Virtual teams, entrepreneurship and enterprise development

Virtual entrepreneurs inhabit the hidden spaces in and between enterprises

Virtual teams are not just for corporate projects - there are numerous forms of virtual network, enterprise, community and cluster. One of the most interesting areas for the virtual team is in new enterprise development and entrepreneurship. Bioteams Guest Article by Ray Symmes.

Entrepreneurship is often wrongly perceived as a solitary activity - this misconception is strongly reinforced by prevailing language such as "sole trader".

However all the recent research [e.g. "Entrepreneurship and Local Economic Development" published by the OECD in 2003] indicates that team-based business start-ups fare much better than individual start-ups, for example:

  1. Higher rates of survival are enjoyed by partnerships of micro enterprises than individual firms

  2. Assessment of team carries more weight than formal financial appraisals in early-stage venture capital assessments

  3. Quality of social interaction in entrepreneurial teams positively correlates with the success of the firm and client satisfaction

My good friend, Ernesto Sirolli ,has studied the genesis of many of today’s leading corporates such as GM, Dupont, Coca Cola and MacDonalds. He discovered they all share one thing in common - not one of them was set-up by a single individual!

But what about the virtual dimension of team entrepreneurship - that’s easy - why should an entrepreneur restrict their choice of talent and market to the local pool? The virtual dimension vastly extends the reach and range of entrepreneurs.

Therefore I am delighted to publish a bioteams guest article by Ray Symmes, principal of Image 5 which looks at three new types of entrepreneurial role which can yield new business opportunities for leaders who are prepared to operate in the boundaries between organisations and also under the radars of their own enterprises.

To be successful in this unchartered zone of intra, extra and contra enterprise development a team of entrepreneurs will benefit hugely if they adopt bioteam principles such as "every member a leader" and "focusing on the connections rather than the entities"

Virtual entrepreneurs inhabit the hidden spaces in and between enterprises

I won't get into how I have gained my own understanding about how organizations operate; it has taken over 50 years to get where I am, and a statement of qualifications only serves the purpose of letting the reader decide to read. Let's save time by my confidently stating that I have the competence, commonality, propriety, and intent that it takes to have a reasonable right to a professional view on organization systems and development. Take it, leave it, or read ahead and decide for yourself.

The bioteams collaboration between Ken Thompson and Robin Good has produced knowledge that should be considered in the rapidly changing environment of using collaboration to get results. Having spent a great amount of resource on the topic, my own views of virtual teams have evolved. While not necessarily in (or not in) the direction of the bioteam concept, as I understand it, my view could be complementary or advancing.

For your consideration I present a set of options for which virtual teams might or might not be a valid approach; a working context, so to speak.....

The team is the perfect playing field for how problems are solved, how decisions get made, and how core work gets done. Unfortunately, it is also a misnomer for all sorts of group behavior involving anyone from politicians to executives to laborers to warriors. So, I am setting a context of ad-hoc teams created for the purpose of building organizational (enterprise) performance. I hope that is narrow enough.

Let's start by hacking entrepreneur into its parts, and use the hackneyed roots as a new word; preneur. From it we will (re)create a set of comparable terms.

Entrepreneur (From several definitions)

A risk-taker who has the skills and initiative to establish a business. What I don't really like about the definition is that it doesn't address the normal assumption that an entrepreneur is usually a person who starts from one core of knowledge or business and starts a new entity from that base, generally with a significant personal risk. Because this definition does not generally suggest a team environment of any kind, unless the entrepreneur is the team leader, it is hard for me to envision an entrepreneurial team.


Gifford Pinchot created this label nearly 20 years ago, referring to risk takers inside organizations, who created sub-businesses from the core of the organization. These people are your traditional “out-of-the-box” internals. Intrapreneurs tend to be at less personal risk than entrepreneurs, except that they are subject to organizational politics and retribution. The team model to best promote intrapreneurs might be virtual in a global situation, but is more likely the traditional task force.

Here is where things might get interesting with some new terminology.....


This team creates new ventures across organizations utilizing complementary resources. How is this different from a joint-venture? The area of sharp contrast is that an interpreneurial venture will have ownership at the operating team level, and their obligation will be to offer an ROI specified by the “parents”.

In order to stay off multiple “corporate radars”, the teams will have to have a clear set of principles and boundaries that everyone will follow. These factors are subtle, but important, and the potential/need for establishing virtual teams here is dramatic.


There is huge potential when you create a new entity with:
1. an open agenda
2. across organizations or systems
3. whose boundaries are wide and vague
4. with a mission to create value from separate but common competencies

We are now demonstrating a new level of risk for the resources the “parents” allocate. You are risking capital, financial and intellectual. For this reason, extra is the prefix I prefer over inter”. So our definition includes exploration outside of our core and outside the boundaries of the organization. Here is where the concept of virtual team is quite important, and the potential for bioteams becomes operationally relevant.


This is the home for the true radical thinker, organizational mutant, and corporate heretic. Using its own resources, the contrapreneurial portion of an organization sets out to independently challenge its own foundation.

The environment that must exist here is one of absolute teamwork, trust, and communication; things only visionary leadership can promote. This is not a place for fair-weather ideologues.

In order to reach a truly compelling vision, we will have to challenge every one of our assumptions, question to the void, and reward those who force us to shed our baggage. Unfortunately, those very specs require that being part of a contrapreneurial venture must have an end. How so?

If a contrapreneurial process becomes integral within an organization, the members will eventually become fixtures and their effectiveness wanes. If their time as members ends, they will probably never be able to re-integrate into the regular system. These are special people for a special “space” and a special time. The great news is that we might have just backed into the essence of one type of bioteam and its potential for advancing organizations.

'Inters', 'Extras' and 'Contras' - the new collaborative virtual entrepreneurs

Here I have attempted to describe the playing field from which the essence of virtual teams can be experienced.

My thought is that the best opportunities will come from those organizations that are small enough to respond, but robust enough to take some risk. In other words, those who are in the middle (a whole different set of dynamics).

About the author

Ray Symmes is Principal, Image5, LLC and can be reached at

Ray's article has also appeared in - Virtual Team Types To Improve Organizational Performance

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