The idea of intrapreneurship is attracting more and more attention from professionals and companies alike. And for good reason. Intrapreneurship represents a new way of thinking about innovation inside organizations.
If you haven’t encountered the term before, here’s how intrapreneurship relates to the more familiar entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship encompasses all of the activities related to dreaming up and launching new business ventures. Intrapreneurship, by comparison, represents those same activities taking place inside a company, focusing on areas like identifying new market opportunities or improving policies and processes. In a word, intrapreneurship is innovation and change-making focused on improving the competitive position of an existing company.
Below we’re sharing 11 core ideas about intrapreneurship and intrapreneurs. This list is a mix of advice for professionals interested in the topic and companies looking to create an effective innovation culture.
- Go deep, not broad. The first thing to know about intrapreneurship is that employees should focus on specific challenges their company already faces. So be hyper-focused when pitching your manager. Explain the issue you’ve identified, how you plan to solve it, the impact your project will have, and the types of resources you need to get it done. Although intrapreneurship endeavors can be great opportunities for cultivating new skills, make sure you have enough baseline know-how to see the project through. Alternatively, you can showcase your leadership instincts by assembling an informal team of colleagues who possess the complementary skills the solution requires.
- Drive productivity. Just as entrepreneurs require room to experiment, intrapreneurs need independence to thoroughly investigate the problem they are trying to solve. The payoff is that, “Intrapreneurs take risks and find more effective ways to accomplish tasks. An intrapreneur, in the most basic sense, is a skilled problem solver that can take on important tasks within a company.”
- Earn buy-in before you present your idea. If you already have a track record of self-directed success, your bosses may give you some leeway. But if you’re new to intrapreneurship and want to make a good impression, find a champion for your idea. Figure out who stands to benefit most from your solution, and get their feedback before running it through the official channels. Having internal support before you’ve even pitched the concept will give you credibility with key decisionmakers.
- Own innovation—or else. At the core, intrapreneurship is about innovation: “The means by which large, mature corporates can develop and harness the commercial energy that will grow the business in a constantly changing and fiercely competitive environment.” With the speed of business today, even long-established market leaders face constant threats of competitive disruption. By fostering innovation, companies can stay one step ahead of that hot startup gunning for them.
- Leverage the millennial spirit. It’s often said that millennials are natural entrepreneurs, flush with skills like leadership, innovative thinking, and a bias for action. Those talents are prerequisites for intrapreneurial roles inside a company, and millennial professionals can contribute original thinking to innovation teams.
- Let mavericks thrive. Companies with more conservative cultures may have difficulty with the concept, but those are also the companies likely in need of radical thinking to identify emerging competitive threats, generate new product ideas, and demonstrate the effectiveness of new ways of thinking.
- Recognize your intrapreneurs or lose them. Data shows that 70% of successful entrepreneurs dreamed up their startup while working at a previous employer. To build your innovation engine, your company needs to find ways to energize and incentivize your employees to be more intrapreneurial, and then capture and implement their best ideas. Your best intrapreneurs are only one step away from forming your industry’s next innovative startup.
- Create a culture of intrapreneurship. Any professional with experience at innovative companies can contribute to creating a culture where intrapreneurship thrives. That means communicating and supporting values like transparency, rewarding proactive behavior (something corporation aren’t always good at), fixing problems as they arise to avoid normalizing the bad, and encouraging healthy internal competition.
- Don’t focus on solutions at first. In some cases, intrapreneurs shouldn’t be given a specific problem to solve. The process of finding a solution entails crossing off possibilities one by one—and one of those discarded ideas might actually be the winner. “It’s better to stay in what we call the ‘problem space’ for as long as possible.” So give intrapreneurs space to develop a deep understanding of the problem before setting them on the path to developing viable solutions.
- Define success. Don’t chase trends, you’ll always lag behind. True innovation comes from creating products and services that are singular experiences that other businesses can’t replicate. Setting up dedicated teams focused on discovering where true innovation lies is a cornerstone of long-term customer engagement and long-term success.
- Turbocharge intrapreneurship with artificial intelligence. As Entefy has written previously, AI turbocharges intrapreneurship. Here’s how it works. As AI enters the mainstream, cognitive systems assume low-level tasks and free employees to focus on higher-value work. The professionals that will thrive in this environment are—you guessed it—the natural intrapreneurs, who transform their newfound freedom from drudgery into powerful new ideas.
Intrapreneurship programs are win-wins for businesses and employees. They allow companies to get the best work and ideas from their best and brightest thinkers by giving them more autonomy to do their best work.