The term “intrapreneurship,” which refers to new ventures spearheaded within a larger organization, was coined in 1978 by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot and is a portmanteau of the words “inside” and “entrepreneur.” As the millennial generation enters the workforce with new ideas and an unfettered drive to succeed, intrapreneurship is on the rise as a way to channel innovation within a corporate framework.
What Is Intrapreneurship?
The essential characteristic of intrapreneurs is that they apply the principles of entrepreneurship to the roles they fill within a company rather than in a startup venture, Forbes reports. Intrapreneurs are vital to the continued success of organizations, which is why more and more companies are choosing to embrace intrapreneurship. Workers who embody the concept are willing to take risks to solve problems. They have many of the same characteristics as successful entrepreneurs, but they choose to drive innovation, create new programs and develop fresh policies within an existing company framework. They have the skills and expertise to address real challenges within the company because intrapreneurs are more likely to be on production teams than at the C-level of executives.
Intrapreneurs are process-minded and contribute to productivity in a major way. In the most basic sense, an intrapreneur “is a skilled problem solver that can take on important tasks within a company … the most fundamental component of an innovative and growing company,” Inc. says. For intrapreneurs to thrive, they must have autonomy and agency to investigate problems fully and identify creative solutions. Companies can encourage intrapreneurs by supporting new projects and giving employees space to grow. For intrapreneurs, values are different. Rather than being driven by a need to move up the corporate ladder and earn more money, they want to “create something new that doesn’t exist,” according to Fast Company.
The Intrapreneur Identity
The main drive toward intrapreneurship is the millennials currently joining the workforce. In the past, most of these young professionals were interested in making an impact with their careers in startup culture. However, more are beginning to create change by working for corporate employers. In established settings, more funding and infrastructure are available, and stability is more likely. Wired points out that intrapreneurship is attractive for that reason: “You’re able to exercise your creativity, take a leadership position, build your credibility, and make a meaningful impact on the business, all within a reasonably safe environment.”
Millennials are inspiring older generations to innovate and launch new projects as well, Fast Company says. If companies can provide autonomy, creativity and meaningful work, intrapreneurs are more likely to stick around rather than move on to more entrepreneurial opportunities. Gifford Pinchot writes that millennials are interested in intrapreneurship because it gives them the “freedom to pursue their own ideas and the chance to make a meaningful difference early in their careers.” And companies are paying attention, recruiting and retaining young candidates who embody these ideals.
Essential Traits of an Intrapreneur
There are certain values that all intrapreneurs share. These traits are ones that have traditionally held value in the business world and remain important in the modern economy.
- Intrapreneurs stay focused. They hone in on a specialized area or process versus having a top-level focus on the company as a whole. This allows them to become experts at what they do — fast. Intrapreneurs are persistent enough to cut through corporate bureaucracy and get things done with great results. They can change course if necessary but know that each task takes them closer to meeting their goals.
- Intrapreneurs can forecast. They predict trends and advise on the right direction for the company. This is why successful companies must hire intrapreneurs in production roles: They can help organizations achieve growth faster than competitors because they are forward-thinking.
- Intrapreneurs are risk takers. They aren’t afraid of failure and find effective ways to accomplish tasks that may be vastly different than the processes in place. Intrapreneurs can take on important tasks with confidence and increase productivity as a result. They want to find solutions to unique, market-driven problems and remove barriers to productivity.
- Intrapreneurs are (not) here for the money. Though they understand the value and importance of profit, intrapreneurs don’t chase raises or rapid advancement. Instead, they drive the company to succeed and behave with integrity. Rather than being mavericks, they are team players who bring an authentic attitude to their work.
Examples of Successful Intrapreneurs
Top companies have benefited from the rise of a new kind of worker because they cultivate an intrapreneurial spirit as part of company culture. Enterprises like Deloitte, Accenture and Barclays all have formal programs in place to encourage their employees to innovate. They offer conferences, webinars and career coaches to guide employees and create intrapreneurial spirit. The following are a few other examples of intrapreneurship at work.
- EBay: When Healey Cypher realized his company was missing out on the chance to capitalize on on-site purchases, he put a plan in place to use technology as a way to enhance physical storefronts. Fast Company reports that 75 percent of all consumer purchases happen within 15 miles of someone’s home, so eBay needed to innovate. The company only offered e-commerce services to clients. Cypher put together a team of engineers who created an interactive storefront in their free time. Though eBay never instructed Cypher to do this, his plan was successful and “became the centerpiece of the company and a new, formal division,” according to Fast Company. He launched something brand new within an existing company and took ownership, two key tenets of intrapreneurship.
- Lockheed Martin: This is a classic, famous example of intrapreneurship. Kelly Johnson, an employee of Lockheed Martin, came up with the idea for Skunk Works, another name for Advancement Development Programs (ADP). Skunk Works has created some of the world’s most innovative aircraft models, all because Lockheed Martin gave Johnson the support and resources he needed for success. Originally launched in 1943, Skunk Works is still in operation today. Lockheed Martin realized that team members should be able to run with great ideas when they have them, with the power to innovate without too much overhead.
- Sony: Junior Sony employee Ken Kutaragi spent his free time altering his daughter’s Nintendo to make it more powerful and have a better user experience. What ultimately arose from his hobby was the Sony Playstation. Kutaragi was able to experiment on the job, and the result is that Sony is now one of the world’s foremost leaders in the gaming industry. Instead of penalizing Kutaragi for working on outside projects, Sony was open to innovation and recognized the growth potential in video games. Now, Kutaragi’s work is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, Wired says.
To succeed in today’s fast-paced marketplace, it is important for individuals and companies to embrace the intrapreneurial spirit and drive innovation. All companies need driven employees who are ready to take initiative and give the organization an edge among competitors. This is why intrapreneurs are rapidly becoming some of the most valuable assets an organization can have.
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