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That historic moment when the perfect team unifies beyond an opportunity, pregnant with possibility, is the essential scene of any great innovation legend: think Jobs and Wozniak when they created Apple, Gates and Allen with Microsoft, or Page and Brin with Google.

This is why so many books and professors and venture capitalists focus on the composition of the founding team – you want more than one person but fewer than seven, the right mix of personality types (Roger Hamilton offers a useful framework), and a balance of skills (the hacker, hustler, and hipster).

The story differs for internal innovators

But here is the problem. More than 70% of society’s most transformative innovations have come from employees, not entrepreneurs, and forming a team around an innovation idea as an employee is a fundamentally different challenge.

It is different for the simple reason that while entrepreneurs, by definition, find each other and commit to the venture without having other jobs, intrapreneurs must rally support among team members who have other jobs and bosses.

The people intrapreneurs need on their team rarely, if ever, report to the same boss. They sit in sales or legal or operations or HR. Unless you get early support from the top of the pyramid – the CEO – intrapreneurs must pull together their team using a more nuanced, politically complicated approach.

The first step is to find a sponsor – or what Rita McGrath calls a “Sherpa” – who will help you, whether formally or not, navigate internal politics to assemble your dream team.

Finding your Sherpa

I recently spoke to Nicolas Bry (@nicobry), head of the intrapreneurship innovation program at the European mobile telecom giant Orange and author of the just-published book The Intrapreneurs’ Factory, which is perhaps the most fact-packed, succinct guide I have found yet on how to implement an intrapreneurship program. It draws not only on Orange’s experience but also on that of numerous other similar programs like those of Oracle, Air France, Merck, Swisscom, LVMH, and Nissan.

According to Bry, there are six questions you should ask to assess whether you have found the right “Sherpa” for your innovation idea. Get these right, and you will have a powerful advocate to navigate you through the storms of innovation into the clear waters of success. Miss these and you risk ruining your idea, even if it’s a promising one.

I’ve adapted Bry’s questions for the purposes of this post:

  1. Does your candidate have a passion for innovation? Would their involvement add credibility to your effort because they are associated with new business creation or transformation?
  2. Do they have visibility? Do they sit on the company’s executive committee and, if not, do they have a strong internal brand?
  3. Are they willing to “take the floor” and advocate for innovation in general and your initiative in particular?
  4. Do they have deep knowledge of your organization and a strong network?
  5. Are they ready to spend time supporting your effort?
  6. Will they step in to remove obstacles as they arise?


To make sure your innovation is off to the right start, in order to assemble your team, find your Sherpa (or sponsor). Identify several candidates and put them through this six-point screening. This will tell you if you have the right person at your back.

“8Ps” of StrategyOpportunity
for Disruption
Recommended Leverage Points
Position- The farmers, individual and corporate, that you are targeting.

- The need of the agricultural industry that you seek to fill.
3- What technologies do you control that can help you tap into market
segments that you previously thought unreachable?

- What are the potential business alliances you could think about with key players in the segment to serve your customers with integrated solutions? (Serving customers with more integrated solutions example: serving farmers with fertilizers, crop protection and other).
Product- The products you offer, and the characteristics that affect their value to customers.

- The technology you develop for producing those products.
8- What moves are your organization taking to implement Big Data and analytics to your operations? What IoT and blockchain applications can you use?

- What tools and technology could you utilize or develop to improve food quality, traceability, and

- How can you develop a more sustainable production model to accommodate constraints on arable

- What is the future business model needed to serve new differentiated products to your customers?
Promotion- How you connect with farmers and consumers across a variety of locations and industries.
- How to make consumers, producers, and other stakeholders aware of your products and services.
8- How are you connecting your product with individual and corporate farms who could utilize it?
- How could you anticipate market and customer needs to make customers interested in accessing your differentiated products?
PriceHow consumers and other members of the agricultural supply chain pay for access to agricultural products.7- What elements of value comprise your pricing? How do each of those elements satisfy the varying needs of your customers?
Placement- How food products reach consumers. How the technologies, data, and services reach stakeholders in the supply chain.9- What new paths might exist for helping consumers access the food they desire?
- How are you adapting your operations and supply chain to accommodate consumers’ desire for proximity to the food they eat?
- How could you anticipate customer expectation to make products more
accessible to customers/agile supply chain?
- Have you considered urbanization as a part of your growth strategy?
- How your food satisfies the needs and desires of your customer.
- How the services you provide to agribusiness fulfill their needs.
9- Where does your food rate on a taste, appearance, and freshness
- Could the services you provide to companies and farms in the agriculture industry be expanded to meet more needs?
- What senses does your food affect besides hunger? How does your
customer extract value from your food in addition to consumption?
Processes- Guiding your food production operations in a manner cognizant of social pressure.8- How can you manage the supply chain differently to improve traceability and reduce waste?
- How can you innovate systems in production, processing, storing, shipping, retailing, etc.?
- What are new capabilities to increase sustainability (impact on the environment, or ESG) components?
People- The choices you make regarding hiring, organizing, and incentivizing your people and your culture.- How are you leveraging the agricultural experience of your staff bottom-up to achieve your vision?
- How do you anticipate new organizational capabilities needed to perform your future strategy (innovation, exponential technologies needed, agile customer relationship, innovative supply chain)?
- How do you manage your talents to assure suitable development with exposure in the agrifood main challenges/allowing a more sustainable view of the opportunities/cross-sectors?