When you hear the word intrapreneur what kind of intrapreneur definition comes to mind? If you always wanted to become an entrepreneur but needed the security of a salary then read on.
I think you will agree with me that it is confusing to understand the difference when it comes to the intrapreneur vs entrepreneur argument.
More importantly having a clear intrapreneur definition will help most people to understand how it differs from an entrepreneur.
The problem many companies struggle to understand the benefits of having an intrapreneur in their organisation because many experts say that intrapreneurs are just inside entrepreneurs.
At first I was lost with this assumption but after trawling through many articles about the intrapreneur definition along with benefits and examples I saw light at the end of the tunnel
The impact to organisations large and small is amazing especially when the risk of not embracing this culture is failure.
In this post, I am going to help you to understand the intrapreneur definition from several experts as well as the associated examples and benefits. Grab a seat and your favourite snack.
Intrapreneur Definition – Part 1
What on earth is an intrapreneur and why should we care? According to Dictionary.com an intrapreneur is “An employee in a large corporation who receives freedom and financial support to create products, services and systems”.
Now, to be honest I had a few reservations with this definition because it seems to be narrow in that the employee needed to be in a large corporation.
My other observation is that the definition is very focused on the external adjectives and supports of the person rather than the drivers or motivations from within.
While you chew on this definition let’s look at a few examples and characteristics that match nicely with this point of view.
Intrapreneur Characteristics – part 1
Is it even possible to get an agreeable list together of the characteristics of an intrapreneur when compared to an entrepreneur?
According to Beth Hendricks at Study.com the top 4 traits of the intrapreneur are:
1. Willingness to take calculated risks
2. Ability to think visually and brainstorm new ideas
3. Desire to influence more than reap financial reward
4. Insight to discover the next great idea
“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
Intrapreneur Examples – Part 1
No study of this intense subject will be complete without taking a look at a few relevant examples that will help you to better understand the benefits to an organisation and the public.
1. Facebook likes – the famous Facebook like came about as a result of a hackathon event where intrapreneurship is being nurtured in Facebook. I am still waiting on the Facebook clap guys!
2. Zero to Zorro – Jean Marc Landry, with no experience in the area of intrapreneurship, he decided to set up an innovation program for his company. You can read more about it here.
Intrapreneur Definition – Part 2
If you did not like the first definition too much it is possible that you may find this one more acceptable.
According to Investopedia an intrapreneur is “An inside entrepreneur in a large firm, using entrepreneurial skills without incurring risks.”
Well, you know what I am going to say, why does it have to be a large firm? Can small businesses or startups have intrapreneurs?
At the risk of me sounding picky or even biased let’s spend some time looking at more characteristics and examples to back up this definition.
Intrapreneur Characteristics – Part 2
Does the entrepreneur have more guts or is that person more adventurous than the intrapreneur?
According to an article on Centre for Enterprise intrapreneurs have more relatable characteristics.
These are listed as:
- Results driven
It is at this point I would like to ask you, the reader, does this sound like you? Do you fit the bill?
I personally tend to think that entrepreneurs are more passionate compared to intrapreneurs.
Why? They have less resources available to them and they do not receive a salary so it tends to be a labour of love or passion.
There is no perfect fit
“There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have”.
Intrapreneur Examples – Part 2
Well, these next two examples occurred in two large well known organisations so they do reflect the definition given to us by Investopedia.
1. Innovative aircraft models – the Skunks Works Project that is lead by Kelly Johnson created a number of innovative aircraft models for Lockheed Martin including the SR71.
2. Kung Fu Panda – Dreamworks is another amazing company that encourages its workers by giving them free classes in script development and pitching. They then present in front of the real executive team. One of the results was the multi-million-pound movie Kung Fu Panda.
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Intrapreneur Definition – Part 3
No definition is complete without the help of Wikipedia. It states, “The act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working at a large firm.”
You have to see the fun side of that definition. I know that Wikipedia can have definitions that cause the reader to scratch their heads and this one takes the biscuit.
Let’s go to the other extreme and look at a well known dictionary. The Oxford dictionary came to the rescue with this definition “a manager within a company who promotes innovative product development and marketing.”
This intrapreneur definition was surprising for me as it was more politically correct and modern in its description.
Intrapreneur Characteristics – Part 3
As the whole idea of an intrapreneur is a fairly new topic I am open to taking a look at different angles.
Lavanya Nallamshetty wrote an article on LinkedIn back in 2016. Here are the 5 characteristics that she listed:
- Highly ethical
- Less distracted
- Constant learners
- Provide value
Who do you think learn more from their experience or develops more personally the entrepreneur or the intrapreneur?
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
Intrapreneur Examples – Part 3
1. Who else wants a patent? – IBM has a program called [email protected] where they foster corporate entrepreneurship which has resulted in over 7,500 patents registered by the company in 2014. A great reason why companies should consider intrapreneurial activities. The money is in the patent.
2. Intel – as a company Intel decided to invest in their employees in 1998 by starting a new business initiative. 12 months later 400 ideas were pitched by employees and 24 of them received funding. The result was the Vivonic Fitness Planner founded by Paul Scagnetti.
3. [email protected] – another amazing story that saw an intrapreneur community of 250 is the [email protected] It also involved sponsors and mentors across the enterprise. You can read Jack Redding’s story here.
At this point I am well aware that I am including some very large well known organisations. My request to you, if you are a start up or small business is that you share your story in the comments.
Intrapreneur Definition – Part 4
This is the final definition that I want to include in this article as it helps to balance things out a bit ensuring that it is inclusive as opposed to being exclusive to certain people and organisations.
Search CIO really brings the intrapreneur definition home by saying that “the intrapreneur is just an employee given the authority and support to develop a product without the need for it to become revenue generating.”
You can probably detect that I am being very biased to this definition compared to the 3-4 already given.
I really like the last part of this definition where it outlines the fact that there is not a need for the project to become revenue generating as it removes the pressure that can be associated with the term.
If you are wondering why then you need to know that most successful ventures, people and projects had to go through a series of failures before becoming successful.
Intrapreneur Characteristics – Part 4
Devika Majumder wrote an article in Entrepreneur that can safely sum up this section.
She talks about effective ways to find intrapreneurs for your start up. We spent a lot of time looking at the intrapreneur definition from the view of an established company so let’s help the startups now.
You can spot them by looking for:
- Problem solvers
- Growth drivers
- High integrity
As you can see from all 4 sections there are some similarities and differences that make up what is expected of an intrapreneur.
“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”
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Intrapreneur Examples – Part 4
2. ING – wanting to ensure that their large size don’t stop them from being agile ING came up with their own intrapreneurial program which resulted in BuyRely their first intrapreneurial success.
3. Shutterstock – encourages its employees via an intrapreneurship program which can take place at in 24 hour hackathons. One of these sessions resulted in the development of Spectrum. It allows users to navigate the photo library by colour.
By now you should have formulated in your mind a version of an intrapreneur definition that will suit you based on your background and beliefs.
You are now ready to look at how it compares to the traditional entrepreneur as well as the types, opportunities, skills, benefits and leadership characteristics.
Intrapreneur vs Entrepreneur
King University has come out to say that the key difference in the entrepreneur vs intrapreneur comparison is in the setting where each of these people work.
I tend to believe that there is actually more to that than meets the eye. For example:
These are some areas that can, in my opinion differ greatly when looking at the definition of an intrapreneur vs an entrepreneur.
I am not going to reveal my opinion with this point of view but I want to invite you, the reader, to compare this article with the next two and decide which is best based on your experience.
In a short article beautifully penned by Aja Frost at Hubspot she delves deeper into the elements I covered where she addresses:
- Job security
You can spend some time looking at Aja’s article objectively and consider how her point of view compares to the previous and next opinion.
I really tried not to show my bias but I love how Larry Myler at Forbes emphatically stresses the difference between the humble intrapreneur and the adventurous entrepreneur.
He talks about autonomy, resources, rewards vs risks and culture.
I especially appreciate the fact that he highlights that a company’s existing culture can have a negative impact on an intrapreneur as it is inherited.
If the existing culture is not particularly helpful it can affect the intrapreneurs innovative spirit.
At the risk of clouding your judgement I want you to decide for yourself what is the difference as opposed to me giving my strong opinion on this topic. Before you do keep reading.
Two types of people
“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”
Types of Intrapreneurs
Before embarking on this short study it never crossed my mind that there are different types of intrapreneurs.
Is there such a thing as different types of intrapreneurs in light of the intrapreneur definition?
What have we established so far? Well, an intrapreneur is an employee who conducts entrepreneurial endeavours within an existing company, established or startup.
Could there really be different types? Let’s take a look:
Melody Cottone in the Intrapreneurial Initiative gives us a little insight into the different types of intrapreneurs.
She believes that there are two types as follows:
1. Added value – this person is adding value or innovation to the existing activities of a business.
2. Spin-off – as the name suggest this can be a whole new line or activity for the existing business where totally new products or services are born.
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Back in 2016 Susan Foley of Corporate Entrepreneurs conducted some research on intrapreneurs. While conducting this research she discovered 3 distinct types of intrapreneurs as follows:
1. Creators – these are idea generators and are active during the discovery phase
2. Doers – these are task oriented and focused on achieving the objectives
3. Implementers – these are creative, competitive and goal-oriented. They know how to get things done and can figure out how to get things done
Which intrapreneur type are you? Or which one do you want to be?
what is leadership?
“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.”
Robin S Sharma
In June 2017, Ralph-Christian Ohr wrote about four models of intrapreneurship innovation. Where he focused on what specifically fuelled growth.
These four models fell into two categories, namely organisational ownership and resource authority based on Wolcott and Lippitz.
Let’s look at those four models:
1. Opportunist – great for those cultures that are open to experimentation
2. Enabler – great for those cultures that enjoys substantial collaboration and ideation
3. Advocate – great for those who want to accelerate growth of established divisions
4,. Producer – any organisation looking to disrupt their competition and conquer new growth domains are advised to adopt this model.
As you can see from these types and/or models you can be adding value as a doer in an opportunistic environment.
It feels a bit like standing at a salad bar at Whole Foods or at a Chipotle restaurant deciding on what you want to go into your wrap or sandwich or container.
Here is a pertinent question, do you want fries with that? Sorry, I just had to go there. 🙂
Top 10 Intrapreneurs
If you want to really get an understanding of an intrapreneurs one of the best things to do is to look at those who did it before.
Let’s spend some time looking at the the top 10 intrapreneurs. It is going to be difficult to find the top 10 since this whole concept is fairly new to planet earth.
Here are the first 3 according to Virgin.com. Do notice that these are not listed in any particular order.
1. Dick Drew – joined 3M in 1920 and wanted to solve a problem with two paint colours which resulted in the famous scotch tape or sellotape.
2. Dave Myers – helped WL Gore develop Gore’s Ride-On line of bike cables. He also helped develop better sounds for acoustic guitar strings for Elixir
3. Paul Buchheit – known for his work in helping to bring Gmail to the market for Google in 2004.
Here are are another four from of CBSNews.
4. Spencer Silver and Art Fry – responsible for the invention and popularity of the Post it note in 1980 for 3M.
5. Ken Kutaragi – responsible for forming Sony Computer Entertainment because of his passion to make the game console more exciting by improving sound and design as a sideline project. Would you believe he almost lost his job?
6. Patrick Naughton, James Gosling, Bill Joy – Patrick encouraged his CEO to break into the PC consumer market with a 12 page email. This resulted in Gosling creating an objected oriented programming language called Oak, known today as Java. This was for Sun Microsystems back in 1995.
7.Larry Hornbeck – he received an Emmy for outstanding achievement due to his research and development of digital light processing technology which revolutionised the market for HDTV and projectors.
You can listen to some intrapreneur success stories in the form of podcasts via player fm. You can pick the last three from this intrapreneur podcast.
I think it is fair for me to leave room for some lesser known stories and allow you the reader a bit of breathing room to decide which ones will make your top 10.
The key takeaway from these examples is to see which one of them fits the intrapreneur definition that you formulated in your mind at the start of this journey.
For those who want to become intrapreneurs based on the intrapreneur opportunties available let’s spend some time looking at a handful of possibilities.
Liz Elting, global CEO, writing about the opportunity for millennials to become intrapreneurs in a Forbes 2017 article said that she does not understand why fewer millennials have decided to become entrepreneurs.
She points out that many of them graduated around the time of the big recession in 2008 so their experience of getting a job after college was not a positive one.
However, she cites that they have more opportunity than ever before to flex their entrepreneurial muscles by being an intrapreneur which has the added benefit of a secure salary.
In this 2015 article, Libby and Anthony lists 4 different intrapreneur types as well as 6 main benefits that organisations can derive from having intrapreneurs onboard. Including:
- Idea development
- Innovation activity support
- Employee engagement
- Model new behaviours and skills
- Cultural change
- External positioning
They also go on to list 9 ways in which organisations can support intrapreneurs which you can find here.
Are you a lone wolf or a conformist? If you find that you have a rebellious streak, chances are that you are a lone wolf.
Whatever you do
“Whatever you do, do with determination. You have one life to live; do your work with passion and give your best. Whether you want to be a chef, doctor, actor, or a mother, be passionate to get the best result.”
Paul Kurchina in his article from out of the box thinking to strategic opportunity, talks about the fact that businesses actually train their employees not to innovate.
He goes on to give several examples of companies like Adobe, Cisco, GE and Siemens. I do admire when he says that “everyone has an intrapreneurial spirit within themselves that can deliver value to the business and its customers faster than a hierarchy.“
He believes that the best way to foster this inside any organisation is to have a environment that encourages intrapreneurial culture, like having an entire department that employees can go to with their ideas.
Like I mentioned earlier I prefer to take onboard as many views as possible to bring clarity to the subject.
I really like the Forbes article by George Deeb which states that companies should encourage employees to spend part of their day jobs tinkering with ideas.
Most importantly, that it is okay to make mistakes and that they should not be punished for failure.
There are never too many view points so you can read more examples of intrapreneurial opportunities at Hilton Gib Bulloch and Coca-Cola here.
Do you have what it takes to be an intrapreneur? What are the skills? Well, let’s take a look at what the experts think are intrapreneurial skills.
Boland Jones, in a 2014 article in Entrepreneur cited these 5 skills as those needed by an intrapreneur:
- Ability to Fail
Number 5 may surprise you because no one ever list one of their skills as failure. The truth is that we have all failed at some point in our lives.
The strength lies in our response to that failure and what we learn for our next attempt. We need to fail fast and move on.
If you don’t fully agree with Boland don’t worry let’s look at a few more views from the intrapreneurial experts.
In an article in Mind Tools, I bonded with the following phrase: “do the stuff that only you can do, the one thing you have that nobody else has is you”.
The author also resonates with Boland Jones by listing intrapreneur skills as self confidence, creativity, tenacious innovation, problem solving, ability to take calculated risks and putting ideas on the line.
Failure is also mentioned as a stepping stone. Does that mean intrapreneurs are allowed to fail?
Every great dream
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
David K. Williams in Forbes believes that there are 4 essential traits of an intrapreneur. He raises an interesting point which is “Money is not their measurement“. He also calls them ‘greenhousers’, who know how to pivot and behave authentically.
Does this describe you?
Finally, Lisa Quast in a Forbes article in 2011 believes their skills should include knowledge of internal and external environments, visionary, diplomatic, ability to build a professional-support network and perseverance.
These views seem to make the intrapreneur definition a bit similar to the entrepreneur.
I am getting closer to seeing the struggles of an intrapreneur despite getting a guaranteed salary every month.
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No study would be complete without spending some time looking at how a company can benefit from this modern kind of inside entrepreneur. (Did I just say that?)
In an article found on Intraprise we find 10 compelling reasons why intrapreneurship should be encouraged in organisations. Here are those 10 benefits:
- More revenues
- R&D Savings
- Breeding Talent
- Competitive Intelligence
- Attract external talent
- Boost Employee morale
- Abundant market research
- Product line expansion
- Social responsibility
It is also important to have a diverse staff pool to foster an environment of intrapreneurship.
I can easily end here with the benefits but that would not be an objective decision will it?
Do you remember Susan? Well, Susan Foley at Corporate Entrepreneurs gives us her 5 benefits of intrapreneurship. These include; growth, innovation, leadership, change and engagement.
I really like the fact that she emphasizes that change can be difficult with a 60%-70% failure rate across organisations.
Having intrapreneurs onboard means that these employees as change agents improve the possibility of success when there is need for change.
There is passion that moves
“When you have balance in your life, work becomes an entirely different experience. There is a passion that moves you to a whole new level of fulfilment and gratitude, and that’s when you can do your best… for yourself and for others.”
On the other hand, Stephen Bush, consulting and career training expert, at Tough Nickel added what he believes are three core reasons that organisations should encourage intrapreneurship.
1. Increasing market share and profit
2. Recruiting and retaining the best employees
3. Developing new products and services
Stephen did not stop there as he went one step further to give us 4 outcomes of ignoring intrapreneurship
- Lost profits
- Becoming obsolete
Finally, Audra Bianca gives us 4 more reasons why intrapreneurship can be advantageous for any organisation.
She says that motivation, stability, tapping into new markets and sharing resources should be sufficient to inspire an organisation to take a step in that new direction.
Can your organisation see any gains from having a culture that fosters intrapreneurship?
Intrapreneurial Leadership Characteristics
Is your organisation actively looking for a new CEO to lead the troops? Have you thought about the entrepreneurial qualities of your new leader? Can he or she foster an environment that will promote intrapreneurship?
Let’s look at some intrapreneurial leadership characteristics before you make your shortlist of candidates.
In this article written on YScouts.com we find a shortlist of 10 of these valuable characteristics:
- Share success
- Create a conducive, growth atmosphere
- Communication skills
The focus in these leadership characteristics moves away from systems and processes and moves toward a risk-centered approach.
You are going to love Mike. Robert Berris wrote an article in Enterprise Innovation where he looked at the example of Mike Burgiss at Cox Automotive.
Mike was involved in developing MakeMyDeal an online car purchasing experience.
In the article Mike hits on a vital point which is as an intrapreneur “there is a lot of motivation in the potential to ‘hit it big’ without the fear of losing out on a paycheck (salary/wage) next month“.
Could this be the big differentiator in the intrapreneur vs entrepreneur study? It could well be a defining moment.
Wait a minute, there is more…. When asked about the characteristics of the ideal intrapreneur Mike goes on to say,
“that hunger, drive and the ability to demonstrate leadership are some of the most important qualities…. however, spearheading innovation is not a means to get rich – there isn’t an IPO or M&A forthcoming…it’s an opportunity to place a bigger stake in the operations and future direction of the corporation.”
So is he saying that intrapreneurs do it for fame while entrepreneurs are in the game for an IPO or M&A?
Let’s see what skills Mike looks for in the people he chooses as intrapreneurs.
1. Creating order out of chaos
2. Leading from the front
3. Making decisions without inadequate information
When was the last time you made a decision without inadequate information? If your answer is never then maybe you are not cut out to be an intrapreneur. What do you think?
Special about you
“You just have to find that thing that’s special about you that distinguishes you from all the others, and through true talent, hard work, and passion, anything can happen.”
Before we close off this specific hot topic there is one more article from Brian Church, CEO of Ambassadors International and author of Relationship Momentum.
He wrote an article in Brazen.com where he outlines 5 traits for intrapreneurial leadership. One thing that Brian mentioned before I list those traits is the potential or risk of these innovative employees becoming the future competition of an organisation.
This is very deep and imperative for any organisation to consider.
Here are those traits:
1. Entrepreneurial spirit
2. Commitment to innovation
3. Appetite for risk and reward
4. Appetite for competition
5. High confidence and self esteem
Did you know that the captain and builders of the Titanic had high confidence and self esteem? In fact, I think they had all 5. I say I think because I was not there so I am not 100% sure.
You are probably thinking that this is beside the point but it is at least something to remember. 😉
Recap + Conclusion
So, what is your conclusion? We have spent some time together going through over 4,500 words of content to include the intrapreneur definition, characteristics and examples.
I have to be straight up with you and tell you this. If I can encourage everyone to get into digital nomading I would be shouting it from the mountain tops.
The truth is not all of us are destined to be digital nomads. Some of us will be employees until we retire.
Others will go off and become an entrepreneur by starting their own business. While others will become investors, start a blog and other such pursuits.
If you prefer to remain an employee that is fine as well. The good news is if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want the salary you can become an intrapreneur.
There are so many companies offering you the opportunity to get the best of both worlds so go for it. Your biggest enemy will be bureaucracy.
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Alvern is an avid blogger for 10 years and the host of the Success Unscrambled podcast.
Read Alvern’s inspiring story from her eye-opening experience 3 years ago to becoming a Blogger and Podcaster with a dream to reduce illiteracy among women.