What Is an Intrapreneur? A Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs focus on innovation—but do so with access to their current employer's resources.

[Featured image] An intrapreneur shows a business proposal to two colleagues on her laptop.

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 entrepreneurs, they have access to their employer’s resources. With their organisation’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.

Key characteristics of an intrapreneur

Intrapreneurs share many characteristics with entrepreneurs, and their approach is usually similar. The main difference is that entrepreneurs typically need to find resources to pursue their ideas—including money, technology, workers, and time—while intrapreneurs can pull resources from within their current organisation. 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.

Intrapreneurial traits

Many traits attributed to successful intrapreneurs are characteristics commonly valued within the workplace. Intrapreneurs 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 self-starters, but they apply their skills to create solutions that impact the entire company or industry.

Some intrapreneurial traits include:

  • Proactive

  • Willing to pursue big ideas

  • Strategic

  • Collaborative

  • Resourceful

  • Knowledgeable and interested in learning

  • Adaptable

Successful intrapreneurs

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 to improve his daughter’s Nintendo.

Benefits of intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurs benefit a company like entrepreneurs benefit an industry: their innovations help create progress. In backing intrapreneurs, the company tends to receive most of the credit for innovation. For a company, intrapreneurship can increase both financial and social capital.

Intrapreneurs also stand to benefit from their significant 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 organisations, 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.

Adopting an intrapreneurial mindset

Anyone can approach their work with an intrapreneurial mindset. If you feel excited about leading your 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 to make 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 initial work without using company resources, making your idea even stronger when you decide to present it to your manager.

If you want to learn more about innovation, consider taking the Entrepreneurship and Strategic Innovation Specialisation course at the University of Illinois. You can learn entrepreneurial strategies and build a creativity toolkit through the Gies College of Business.

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