She drives Saab’s start-up spirit

Former racing driver Charlotte Haegermark has the mission to foster an entrepreneurial mentality within Saab. The aim is to become a ‘hothouse’ of new ideas and collaborations.


Appropriately enough for an ex-racing driver and lifelong motoring enthusiast, Charlotte Haegermark is driven to succeed. At just 30 years old, she has already been nominated for Forbes Magazine’s ‘30 under 30’ entrepreneurs list, as well as several other similar awards.

But nowadays, instead of the racetrack, Haegermark is focusing her energies on behalf of Saab. In October 2018, she joined the company in Linköping as Startup Collaboration Lead and Intrapreneurship Advisor, with a mission of helping to drive an innovative spirit within the organisation as it strives to be competitive in response to 21st-century business realities.

Facilitating the start-up spirit

“My role at Saab is to build our ability to collaborate with small companies and start-ups,” explains Haegermark. “I’m working within Group Strategy, in the Saab Global Innovation Program. My focus is on start-up and small company collaborations, where a big part of it is change management, culture and intrapreneurship, and my job is to act as a facilitator for innovation, developing processes, tools and communication, connecting people across different business areas.”

After spending much of her youth kart racing in Sweden and Germany for the Swedish National Karting Team, Gothenburg native Haegermark took the lessons she’d learned about tempo, teamwork and “going for it” into the world of communications and marketing. She quickly built up her expertise working with renowned brands such as Porsche, Tesla, Red Bull, Ford and Mazda. Last year, when the Saab job came up through the company’s subsidiary Combitech, she was interested straight away.

“I was drawn to Saab’s innovative heritage,” says Haegermark, “and I’ve always liked a good challenge. I felt that the role was a really great combination of my interest in entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, to build something new in a big corporation.”

Intrapreneurs versus entrepreneurs

Haegermark explains that ‘intrapreneurship’ means developing a start-up mentality from within an organisation, while entrepreneurs are not working within a specific company’s framework or culture.

However, the aim is the same: in this case to encourage an innovation mentality among Saab’s talent so that the company can become a ‘hothouse’ of new start-up ideas and collaborations. That can sometimes be difficult in bigger companies with established hierarchies and ways of doing things but these days, says Haegermark, the corporate start-up culture is an increasingly common theme among many businesses.

“A lot of big companies around the globe are starting to realise the value of the entrepreneurship movement. They can see it has a positive effect on employees, raising their expectations and encouraging them to seize opportunities to innovate.”

But, she adds, “You need to make it your own and see what suits your company. Saab needs to be open to the outside world, but our approach is to put these operations in a semi-external setting, not like an external consultancy. There’s no room for an ‘us and them’ feeling here. Our approach is that we are setting up our startup operations very close to the core business, our business areas own the challenges and my cross-functional team and I enable the challenge-owners to be able to do speedy and agile collabs. This is because we are really serious about this – we really want collabs to generate real value and solve real problems. We don’t want ‘innovation theatre’.

Promising results and a promising future

Saab started looking into startup collaborations in 2017, a pre-study led by another intrapreneur, Daniel Femerström. The structured programme then began in October 2018, and Haegermark says that it is already showing good results; a collaboration with a start-up on cooling electronics recently ended and was turned into a research project together with the Swedish Innovation Agency, Vinnova. A very promising collaboration within design automation was also recently evaluated, where the team continues to research for implementation possibilities. Two collaborations within gamification was executed during the summer and one within VR/AR is currently underway.

While Saab always wants to see tangible proof of concept, Haegermark says the programme has also had a noticeably positive impact on employees’ attitudes and culture.

“I see a lot more cross-functional working, more self-confidence and energy among the groups I’ve been working with,” she says. “We’ve created a pull effect from the organisation and the market, as external companies want to work with our intrapreneurs on projects for Saab.”

Our driven intra/entrepreneur enjoys working on the programme and believes it has a great future at Saab, with the potential for expansion worldwide. And she’s convinced it is crucial to Saab’s continuing success.

“It’s crucial for companies like Saab to embrace intrapreneurial employees if they are going to stay innovative and competitive in the future,” says Haegermark. “Intrapreneurs who drive change and have both the visionary and operative skills to make things happen are so valuable for companies wanting to stay relevant.”

With that, she speeds off to her next piece of work, dedicated to driving the change.

Meet us at Slush in Helsinki November 22 2019

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