Intrapreneurship is for employees, and business units at Deutsche Bahn

Tobias Taut is venture architect at Deutsche Bahn, and an enthusiastic venture builder. What a great title! Managing the intrapreneurship program DB Intrapreneurs, means for Tobias building amazing digital services, and enabling people in their innovation ambitions to create tangible and sustainable value. To boost intrapreneurs projects, Tobias also shares his skills in business modelling, lean startup, and design thinking.


What is the aim of intrapreneurship at Deutsche Bahn: New Business generation (inside / outside DB?)? Culture transformation?

DB Intrapreneurs is the founders program of Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s largest mobility service provider. We trust in the innovation power of our employees, and believe that we can activate this potential to develop corporate start-ups.

As the internal incubator, our purpose is to develop and validate digital business models with the goal of spinning them out as external ventures or internal corporate start-ups. To be exact, we have two clear goals:

  • Creating new digital business models which generate new revenues with DB-external companies and thus diversifying DB’s product portfolio;
  • Enabling employees in user-centered and agile methodologies as well as entrepreneurship and thus fostering long-term cultural change.

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How is intrapreneurship anchored in Deutsche Bahn strategy and culture? Do you have a sponsorship from the Executive Committee?

Our team is part of the unit “New Digital Business” which is directly reporting to the Chief Digital Officer of the Deutsche Bahn group, Stefan Stroh. Being part of the CDO organization, we are an elementary part of Deutsche Bahn’s digital and cultural transformation strategy across all divisions.

We work hand-in-hand with all business units across silos because we believe that interdisciplinarity and co-creation is key to successfully innovate within a corporate.

We are very happy to have Martin Seiler, Deutsche Bahn’s Board Member for Human Resources, as sponsor who supports in every possible way.

What is the content (steps, timeline), target (all employees?) and perimeter (national scope?) of the intrapreneurs program?

Our program is open to both employees (intrapreneurship track) and business units (company building track) from all parts of the organization, from maintenance over engineering to sales. This means that either employees can apply with their business ideas to take part in one of our batches or together with business we work on building new companies.

For both cases, we have developed, tested and iterated a clearly structured innovation process following three stages where employees first become intrapreneurs, and then entrepreneurs:

  1. Design Phase: In four 1-day workshops, intrapreneurs identify and validate a problem as well as develop a first solution concept. The highlight of the Design Phase is the Pitch Day at the end, where teams pitch for entering the Build Phase where they get funding and intensive coaching.
  2. Build Phase: Over the course of 3-4 months, intrapreneurship teams develop and validate a business and product concept which includes user research, service design, requirements engineering, development of first low-fidelity prototype, business case modelling, and drafting a go-to market strategy.
  3. Grow Phase (open end): If teams were able to achieve a proof of concept at the end of the Build Phase, they will be able to scale-up their own corporate start-up. This incorporates everything, from ramping-up organizational structures to product development and sales.

DB Intrapreneurs Program

The program is open to everyone from Deutsche Bahn, regardless where they are based. However, for now, participants came from Germany and one from Silicon Valley. We encourage people to think globally when it comes to their ideas. Ideas should be scalable globally.

Workshops in the Design Phase take place in Berlin and Frankfurt. Both Build and Grow Phases should take place in Berlin, in our DigitalBase of Deutsche Bahn. However, if intrapreneurs decide that it’s better to be in a different city, for example because of access to clients, markets or users, that’s fine. It’s their call.

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How are the intrapreneurs projects incubated? What kind of coaching (individual/collective) do you provide? What are the typical exit scenarios for an intrapreneur project?

The way projects are incubated depends on if it is an intrapreneurship project or a company building project.

In intrapreneurship projects, where a team of employees is working on their own ideas, those teams are supported by a Venture Achitect like myself. We act as facilitators, project managers and challengers who give direction. We enable employees in leading their own corporate startup to success. Coaching involves everything around Design Thinking, Lean Start-up, Scrum, Value Proposition Design, Business Modelling and Product Management.

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However, in company building projects, where we co-create with a business unit, our role transforms from being the “driving instructor” into being on the driver’s seat. Instead of coaching employees, we ourselves are the Project Leads of the ventures, and are fully responsible for success and failure.

There are basically three different exit options for our intrapreneurship ventures;

  1. Scaling-up the corporate start-up inside a newly-established business unit;
  2. Founding of a new subsidiary company wholly owned by Deutsche Bahn where the intrapreneurs get CxO roles;
  3. Founding of a new start-up by the intrapreneurs (they leave Deutsche Bahn in this case) where our Venture Capital fund Deutsche Bahn Digital Ventures only holds a minority stake.

However, there is another exit: positive failure! We promote that failing early in our innovation process, for example because teams found out that there is no problem-solution fit, is in fact a valuable and positive experience for both employees and Deutsche Bahn itself. Intrapreneurs learned incredibly much in such a short time which is unmatched to other corporate training opportunities.

Is there a specific status or HR policy for the intrapreneurs (full time / part time dedication for the project)? How do you value the experience developed by the intrapreneur at the end of the incubation?

During the Design Phase the intrapreneurs participate in four workshops while working in their regular jobs. For the 3-4 months Build Phase intrapreneurs can work full-time on their business idea.

Our program is explicitly regarded and promoted as an intense training opportunity by HR, Talent Management and most importantly by managers who even sometimes motivate their employees to participate in our program.

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What impact of the program do you value most? Have you any success story to share, of some intrapreneur projects transforming into business?

Looking back at working two years at DB Intrapreneurs, lots of rewarding and happy moments pop into my mind. I feel grateful that I was able to coach and enable a variety of teams working on ideas which couldn’t have been more diverse.

One of the most exciting projects is my current one where I work with intrapreneurs from Deutsche Bahn’s maintenance unit. Like so many other units and companies, their business unit is facing consequences of demographic change: skillful experts with sometimes decades of experience are about to retire soon which means that valuable knowledge leaves the company. I am happy to support them fighting brain drain and transforming their vision into a real-life product which can create real tangible value.

Intrapreneurship is for employees, and business units at Deutsche Bahn

What are your next challenges?

Currently we are working on three hot topics:

  • Building an AI-empowered customer service for improving workplace quality and customer support while at the same time reducing cost;
  • Boosting our internal, and external communication to generate more outreach and motivating more employees in starting their own intrapreneurship journey;
  • Developing a structured scale-up plan for our Growth Phase which incorporates every step in scaling-up a corporate start-up, while considering Deutsche Bahn contextuality.

Scale-Up Canvas

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Nicolas BryNicolas Bry is Orange Startups Studio COO. He entices Orange employees into becoming intrapreneurs, bringing their idea to life within Orange business. International executive, he sets-up innovation devices for new business. International speaker, writer with, guest lecturer at the Google Academy mini-MBA, visiting innovation professor at Telecom ParisTech, MediaSchool & EM Lyon, freelance consultant for the EC. Follow him at @nicobry.

Nicolas Bry

Serial innovator, Nicolas has set up creative units for new business at Orange, Club-Internet, and SFR. Nicolas created crowd platform, Orange Studio for Intrapreneurs, and edits Open Innovation blog International speaker, entrepreneurs & startups coach, innovation teacher at Telecom ParisTech, HEC & CentraleSupélec, and freelance consultant (ECC). Follow him at @nicobry.




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