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Startups Aren’t the Only Ones Innovating; How One Corporation Fosters a Culture of Intrapreneurship

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Can those who are used to startup life transfer seamlessly to the corporate world? Absolutely says the Kim Purcell who leads innovation efforts at MasterCard.

By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)

When you hear about innovation, taking risks and failing fast, you probably envision an entrepreneur. While these are certainly traits of every successful startup, there’s certainly a culture of innovations in many corporations as well.

One such company is global corporation MasterCard, which even has its own “idea incubator” known as MasterCard Labs where employees conceptualize, test and bring to market new payment systems.

To learn more about how MasterCard actually incorporates a culture of intrapreneurship, we chatted with Kim Purcell. When MasterCard Labs first launched in 2010, Kim was one if the first MasterCard employees to hop on board. Now as a VP of innovation management, she works to foster a culture of innovation within the company.

Additionally, Kim works on Research & Development projects, frequently serving as a bridge between technology and business requirements. Prior to joining MasterCard Labs, she held several roles in Market Intelligence at MasterCard and IBM. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BA from the University of Michigan.

We sat down with Kim to learn how MasterCard fosters an innovative culture that is a bit different than the corporate stereotype and supports intrapreneurship among employees across the organization.

Women 2.0: Why did MasterCard launch the Labs program?

Kim Purcell: Labs was launched to create an environment where we could create disruptive, breakthrough solutions. To do this, we needed to be able to take risks, try new things, fail fast, without risking the security and reliability of the MasterCard network, and we needed to encourage and foster a culture of innovation for all of the MasterCard employees.

Women 2.0: How does a global company like MasterCard support intrapreneurship?

Kim Purcell: Successful innovation can’t be isolated in Labs.  My job is to create programs that harness the diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of our global employee base.  One of our most popular programs is Innovation Express, where we bring together teams of developers, designers, and business people to create a prototype, business plan and video demo, all in 48 hours.

I’ve had the opportunity to both participate and run these events in locations from Iceland to New Delhi. Innovation Express and our other programs give employees a chance to step outside of their day job to solve a challenge in a different way.  Employees that participate usually emerge with new energy and excitement that they bring back to their day job.  But it’s not just an employee engagement exercise…the goal is always real solutions for real business opportunities.

Women 2.0: What successful examples of intrapreneurship have you seen at MasterCard?

Kim Purcell: One of the most exciting parts of my job is to see the seed of an ideas that is developed and nurtured through one of our programs develop into rich products in the market.  For example, an Innovation Express that was focused on meeting the needs of merchants yielded two of our current products: ShopThis, a platform that enables consumers to instantly purchase goods from a digital publication; and Simplify Commerce, a developer-friendly platform that makes it easy for merchants to accept payments.

Another new solution out of Labs is QkR (pronounced “quicker”), which is an easy way for consumers to order and pay for products using a smartphone. We’re implementing this in market in several different ways. In Australia, parents use QkR to order their kids’ school lunches and pay other fees. At stadiums and movie theaters, patrons can use QkR to order food delivered directly to their seats. And at quick service restaurants, customers can skip the line by pre-ordering and paying for their food.

In addition, there have been lots of cases where features and functionality developed in a program have been incorporated into an existing product – or where capabilities have been used to create something entirely new.

Women 2.0: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start an intrapreneurial project at a large corporate company?

Kim Purcell: One good place to start is by looking for best practices — in your industry and beyond — then be sure to modify to fit your company’s culture and business. For instance, Innovation Express emerged from the concept of an employee hackathon. But we introduced our own changes, from logistics to definition of deliverables to make it work for MasterCard. It’s also important to identify stakeholders early and to engage them in the challenge of doing something differently. And there’s no question that getting support from senior leadership can make your path a lot easier.

Women 2.0: Do you think someone who is used to startup life (especially founders) can transfer over well to corporate life?

Kim Purcell: Absolutely — with the right corporate leadership and culture. MasterCard’s CEO, Ajay Banga, is a true believer in the importance of innovation as the key to sustaining our competitive advantage, and our Chief Innovation Officer and head of Labs, Garry Lyons, came to MasterCard through the acquisition of Orbiscom. Bringing in people from different backgrounds really helps to inspire different thinking and new ideas. And the founders benefit, too: The resources, relationships, and experience of a large corporation can open the door to a new set of opportunities.

Join us on April 29th for a free networking tech event with MasterCard and hear from some awesome speakers in the finance tech sector. RSVP  here.