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25 June 2020

More than 84% of large Spanish companies are committed to corporate entrepreneurship to gain flexibility, according to a study coordinated by Deusto Business School

The Santander International Entrepreneurship Centre (CISE), with the support of Banco Santander through Santander Universities, has presented the 2nd Report on Corporate Entrepreneurship in Spain: Enseñando a bailar a los elefantes como gacelas´, a study that combines academic rigour with data from surveys of executives from 58 large companies based in Spain that together account for more than 65% of the IBEX35 capitalization.

Coordinated by Deusto Business School and with the collaboration of academics from ICADE Business School and the Autonomous University of Madrid, the study uses the analogy of elephants and gazelles in the title to show the need for large corporations to "unlearn" their culture of rigidity in favour of agile management with a spirit of innovation similar to that developed by start-ups in order to be more competitive.

This report was presented by Rocío Sáenz-Diez Rojas, professor at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, ICADE, representing the team of researchers that conducted it. This is the second edition of the most complete snapshot of corporate entrepreneurship that has been made in our country to date, and it provides data, recommendations, tools and good practices that serve as a basis for other smaller companies to promote the culture of corporate entrepreneurship as a key to growth and innovation.

In order to offer a broader approach to the conclusions, the online presentation of the report included a round-table discussion with the participation of Marcelino Oreja, CEO of Enagás; Óscar Martín, CEO of Ecoembes; José Antonio Arias, CIO of MAPFRE; Jaime Martín, Director of Corporate and Technology and Corporate Venturing at Repsol; Rafael Fernández García, Director of Innovation at Ferrovial; and Irene Gómez, Director of Open Innovation at Telefónica, moderated by Iñaki Ortega, professor at Deusto Business School and coordinator of the report.

Innovation within companies
The report reveals that corporate entrepreneurship in Spain has gone from being an unknown reality in large companies to becoming one of the most recurrent issues in any strategic plan. 84% of the organisations surveyed actively promote corporate entrepreneurship, although nearly 80% recognise that they have been encouraging these processes for less than ten years, which suggests that this is a relatively new phenomenon.

This growth is also evidenced by the number of corporations that have decided to focus on open innovation (understood as collaborative approaches with start-ups and independent entrepreneurs), which has risen from 23% in 2017 to over 78%. Faced with an increasingly changing and competitive scenario, large companies have seen corporate entrepreneurship as a way to adopt the successful innovation models that are characteristic of start-ups, and increasingly build bridges with them or promote the entrepreneurial spirit of their own workers.

Objectives and tools used
As for the goals pursued by most companies when they implement corporate entrepreneurship programmes, special mention should be made of continuous innovation (90%) and the rejuvenation of organizational culture (92%), while the search for disruptive innovation is a current but less widespread goal (around 60%).

These data show that the commitment to open innovation and intrapreneurship in Spain is also evidenced by the different instruments incorporated by large corporations in their activities and the development of their own organisational models to implement them.
The most widespread tool for promoting corporate entrepreneurship is events (70%), probably because of their lesser complexity, while the more sophisticated instruments such as corporate incubators and Corporate Venture Capital funds are more limited in scope (46% and 41%, respectively), although more extensive than in the first report (27% and 32%, respectively).

As for the organisational model, about 70% opt for a centralised structure and have at least one full-time employee devoted to managing this activity. However, despite the consensus on the importance of corporate entrepreneurship and the fact that 87% of those surveyed say it will grow in their company in the coming years, few corporations give it the same weight in the organisational chart as other strategic activities: only 40% of those responsible for these areas are members of the management committee and only 5% are on a full-time basis.

Conclusions and recommendations
Despite the significant growth, the latest data on intrapreneurship in Spain provided by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, in which the promoters and authors of this report also collaborate, indicate that the capacity to activate workers in processes that generate new business models or new product or service lines, estimated at 2%, is still far below the European average or the figures for the United States, at 5% and 8% respectively.

For this reason, the authors stress the need to continue working in this area and offer a series of recommendations so that the focus on this phenomenon is more structured and does not remain merely wishful thinking.

In order to implement an effective corporate entrepreneurship strategy, they consider it key to control CEOs’ eagerness to obtain short-term results. They recommend to create sandboxes or experimentation spaces free from corporate bureaucracy for these initiatives and believe that, in order to achieve ascendancy over the entire company, it is essential that those responsible for this area be present in the highest governing bodies.

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  • 84% of large companies actively promote corporate entrepreneurship (up 5 points from the report published three years ago).
  • 78% promote open innovation (understood as collaborative approaches with start-ups and entrepreneurs), a much higher figure than the 23% in the previous report.
  • Organizations see corporate entrepreneurship as a way to develop continuous innovation (90%) or to rejuvenate corporate culture (92%).
  • Many large companies also use open innovation (64%) and intrapreneurial programmes (59%) to encourage disruptive innovation.
  • They are increasingly adjusting their organisational model to boost corporate entrepreneurship:
    • 73% of companies choose a centralised model.
    • 67% promote different approaches across all organisational areas and levels.
    • 68% have at least one full-time employee devoted to managing this activity.
  • More than 85% of companies believe that corporate entrepreneurship will grow in their organisation.


  1. Place those responsible for corporate entrepreneurship in the company's top management.
  2. Establish sandboxes (testing grounds for new business models) for corporate entrepreneurship to avoid business bureaucracy.
  3. Introduce long-term evaluation indicators to monitor the impact of this activity.
  4. Learn from others but develop a corporate entrepreneurship policy tailored to the organisation itself.
  5. Promote corporate entrepreneurship governing bodies together with external professionals.
  6. Ambition in the scope of the corporate entrepreneurship strategy to enable the use of powerful tools.

COMPANIES THAT HAVE PARTICIPATED IN THE STUDY | 58 companies with more than 130 employees in Spain arranged according to the classification used in the Spanish Stock Exchanges and Markets.

Banking and Insurance | Axa, Bankia, Bankinter, BBVA, Santander, Citi, Iber Caja, ING, Liberbank, Mapfre, MetLife, Mutua Madrileña, Sanitas.

Professional services | Adecco, Aedas Homes, Aena, Amadeus, Cisco, Cuatrecasas, Deloitte, Everis, EY, Garrigues, Grant Thornton, Indra, KPMG, Legalitas, Merlin Properties, Neinor, PWC

Energy and Utilities | Enegas, Endesa, Iberdrola, Naturgy, Repsol

Consumer goods | Pascual, CocaCola, IKEA, Palladium, RoomMate, Prosegur

Industry | Adif, CAF, Cemex, Ferrovial, Ecoembes, Sacyr, TUV

Telco, Media and Communications | Atresmedia, Cellnex, Masmovil, Mediaset, Orange, Telefónica, Unidad Editorial, Vocento, Vodafone