 
  • Update and modify KPIs as market/business conditions change
    Just like taxes and death, change happens whether you like it or not. Regularly review your KPIs and response plans to ensure that you are monitoring and taking action on what is relevant to your business.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Define key performance indicators and response plans
  2. Define accountabilities and responsibilities
  3. Create dashboards and monitor performance
  4. Establish a rapid-response culture
  5. Reward action, punish inaction

This posting concludes my series titled Five Steps to Technology Commercialization. I tried to give you a glimpse of a process that I have developed and have applied in a variety of cases. Naturally, devil is in the details. I hope the overview of the process helps you successfully deploy your own commercialization initiatives.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

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