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What is an Intrapreneur?

Posted on March 05, 2015

In our modern age, the meaning of the word “entrepreneur” is fairly well known. But what to make of this “intrapreneur” word being used so much lately?

Definition of Intrapreneurship - “Internal Entrepreneurship”?

“Internal Entrepreneurship” or “Intrapreneurship” is defined by The American Heritage Dictionary 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.”

Some good examples of intrapreneurship can be found in the creation of Post-It Notes at 3M or Skunk Works at Lockheed. Both have delivered huge results for their respective employer.

But there’s potential for intrapreneurship to flourish in any company. It’s just a matter of identifying these people, developing strategy, promoting it and committing to it.

Why Are Intrapreneurs Important?

In our knowledge economy, companies are powered by embracing new ideas, creating new solutions, and increasing efficiencies. When engaged properly, intrapreneurs can be your best employees and take your company to the next level.

What's The Difference Between An Entrepreneur And An Intrapreneur?

Besides the first five letters, a few things distinguish entrepreneurs from intrapreneurs.

The first is environment. An entrepreneur is generally responsible for creating a new organization. An intrapreneur works within an existing firm, recognizes errors and creates solutions to better the company.

Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs share a similar sense of risk. Entrepreneurs invest their time and money into creating an enterprise. This could mean working without pay with no guarantee of a positive outcome. Intrapreneurs experience risk by questioning the status quo or authority but they aren’t responsible for the fate of the company in the way that an entrepreneur would be in his or her early days.

Characteristics of an Intrapreneur

Internal entrepreneurs share certain traits and characteristics:


Intrapreneurs recognize and learn from mistakes, and can manipulate the system. They adapt, but are more interested in finding a solution to meet or breach the needs of companies and customers.


They must possess ingenuity. They bring creativity to the workplace and apply it to everyday situations.

Slightly Rebellious

Innovation’s the name of the game, and it exceeds creativity. Intrapreneurs have a rebellious spirit (even if mildly,) allowing their minds swim upstream. This makes them strong, and contributes to the quality and originality of work.

Internally & Externally Focused

Intrapreneurs understand the needs of company and customers. Their mastery of networking and communication helps them realize this. Perspective is essential, and they’re able to see the world through many different lenses.


Internal entrepreneurs trust their judgment and ability, like any leader. Confidence and independence enables them to convey ideas, even controversial ones.

A good idea is one thing, but quantifying costs and benefits, understanding short- and long-term implications, and successfully pitching the idea really allows them to succeed.

How Do You Attract them?

The most obvious answer is through recruiting. Knowing their characteristics and asking questions related to innovation will help identify them. Recruiters should be trained and instructed to pay attention for the warning signs. However, maintaining a balance of personalities is important.

Corporate culture must be aligned to meet their needs. Internal innovation must be sought and promoted actively and consistently. And since innovation often requires risk, a focus on reward rather than punishment will foster openness between employees and management.

Finally, employee education and training may help bring out the inner innovator. It’s likely that many of them have had a great idea, but were nervous, forgetful or unaware that ideas were sought or appreciated.

Look At The Stats!

“Nurturing Europe’s Spirit of Enterprise: How Entrepreneurial Executives Mobilize Organizations to Innovate,” conducted by Forbes Insights, concludes that companies of all sizes contain a similar proportion of employee innovators, with:

    12% in companies with 10-49 employees
    ~25% in companies with 500-999 employees
    20% in companies with revenue between $100 million- $1 billion.

The same study found that one in six European executives were internal entrepreneurs. Although this was conducted overseas, the statistics are comparable to the US.

As a whole, intrapreneurs bring a unique perspective that may not be considered by anyone else outside the organization. Recruiting them and valuing their contribution can lead to exponential gains for organizations of all types.

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