When a corporate employees discover their entrepreneurial mindsets, intrapreneurs are born. Intrapreneurs are becoming more prevalent members of the workforce. They are key figures bringing innovation to companies from the inside, even in more traditional settings. Read on to find out more.

Who is an intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are “internal” entrepreneurs, i.e. company employees capable of reconciling their daily work activities with the application of new business ideas, reinvigorating the organisation from the bottom up. And they do so with creativity, inventiveness, a strong motivational drive and the ability to take the initiative on projects.

Intrapreneurship is not new; in fact, it dates back to 1978 when two American students, Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot, first talked about it in regard to the figure of the intra-corporate entrepreneur: “Intrapreneurs are dreamers who do. Those who take responsibility for creating innovation of all kinds within an organisation.”

In 1985, economist Norman Macrae better defined the concept, however, it is only in recent years that the figure of the intrapreneur has taken hold, in line with the need for traditional companies to innovate and adapt to new technologies. As new business models emerge, employees are being asked to broaden their overview.

What’s more, the intrapreneurship phenomenon goes hand in hand with the rise of Millennials in the workforce. They are those born between 1980 and 1996, creative and dynamic people who, by their nature, feel the need to shift the boundaries of the traditional working world.

Intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs and business employees

What is the difference between an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur? The intrapreneur is an employee in their own right, so they work within an already established business environment and can rely on a regular salary. However, the intrapreneur is also ready to take responsibility and take risks just like the entrepreneur, with the difference that they can rely on all the infrastructure already present in the company to make their business ideas into a reality. Of course, compared to the entrepreneur, intrapreneurs cannot manage their own financial resources independently. Instead they have to deal with other departments, such as finance.

For those who have an entrepreneurial mindset but do not feel confident or ready to start a business of their own, intrapreneurship is a good compromise. It doesn’t matter if it is in the marketing department, accounting, sales and any other department. The intrapreneur is an innovator, and their desire is to bring about transformative or enhancing changes within the business environment, at whatever level. Those who work, or have worked, in an organisational setting may know this. Not everyone is content to mind their own backyard and perform circumscribed tasks, even though the company requires nothing more. It is a matter of mindset. Some people do not want to see themselves as individual pieces to be included within the corporate puzzle but feel the need to participate fluidly in the renewal of the organisation.

How to recognise an intrapreneur

The intrapreneur “connects the dots” to find synergies between industries, situations, and processes that on the surface might seem at odds with each other. They are a curious, ambitious, and non-conformist people. As such they are not content to stop at the mandate they have received and feel the need to step out of their comfort zone. They recognise problems and but are not scared away; on the contrary, they want to find new solutions to go beyond “it’s always been done this way!” They ask questions, take the initiative, and do not lose optimism if the project fails.

Intrapreneurs are recognised by their tenacity and their broad, long-term vision. They are willing to fail because they know that not making mistakes is synonymous with being static. In fact, they view failure as an opportunity for growth from which valuable lessons can be learned. In addition, the role of the intrapreneur is also important on a relational and motivational level because it puts business sectors in communication with each other. As a result, teams are pushed to improve and innovate.

But if I can count on a guaranteed fixed salary, why should I take on all these responsibilities? The intrapreneur finds not only economic satisfaction in their work, but above all personal satisfaction. Internal motivation is the real engine that drives them to be proactive every day and to believe in what they do. They take pride in it, feel useful and fulfilled. The intrapreneur has all this plus the peace of mind that a corporate infrastructure can provide.

It is obvious, however, that motivation is not enough. If the company hosting the intrapreneur is not ready to welcome and support them one hundred percent, then problems may arise.

Why should companies support intrapreneurs?

Intrapreneurs can scare off more traditional organisations, which have a hard time accepting hybrid figures who think far outside the box. Intrapreneurship alone doesn’t work; you need an environment that can value and give space to the personal initiatives of internal entrepreneurs.

A change of mindset and a renewal of corporate culture is needed in these cases, especially now when there is a very strong push for innovation. Decision-making power can no longer be centralised in top management alone, and there is a need to open up to a bottom-up process, that is, innovation that starts from the bottom, from those internal resources that demonstrate entrepreneurial potential. The challenge lies in learning to recognise that these figures can really bring a breath of fresh air into the organisation.

An employee with an entrepreneurial spirit who feels empowered, free to put forward their ideas without fear of judgement, knowing that their value is being recognised, will go out of their way to carry out the project and will cheer for the reality of which they are an integral part. The company should encourage rather than hinder them – they create a mutual benefit cycle!

What can be done to incentivise intrapreneurs?

In addition to being well predisposed toward them, companies can take some steps. For example, introduce more flexible and agile work patterns such as smart working, so that they do not feel physically constrained by the work environment. Or they can leave them free to work on projects instead of requiring them to clock in at set times.

This is why companies should support intrapreneurs. So that they can count on proactive and creative people, capable of renewing the organisation from the bottom up and driven by strong personal motivation. Plus, being employees, they know the internal dynamics like the back of their hands and are well aware of what processes need to be changed and improved

For more on this topic, take a look at MIT Sloan’s article here.

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