Companies too often vacillate in their commitment to internal corporate venturing activities, leading to less than optimal outcomes. Executives need to better understand — and manage — the factors that drive cyclicality in internal corporate venturing.
For several decades, research about large companies’ internal corporate venturing has shown that such activities frequently exhibit substantial cyclicality. Companies may enthusiastically launch ICV initiatives, later shut them down, and still later launch new ICV programs again. In this article, the authors describe four common situations that occur in cycles of corporate venturing. They argue that, unless properly managed, corporate commitment to ICV is apt to fluctuate according to the availability of uncommitted financial resources and the growth prospects of the organization’s primary businesses. For example, if the corporation has uncommitted financial resources but the growth prospects of the main business are perceived to be insufficient, then the company may launch a top-down “all-out ICV drive” that is vulnerable to costly mistakes. If, however, the growth prospects of the primary business are perceived to be adequate and there are few uncommitted financial resources, top management is likely to perceive ICV as largely irrelevant. The authors examine factors contributing to ICV cyclicality; they then suggest that companies can achieve better outcomes if executives recognize the strategic importance of internal corporate venturing activities and view them as a way of gaining insights into emerging opportunities.