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What is intrapreneurship?

A definition and detailed explanation of intrapreneurship and what intrepreneurial means in the 21st century workplace
Editorial team

/ Last updated on 5th November 2017

A corporate worker innovating at his desk surrounding by notes, research and comfy chairs.

Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.

Related: Top 10 ways to create an intrapreneurial organisation

—Steve Jobs

We have all heard that old Chinese proverb: “May you live in interesting times.” Well, these are interesting times for sure, very interesting. The world is changing before us—physically, politically, and economically. The Arab Spring is yet unfolding. Social media allows for the instantaneous direct dissemination of ferment and ideas. Climate change changes everything.

How will we navigate these changes? Acting “entrepreneurially” is key, and while that does mean “taking a risk with money to make money,” it also means much more. It requires nothing less than thinking creatively, inspiring innovation, seeing problems, and taking smart, calculated risks to solve them. It requires vision and forethought and bravery and self-reliance and initiative and boldness. It requires entrepreneurship in all of its forms.

So whether you want to create a business that is more entrepreneurial, a social enterprise that can be self-sufficient while tackling The Big Problem, or a revolution to overthrow a dictator, you will need to foster entrepreneurship within your ranks. By bringing out the entrepreneurial spirit in your people, you tap into their better angels, their creative power, their idealism and realism, and together, you all join the ranks of Planet Entrepreneur.


Entrepreneurs tend to start out as lone wolves—they come up with some zany idea on a walk or in a garage or on the treadmill or skydiving or whatever. But then—very rapidly, and if they are good—these entrepreneurs become part of a pack. They somehow enlist enough people in that vision to make the dream become a reality. Great entrepreneurs bring out the best in themselves and their team.

When you empower people to think and act entrepreneurially within your business or organisation, it is called “intrapreneurship.” Intrapreneurship is all about encouraging employees to think, dream, act, and create as though they were entrepreneurs themselves. It might be an employee who comes up with a very good idea or a staffer in a social enterprise who sees a powerful new way to move the cause forward. Either way, it’s internal entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship.

How do you do that, how do you get people to act intrapreneurially? It requires doing many things right, including:

  • Giving incentives
  • Creating an entrepreneurial culture
  • Rewarding, and not penalising, risk-taking

“An intrapreneur is an employee who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services and systems, who does not have to follow the company’s usual routines or protocols.” -Sir Richard Branson in Entrepreneur magazine

That last point is critical. You cannot create a culture of intrapreneurship if employees are not expected to innovate, are not motivated to innovate, and are not rewarded for innovating. To have a thriving culture of intrapreneurship, a business must not only invite innovation, but it must also reward risk-taking as well.

Why should your business be thinking about intrapreneurship?

Many forward-thinking corporations now are welcoming and encouraging their employees to make innovative and thoughtful entrepreneurial contributions. Gifford Pinchot, who first made the term intrapreneurship popular in his 1985 book, Intrapreneuring, wrote, “Look back at any great business or invention at just about any big company, and you can find that intrapreneurs created it.” This statement sums up why any company looking to effectively prosper and advance in today’s business climate should be thinking about providing the time, resources, culture, and encouragement that fosters intrapreneurship.

The intrapreneurial culture

When companies set up an intrapreneurial environment, an environment that encourages risk-taking and innovation, they benefit in very tangible ways. For starters, they will likely see a rise in the reliability, happiness, diligence, and productivity of their employees. Employees become more enthusiastic in general when they are able to work on projects that are:

  • Personally fulfilling
  • Financially rewarding
  • Capable of making a difference

This enthusiasm will carry over to their work in general. Corporations have also found that encouraging intrapreneurship is an effective tactic when it comes to attracting and keeping the best talent. When employees can act creatively, explore their ideas, and have a chance to succeed and prosper with these concepts, they experience higher levels of job satisfaction. Ultimately, intrapreneurship then increases employee retention rates, boosts productivity, and fosters an exceptional culture.

Related: What is entrepreneurship?


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