Intrapreneurship thrives at NetApp

By Audrey Van Belleghem


This week Cal Poly (that's California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo) hosted an event at their Performing Arts Center on "Maintaining your Entrepreneurship Edge as your Company Grows".  As a recognized innovation leader, NetApp was invited to participate in the discussion, and I joined an esteemed group of panelists along with Mike Tate, former CFO of NetLogic MicroSystems, Jon Avina, partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Rick Stollmeyer, founder of MINDBODY. 


The conversation focused on how companies can maintain that entrepreneurial spirit, even as their headcount and geographic presence expands. The term "intrapreneurship" was referenced, and I mentioned my belief that we have tons of that here at NetApp.  How do high-growth companies maintain innovation and an entrepreneurial edge?  By cultivating a culture that values individual opinion, creative thinking, and autonomy. 


At NetApp, our Advanced Technology Group tracks and evaluates emerging technology trends that affect the storage industry and our long-term business.  Researchers and analysts ponder the next wave of innovative solutions to meet anticipated future customer demands.  We've hired a staff within the Office of the CTO to think beyond our current roadmap, prototype ideas, and transition those inventions to development for new product release.


However, innovative ideas do not only arise from a dedicated group of scientists.  Everyone in an organization can think of new ways to resolve a problem or dramatically improve upon an existing set of processes.  The key to whether those ideas are developed or stifled is the environment in which they are presented.  At NetApp we value individual thought and idea generation.  We encourage people to pursue their passion and identify better methods and products to meet the needs of our customers.  We delegate decision making so we can stay nimble.  And we've been awarded for our innovations that transform business by being named one of the world's most innovative companies by Forbes.


Though the panelists were supposed to be the role models for the event, I found the students at Cal Poly were equally inspirational. Their drive to succeed in new business ventures, even in this tepid economy, demonstrated their motivation has no bounds. I truly enjoyed my time at their Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Hopefully these students will consider joining us because Intrapreneurship Thrives at NetApp.