What is Intrapreneurship?


An illustration of the question "What is intrapreneurship?" showing an entrepreneur coming from within a large organization.

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the need to be more innovative in order to remain competitive and they are looking for ways to improve their inventiveness.

They sometimes make acquisitions to acquire creative startups, but the culture of a startup often does not blend well with the organization’s culture. Growth is usually safer through creative activity within the firm.

That brings us to the concept of intrapreneurship. The best way to become more innovative is by creating a more entrepreneurial culture. When an organization does this, it is referred to as intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship is simply entrepreneurship in an existing organization.

In many ways, intrapreneurship is easier for an individual than entrepreneurship because it has the support of an existing organization. However, there are both facilitators and barriers to intrapreneurship. Now that we’ve defined the term, let’s consider how to create an innovative organizational culture that advances intrapreneurship.

How Intrapreneurship Benefits an Organization

An organization that is consistently innovative will be dynamic and will attract creative people. It will have a stimulating environment that will be viewed as a great place to work. And if a company is growing it will provide new opportunities for its employees.

Unfortunately, there is a natural tendency in established organizations to preserve the status quo. This is understandable because change can be threatening. However, any organization that does not change will not adapt to new demands and environmental threats. This is sometimes referred to as “organizational Darwinism,” and organizations that don’t respond to changes in the environment do not survive. For-profit companies must be profitable or they will be replaced by ones that are.

Intrapreneurship makes growth possible by making change acceptable. Without it, organizations will invariably go into decline over time.

How Intrapreneurship Benefits Workers

When you are innovative in an existing organization, you have a support system that entrepreneurs don’t have. If you fail, you won’t suffer financially. Usually, a “failure” is a developmental experience that prepares you for your next venture.

Intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship with a safety net.

If you are a successful intrapreneur, you can always take your innovative skills and strike out on your own as an entrepreneur when you are ready to take the plunge. Or perhaps your organization will put you in charge of a new venture, particularly if you developed the idea for it.

I have found that in a typical organization, approximately 20% of employees will have 80% of the innovations. Why is that? Because that 20% group is curious and passionate about improving their environment. They aren’t afraid of failure. Indeed, they expect to fail on the road to success.

They are resilient because they know that inventors rarely get it right on the first try.

The Importance of Incentivizing Innovation

The effort to change requires incentives. Does your organization reward change?

If not, it is likely that you do not have an innovative organization. If the leadership of your organization doesn’t seem to support innovation you should discuss it with your manager. Find out if they truly want to change. Perhaps they don’t know how to be innovative.

If management doesn’t proactively support innovation, it will not occur in a regular and effective manner.

Management must recognize and reward innovation from within. Yet a majority of organizations do not have sufficient processes in place to equitably promote and reward innovators.

If you are in management, make sure that your organization doesn’t take innovation for granted. Remember the two “R’s” of motivating innovation: recognize and reward!

Start Thinking Like an Intrapreneur

At Elmhurst University we have created a one-year part-time graduate program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship that develops one’s ability to be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur.

Our hands-on emphasis includes business mentoring, a startup incubator/accelerator, an entrepreneur-in-residence, and other innovation support.

Complete the form below to learn more today!

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About the Author

Bruce Fischer is the Coleman Foundation Distinguished Chair and Professor of Project Management at Elmhurst University. His research interest is innovation and entrepreneurship, and he serves as the director of Elmhurst’s Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.

Posted July 27, 2021

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