The concept of intrapreneurship is experiencing a resurgence in popularity among business experts. While industry insiders may understand the meaning behind it, the terminology isn’t understood as well outside of such circles. But as more and more employees are encouraged to exemplify intrapreneurship in their daily work, a clear understanding of the idea and its value is an important factor in long-term success.

An intrapreneur, otherwise known as an “inside entrepreneur,” uses entrepreneurial skills without the associated risks. They are usually employees who work on special projects or innovative ideas within a larger company. Intrapreneurs are given the agency to develop such projects the way an entrepreneur would, but they have the resources of the company behind them and follow the goals of the organization. The company backs new ventures in the hope that they will become profitable.

The term “intrapreneur” comes from a portmanteau of “internal” and “entrepreneurship.” In general, intrapreneurs are self-motivated, proactive individuals who are comfortable taking point on projects. They can think outside of the box and take risks, much like most entrepreneurs. The difference is that the successes — or failures — involved in the intrapreneur’s work default on the company as a whole rather than the individual. In this way, intrapreneurs are protected by working within the existing infrastructure of their employer. For this reason, intrapreneurship is considered beneficial for both the individual employee and the company as a whole. Companies provide financial support and access to corporate resources, while intrapreneurs create innovation.

It is important to note that intrapreneurs are leaders, but they aren’t usually managers. Though strong leadership skills are required to get others to follow and execute intrapreneurial ideas and make decisions under pressure, managers usually work within established patterns and are instructed to minimize risk. In addition, managers usually receive authority from above while intrapreneurs work outside the power structure to innovate. Intrapreneurs utilize teamwork to get things done, along with communication and creativity.

Origins of Intrapreneurship

The term “intrapreneur” was coined in the 1980s by management consultants Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot. Gifford Pinchot’s book, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur, described intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do” and “those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind, within a business.” Then in 1992, the American Heritage Dictionary defined an intrapreneur as “a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk taking and innovation.” The term was first used in popular media in February 1985 by TIME and later during the same year by Apple’s Steve Jobs in an interview with Newsweek. Since then, intrapreneurship has been a well-known concept in the corporate world, but it has been experiencing newfound popularity recently due to the rapid pace of innovation and companies’ drive to keep up.

Intrapreneurship in Action

Intrapreneurship is possible when a corporate management style is in place that integrates risk-taking and innovation. Organizations can identify and encourage employees who have the skills and personality to become intrapreneurs. The key for managers is to cultivate the spirit of intrapreneurship without losing employees to outside ventures.

Some companies do this by creating dedicated research and development (R&D) departments that work to explore cutting-edge ideas and help the company remain competitive, according to TechTarget. Other businesses utilize continuous improvement, “a concept borrowed from manufacturing that encourages employees in research, design, sales and production to work as a team to identify new revenue opportunities.” Some startups cultivate intrapreneurship by allowing employees to work on passion projects and pursue their own interests during work hours as well. No matter which approach companies use, the key is to provide conditions that facilitate intrapreneurship among employees.

Companies that desire intrapreneurship can enable their employees to take ownership of projects by allowing innovation and flexibility to become part of the core business processes. They can also make sure to have intrapreneurial-minded people on board by being strategic during the hiring process and utilizing ongoing training and professional development.

Intrapreneurship is increasingly relevant for all business professionals because it has a positive impact on growth and profitability. Companies that can put structures in place and cultivate a culture in alignment with intrapreneurship have a better chance of success, according to Fast Company. They are more innovative and proactive, which can take businesses to new heights.

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