What is intrapreneurship in business?

Innovation is the engine from which growth and progress come forth. It is thanks to innovation that we enjoy the many life-changing technologies we see today.

What is intrapreneurship?

In a nutshell, intrapreneurship is simply entrepreneurship within an organization or company. Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurs operating within the structure of a company. They are at the forefront of innovation and are given control of products and services that affect the company’s future growth. Read on to discover how intrapreneurship benefits business, and how it can help your career.

Intrapreneurship is essentially a mechanism within an organizational setting that lets an employee act like that an entrepreneur. These employees are given the task to create and develop new products. They are typically afforded much more leeway, support, and resources than other employees in the company.


The term first appeared in 1979 in “Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur” published by Gilford and Elizabeth Pinchot. It later gained mainstream recognition when Time Magazine published the article “Here Come the Intrapreneurs” in 1985. In 1992, the term was added to The American Heritage Dictionary further acknowledging the term’s popularity.

However, the first regarded instance of intrapreneurship happened in 1974. A scientist by the name of Art Fry in 3M developed the iconic Post-it Notes. He partnered with another 3m Scientist named Spencer Silver who developed an adhesive that sticks temporarily and leaves no residue behind. They developed the popular office product and have since seen success to this day.

What is the difference between entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship?

Although very similar, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship have a major fundamental difference that makes them distinct from one another. This difference is what separates an intrapreneur from its more mainstream counterpart.

The major difference 
The biggest factor is the setting. Entrepreneurship operates through independent ventures. They are essentially businesses that operate independently from any other companies or organizations. Intrapreneurship, on the other hand, is found within established companies. Because of this major difference, intrapreneurs are afforded perks that are not typically available to entrepreneurs.

Access to a bigger pool of resources 
First, and perhaps the biggest, on the list is access to resources. Because an intrapreneur operates within a company, they have access to the company’s resources. This lets the intrapreneur focus on developing and designing new products. This also lets the intrapreneur tap into other non-monetary resources like industry connections, talent, and support along the way. This empowers the innovator to realize their product without much fear of losing funding.

Effective and robust support system 
In a company or organization that supports intrapreneurship, support is one of the key factors that help the venture succeed. This mainly comes in the form of allowing the intrapreneur to develop and realize their ideas. After all, no idea takes off without others supporting and adopting it. A good support system empowers the innovator to persevere.

Mitigated risks 
Failures and setbacks are inevitable for any innovative pursuit. However, since intrapreneurs are ultimately inside a bigger organization, it isn’t as daunting. Unlike entrepreneurs who bear all the risks in any endeavor, the parent companies of the intrapreneur provide a safety net. This lets the employee with greatly minimized risks.

Get a huge head start in your field 
Being an innovator takes a lot of hard work and resources. That is why it helps greatly when you have existing support networks and resources to use. This is essentially what intrapreneurship gives to innovators: a strong chance to succeed in bringing innovation not just to their companies but also to their industry as well.

Who are successful intrapreneurs?

The benefits of being an intrapreneur in a large company can increase your chances of success, but it still boils down to the intrapreneur themselves. It takes a certain combination of traits that makes for a successful intrapreneur.

First⁠—and perhaps the most important⁠—is that successful intrapreneurs are innovators. They are a fountain of ideas that are willing to explore new avenues for improvement and change. They embrace change and thrive in environments that constantly seek growth and improvement. They are always at the forefront of what’s new in their respective fields.

Innovators are excellent problem-solvers. After all, innovation is the pursuit to offer an elegant solution to an existing problem. Along the way, there will be various challenges that an intrapreneur must face. With a problem-solving mindset, the intrapreneur rises to these challenges and comes up with effective solutions to address them.

Risk takers 
Innovation is not without risks and pitfalls. A successful intrapreneur acknowledges this fact but welcomes it anyway. They are not afraid to take risks but are smart about them. They understand that innovation entails challenges and that they are but part of the process. They also understand that ultimately growth and progress happen when one takes risks.

Has an eye for opportunity 
Risk-taking will not be fruitful if you are not smart about it. Successful intrapreneurs are good at spotting opportunities when they see them. They can recognize situations, good or bad, as opportunities for growth and innovation. This eye for opportunity helps them take steps that are leagues away from their counterparts.

Being at the forefront also means leading others. That is why successful intrapreneurs are born leaders. They inspire others and infect them with their enthusiasm and hunger for innovation. They are doers who lead by example.

Keen collaborators 
As leaders, they understand that innovation is a product of different minds coming together. They understand the power of collaboration and actively encourage it. They welcome any and all good ideas, no matter who from. They encourage others to share these with the team. This collaborative mindset helps intrapreneurs have fresh perspectives on their ideas and get valuable insight.

What are the benefits of intrapreneurship for business? 

Being an innovator in your company puts you in a very unique position. A position where you get to enjoy many perks and benefits while your company also gets a lot of value from your work. This is what makes intrapreneurship such an extremely rewarding and fulfilling role. Here are a few benefits of being an intrapreneur:

Spearhead innovation 
For companies and organizations, having an intrapreneur is a huge advantage. They are the leaders in innovation that drive growth for businesses. Having an entrepreneurial mindset inside the company brings with it a ton of benefits. Intrapreneurs are known to think outside the box and to see things from a different perspective. This brings fresh ideas into the mix.

Draw in brilliant minds 
When an organization fosters an intrapreneurial culture, this attracts talents within the industry. When they are given an environment where their talents and skills are appreciated and allowed to flourish, they deliver remarkable results. With an active entrepreneurial environment in place, intrapreneurs feel supported and allowed to flourish while the company reaps the innovation and growth brought on by this. A win-win situation.

Get a good headstart 
As an Intrapreneur, you start as a regular employee within the company. During this time you get to meet knowledgable and experienced people in your industry. Some companies have an internal mentoring program designed to help budding intrapreneurs develop the skills they need.

Build your network in the industry easily 
Being an industry innovator within an existing company also lets you build your network quickly. This is especially true in big established companies. This can grant you access to an industry-wide event where you get to meet and connect with experts and movers in the industry. This lets you build a pool of intellectual resources that you can tap into.

Training ground for entrepreneurship 
The skills you learn as an intrapreneur can help you greatly when you decide to transition to becoming an entrepreneur. A lot of the challenges that an entrepreneur faces are also relevant to intrapreneurs. This lets you learn the ropes without being as risky as any entrepreneurial pursuits.

How to promote intrapreneurship in an organization 

Because it is quite contrary to the traditional corporate model, intrapreneurship can be hard to sell to your organization. But if the company sees the benefits of fostering this environment, it will be easy to promote the necessary changes. Here are a few things you can do:

Adopt the mindset
The foremost thing to do is to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. This means to think like an entrepreneur looking for opportunities. This means looking at things from a problem solver’s point of view and being proactive when addressing challenges. Practicing this daily lets you see things differently than what an employee does.

Always think of ways to improve and adapt 
To be an intrapreneur is to be an innovator. As an innovator, you should always be on the lookout for things to improve. You identify current existing problems and you create creative ways to solve them. Get in the habit of thinking about improvement and growth when developing any product.

Embrace new innovative ideas 
Another good way to promote intrapreneurship within an organization is to embrace and encourage innovative ideas. A good intrapreneur understands that ideas are integral to innovation and should be highly encouraged. As an intrapreneur, you should also welcome ideas, especially those that are not from you. This encourages others to adopt the mindset as well.

Encourage collaboration 
Collaboration is at the heart of any intrapreneurial pursuit. Minds working together to design and develop can accomplish a whole lot more than a single mind can. That is why fostering a healthy collaborative environment also encourages intrapreneurship as a whole. You can do this by starting brainstorming meetings where you let other members of the team showcase their creativity and expertise.

How to become an intrapreneur

Becoming an intrapreneur doesn’t happen overnight. It requires key changes in how you think as well as adopting the right habits and practices along the way. However, with enough effort and hard work, you too can become the force of innovation in your organization. Here are some things you can do to start this transition now:

Learn the ins and outs of the innovation process 
Innovation isn’t simply having an idea and working on it. For innovation to be truly impactful, one must know the proper steps in the ideation process. From ideation and research up to development and implementation. Understanding this process is key to being successful in any venture.

Learn how to foster and manage a team of like-minded individuals 
Innovators thrive with other innovators around them. That is why it is important to understand how to manage a team of talents. This includes improving collaboration, learning conflict resolution, and balancing interests among others. Knowing this lets you understand and leverage the team’s dynamics and properly channel their strengths while addressing their weaknesses.

Be passionate about improvement 
There is always something to be improved upon and made better. An innovator is always passionate about finding these things. Be proactive in suggesting ways to bring positive changes into your department. Be consistent and always look for opportunities to improve.

Understand the business side of things 
Though things are a little easier since you are operating within a company, it wouldn’t hurt to know the business side of things. This includes looking at financial statements, understanding basic accounting, learning to do cost estimates, and creating business proposals. Understanding this lets you balance the interests of your company and your own.

Learn through online courses 
Another great way to learn the ropes is to have knowledgeable teachers show you how it is done. You can get this through education such as in universities. Fortunately, in this hyperconnected world, you can learn right from the comfort of your home. Nexford’s Introduction to Intrapreneurship and Innovation is a great resource for people wanting to dip their toes. For people looking for graduate studies, Nexford’s MBA Program gives you an in-depth understanding of innovation as well as other key factors in doing business in the modern era.

About the Author

Joe McGoldrick

Known for strategy and attention to detail

Joe has more than 10 years of marketing experience, working within the public sector, client-side, and agency side.

He is passionate about using data and customer insights to improve marketing performance.

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