Take the latest VB Survey to share how your company is implementing AI today.


This guest post was written by Daniel Saks, co-CEO of AppDirect, a company that offers an “entre-ployee” initiative.

Many 9-to-5-ers dream of being their own bosses, but starting a company is risky business. Over half of all small businesses don’t make it, and the numbers are even worse in the tech industry; a few high-profile success stories dominate the news, but three out of every four startups end up failing.

Despite these statistics, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking in Silicon Valley and beyond. In fact, some forward-thinking companies are looking to take innovation to the next level by giving employees the chance to launch their own companies while on the job. These new hybrid entrepreneur-employees — or “entre-ployees” — are poised to reshape the face of the tech industry.

This is a big shift in the way that many people think about starting a company, so why the change? There are incubators for almost every type of business — from restaurants to robotics — and accelerator programs abound. The problem? You need to create an actual company, or at least develop a strong business plan, before you can apply. For many would-be entrepreneurs, that bar is simply too high; they can’t quit their day jobs and risk it all to pursue their business dreams.

Some companies do give employees an outlet to pursue independent projects. Google’s well-known “Innovation Time Off” policy has spawned popular services like Gmail, while 3M’s “15 Percent Time” has given us everyday items that include Post-Its and Scotch tape. But there’s a catch: With programs like these, innovation stops at the company door. Employees are only allowed to develop products for their employers, leaving them stuck in the same stay-or-risk-it-all conundrum.

Thanks to changing ideas about entrepreneurship and innovation, however, they may not be stuck for long. More employers are not only encouraging their employees to develop business ideas while on the job, but also use company resources as a foothold to launch independent businesses. The idea may be relatively new, but here are four reasons why 2013 will be the year of the entre-ployee:

1. Entre-ployee opportunities truly set companies apart

Health insurance, creative work spaces, gym memberships, PTO — benefits like these are common at tech companies. In the war for talent, it’s getting more difficult to offer perks that can sway a prospect to take an offer. Even Google-like innovation-time-off programs may not be enough. That’s why more companies will offer entre-ployee programs in 2013. Smart, enterprising job candidates will find the chance to develop a business plan at work and launch a company too tempting to pass up.

2. Entre-ployee programs push employee engagement

Do you know what really makes employees happy? According to a recent Gallup poll, it’s not flextime, PTO, or other work-life benefits; it’s engagement. Simply put, if employees are interested in their work, they will be happier. It may seem obvious, but far too many companies fail to deliver in this key area of employee satisfaction. Of course not every second of every workday can brim with excitement, even at a hot tech startup, but the prospect of working on an independent business idea is a surefire way to keep employees engaged.

3. Entre-ployees help innovation thrive

Tech incubators crackle with fresh ideas, which is why companies like PayPal host them in their own offices. Being in close proximity to innovation sparks creative problem solving and new ways of thinking. Entre-ployees are like incubators of one; even if employees spend some work time thinking about their own business problems, everyone benefits from the free-flowing exchange of ideas. In 2013, more companies will experience this “a-ha moment” and not only move incubation in-house, but in-employee.

4. Entre-ployees prove that quality matters, not quantity

Yes but, you may be thinking, what’s the point of investing the time, energy, and money into recruiting and training employees just to help them start their own companies? The fact is many employees are planning their next move anyway. The typical U.S. worker spends about four years at any given job, a number that is sure to trend even lower in 2013.

Both employee and employer have a finite amount of time to help each other grow, so making those years as creative and productive as possible is crucial. Entre-ployees are excited to find new ways to tackle age-old business problems—that’s wisdom that everyone can benefit from, no matter who the boss happens to be.

Daniel-Saks-AppDirectDaniel Saks is the co-CEO of AppDirect. Daniel plays a key role in the growth and development of AppDirect, from attracting a leading team, to nurturing relationships with customers and partners. Daniel’s presentation at the Under the Radar conference in the spring of 2011 resulted in AppDirect winning “Best in Show,” earning coverage in Wall Street Journal. Daniel received a BA in political science from McGill University then studied finance and accounting at Harvard. Prior to AppDirect, Daniel worked at Viant Capital, a tech investment bank.

Business woman photo via gui jun peng/Shutterstock