The Urgent Intrapreneur Opportunity: An Introduction for Corporate Leaders

The power and freedom that entrepreneurs and their startups embody is reinforced through a constant stream of media highlighting success, purpose and (mostly bullsh*t) bucolic work environments. As the global economy improves, business leaders of established corporate organizations need to consider how they can introduce an entrepreneurial spirit. Intrapreneurs are the answer, and this article provides a high level overview.

The last time leaders of established organizations dealt with a “war for talent”, they could attract, retain and drive value from employees by relying on traditional levers for success, such as established career tracks, organizational stability, title promotions, etc. However in our current “entrepreneur as rockstar” age, these levers lack the pull of days gone by. In the recent Deloitte 2014 Millennial Survey “70 percent of tomorrow’s future leaders might ‘reject’ what traditional organizational have to offer, preferring to work independently…in the long term.”

To address this issue, mature organizations need to replicate key facets of the startup and entrepreneurial culture, in ways that can be scaled within a larger corporate context. In response, a diverse range of established organizations such as Pfizer, Target, Exxon Mobil, GE, Intuit, etc. are building and supporting intrapreneur efforts.

In practice, it is first important to define an intrapreneur:

Simply put, an intrapreneur is an employee of an established (often large) organization with an entrepreneurial mindset.

There is a wide variety of approaches to building and supporting Intrapreneurs within organizations, the most common of which have been listed below:

  • Intrapreneur consultants: Some organizations choose to develop internal consulting SWAT teams that are charged with generating and deploying new ideas as a full-time role.
  • Intrapreneur as career development: In this model key employees are given opportunities to work on ideas for a period of time, but then asked to go back into their existing roles at a certain, often pre-defined, point.
  • Intrapreneurs as owners: This approach most often takes place when entrepreneurs are introduced into larger organizations through acquisitions of startup organizations, frequently assisted by corporate venturing efforts.
  • Intrapreneur networks: Organizations can build and support networks of intrapreneurial-minded employees who are trained in new skills, connected with like-minded individuals and given the opportunity to work on new ideas, generally as an extension of their day-to-day roles.

The various styles of corporate intrapreneurs tend to generate a consistent set of benefits, including:

  • Idea Development: Intrapreneurs are an effective channel to help increase the capacity for idea development and execution.
  • Innovation Activity Support: Positioned correctly, these individuals can act as catalysts, champions and participants to support a range of activities run by an Innovation Program.
  • Employee Engagement: Intrapreneurial efforts engage those key participating employees and drive additional value from them.
  • Model new behaviors and skills: Intrapreneurs can be positioned to encourage behavior change and skill sets across the broader organization.
  • Cultural Change: These individuals can introduce and act as champions for cultural change, which is often sorely needed within established, mature organizations.
  • External Positioning: Having an active intrapreneurial program allows an organization to promote a valid message of innovation to customers, partners, and investors.

There is a wide range of activities and approaches that organizations can use to support and improve the effectiveness of intrapreneurs, with a few listed below:

  • Idea Development Time: Setting aside work hours for employees to develop new ideas can be a way to encourage intrapreneurial behavior.
  • Innovation Training: Training potential intrapreneurs in skills such as ideation techniques, stakeholder mapping, business plan development, as well as corporate priorities and industry trends is a great way to position them to drive business value.
  • Tools and resources: Aligned with training, employees can be given access to tools, templates and articles that they can use to fully build out their thinking and ideas, either online or within physical spaces such as innovation centers or incubators.
  • Incentives: Organizations often enhance their incentives to more actively encourage intrapreneurial behavior.
  • Support Networks and Mechanisms: Creating appropriate networks and collaboration activities is essential to welcome and support intrapreneurs within an organization that may be hostile to their thinking and approach.
  • Leadership support: Securing active, visible and consistent leadership support around intrapreneurial efforts encourages success at all levels (participation by individuals, business unit support, funding, etc.).
  • Functional Collaboration: Effectively supporting intrapreneurs requires a variety of functional groups within a large organization to work together.
  • Channels and Processes: It is essential to have established and transparent systems and processes in place so that new ideas can be effectively assessed, selected and developed.
  • Communication Plans: Having an effective communication strategy in place helps promote the work of intrapreneurs and position them for more success.

As the innovation competency within corporate organization matures, the approaches to driving value from intrapreneurs gains attention and value by leaders. While startups and entrepreneurs may continue to dominate the media spotlight, more established organizations can attract, retain and drive value from employees in ways that are aligned with corporate goals and objectives.

It is an exciting time, ripe with opportunity. Get out there and make it work.

In line with the thinking in this article, Culturevate are proud to co-produce the Corporate Intrapreneur Summit in NYC on October 8th with IIR (producers of the Front End of Innovation events). Readers of Innovation Management are able to receive a 25% attendee discount, if you use the code “Intra15Culturevate”.

 By Anthony Ferrier & Libbi Williams


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Intrapreneur Survey

Aligned with this whitepaper release, please complete the Corporate Intrapreneur Survey. If you spend 5-7 minutes completing the questions you will get access to a report on the aggregated results. Please enter here: Intrapreneur Survey >

About the Authors


Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate, an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led the BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

Libbi Williams is an Analyst at Culturevate, providing industry tailored research and innovation-centric training materials for our clients. Libbi has worked in consultative and coordination capacities for various organizations across sectors, including the United Nations Development Programme, The University of Chicago and the U.S. House of Representatives. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Management at New York University. Her professional interests include organizational effectiveness, innovation and knowledge management. She enjoys cooking for friends, traveling, and constantly learning.

Main image: start up from Shutterstock.com

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