Managing a portfolio of corporate venture units : challenges in achieving within-unit focus and between-unit coordination

Burgers, Henri, Shah, Chintan, & Scholten, Victor (2010) Managing a portfolio of corporate venture units : challenges in achieving within-unit focus and between-unit coordination. In Langan-Fox, Janice (Ed.) Proceedings of the 7th AGSE International Entrepreneurship Research Exchange, Swinburne University of Technology, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, pp. 361-370.

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Principal Topic:

There is increasing recognition that the organizational configurations of corporate venture units should depend on the types of ventures the unit seeks to develop (Burgelman, 1984; Hill and Birkinshaw, 2008). Distinction have been made between internal and external as well as exploitative versus explorative ventures (Hill and Birkinshaw, 2008; Narayan et al., 2009; Schildt et al., 2005). Assuming that firms do not want to limit themselves to a single type of venture, but rather employ a portfolio of ventures, the logical consequence is that firms should employ multiple corporate venture units. Each venture unit tailor-made for the type of venture it seeks to develop. Surprisingly, there is limited attention in the literature for the challenges of managing multiple corporate venture units in a single firm.

Maintaining multiple venture units within one firm provides easier access to funding for new ideas (Hamel, 1999). It allows for freedom and flexibility to tie the organizational systems (Rice et al., 2000), autonomy (Hill and Rothaermel, 2003), and involvement of management (Day, 1994; Wadwha and Kotha, 2006) to the requirements of the individual ventures. Yet, the strategic objectives of a venture may change when uncertainty around the venture is resolved (Burgelman, 1984). For example, firms may decide to spin-in external ventures (Chesbrough, 2002) or spun-out ventures that prove strategically unimportant (Burgelman, 1984). This suggests that ventures might need to be transferred between venture units, e.g. from a more internally-driven corporate venture division to a corporate venture capital unit.

Several studies suggested that ventures require different managerial skills across their phase of development (Desouza et al., 2007; O'Connor and Ayers, 2005; Kazanjian and Drazin, 1990; Westerman et al., 2006). To facilitate effective transfer between venture units and manage the overall venturing process, it is important that firms set up and manage integrative linkages. Integrative linkages provide synergies and coordination between differentiated units (Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967). Prior findings pointed to the important role of senior management (Westerman et al., 2006; Gilbert, 2006) and a shared organizational vision (Burgers et al., 2009) to coordinate venture units with mainstream businesses.

We will draw on these literatures to investigate the key question of how to integratively manage multiple venture units. ----------

Methodology/Key Propositions:

In order to seek an answer to the research question, we employ a case study approach that provides unique insights into how firms can break up their venturing process. We selected three Fortune 500 companies that employ multiple venturing units, IBM, Royal Dutch/ Shell and Nokia, and investigated and compared their approaches. It was important that the case companies somewhat differed in the type of venture units they employed as well as the way they integrate and coordinate their venture units. The data are based on extensive interviews and a variety of internal and external company documents to triangulate our findings (Eisenhardt, 1989).

The key proposition of the article is that firms can best manage their multiple venture units through an ambidextrous design of loosely coupled units. This provides venture units with sufficient flexibility to employ organizational configurations that best support the type of venture they seek to develop, as well as provides sufficient integration to facilitate smooth transfer of ventures between venture units. Based on the case findings, we develop a generic framework for a new way of managing the venturing process through multiple corporate venture units. ----------

Results and Implications:

One of our main findings is that these firms tend to organize their venture units according to phases in the venture development process. That is, they tend to have venture units aimed at incubation of venture ideas as well as units aimed more at the commercialization of ventures into a new business unit for the firm or a start-up. The companies in our case studies tended to coordinate venture units through integrative management skills or a coordinative venture unit that spanned multiple phases.

We believe this paper makes two significant contributions. First, we extend prior venturing literature by addressing how firms manage a portfolio of venture units, each achieving different strategic objectives. Second, our framework provides recommendations on how firms should manage such an approach towards venturing. This helps to increase the likelihood of success of their venturing programs.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 32164
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: The contents of that proceedings can be freely accessed via the conference organizer's website [see Official URL]
Keywords: Corporate Entrepreneurship, Corporate Venture Units, Entrepreneurship
ISBN: 9780980332865
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Entrepreneurship (150304)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Management
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2010 [please consult the authors]
Deposited On: 12 May 2010 22:28
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 14:22

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