An intrapreneur develops a new idea within the framework of an existing company. They are similar to an entrepreneur in their focus on innovation, however unlike an entrepreneur, they have access to their employer’s resources. With their organization’s sponsorship, an intrapreneur typically takes on less risk than an entrepreneur.
In this article, we’ll discuss the key characteristics of intrapreneurs, examples of intrapreneurship, and some benefits of adopting an intrapreneurial mindset.
Intrapreneurs share many characteristics with entrepreneurs and the way they approach their work is usually similar. The main difference is that entrepreneurs typically need to find their own resources to pursue their ideas—including money, technology, workers, and time—while intrapreneurs are able to pull resources from within their current organization. Essentially, an intrapreneur is an employer-sponsored entrepreneur.
Some key characteristics of intrapreneurs are:
They risk something of value, like time or effort.
They innovate and create.
They work independently within their company.
They locate necessary resources within their company.
They share the reward of their risk with their company.
Many traits attributed to successful intrapreneurs are characteristics commonly valued within the workplace. Intrapreneurs just happen to use those traits for large-scale innovation.
For example, you may see yourself as a self-starter if you are good at anticipating your team’s needs and finding a solution before a problem arises. Intrapreneurs are also self-starters, but they apply their skills to create solutions that impact the entire company or industry.
Some intrapreneurial traits include:
Willing to pursue big ideas
Knowledgeable and interested in learning
Because intrapreneurs create on behalf of their employer, their innovations are largely credited to their company—so you may be more familiar with the products an intrapreneur created rather than the people behind them.
Here are some examples of intrapreneur-backed products:
Paul Buchheit created Gmail, the first email platform with a search function and high storage capacity, when working for Google.
Art Fry created Post-It notes when he revisited a previously abandoned adhesive project by scientist Spencer Silver.
Ken Kutaragi created the Sony PlayStation when he wanted to improve his daughter’s Nintendo.
Intrapreneurs benefit a company in the same way that entrepreneurs benefit an industry: their innovations help create progress. And in backing intrapreneurs, the company tends to receive most of the credit for the innovation. For a company, intrapreneurship can increase both financial and social capital.
Intrapreneurs also stand to benefit from their major contributions. After all, the intrapreneur had the idea, put in the work, made the connections, and made the product a reality—proving their expansive skills, capabilities, and drive. And along the way, they got to take the lead on a project that felt important to them.
This valuable experience can lead them toward an internal promotion, job offers with other organizations, or funding offers from venture capitalists to support their next big idea. The direction they choose to go depends on their goals, but a successful intrapreneur will likely have options.
Anyone can approach their work with an intrapreneurial mindset. If you feel excited about the idea of leading your own project at your workplace, practice incorporating some of the self-starter traits in your daily job responsibilities.
Some things you might consider trying:
Look for potential areas of improvement within your team’s processes and present your realistic solutions to your manager.
Volunteer to help with interesting projects that can expand your knowledge or skill set.
Seek internal mentors who have helped with previous company innovations.
Seek cross-departmental allies who may want to partner with you on making key improvements.
Demonstrate your readiness and willingness to take on larger projects by approaching your current responsibilities with foresight.
Pursue your passion project in your spare time. You may find that you can complete a lot of groundwork without using company resources, making your idea even stronger when you do decide to present it to your manager.
If you want to learn more about innovation, consider taking the Entrepreneurship and Strategic Innovation Specialization from the University of Illinois. Through the Gies College of Business, you can learn entrepreneurial strategies and build a creativity toolkit.
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Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs both aim to innovate. An intrapreneur innovates from within an organization and is able to use company resources in pursuit of their project. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, works for themselves and seeks external resources and support in pursuit of their project.
Intrapreneurs can become entrepreneurs if they seek that path, however, there is no standard roadmap for an intrapreneur after they successfully launch their innovation. Intrapreneurs may also go on to lead a department centered around their innovation, move on to a new project within their company, or seek employment at a different company.
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