Challenging the stereotype: intrapreneurs

Despite the common stereotype that entrepreneurs must be business owners or work for themselves, there are many scenarios when people might apply entrepreneurial skills within a business owned by someone else ̶ enter the intrapreneurs.

As you may remember from the previous step, Joan and Gideon feel that their entrepreneurial skills are currently being played out intrapreneurially, from within a business.

The vision and drive to grow a business may not come from its owner or founder, but from its employees. Some business owners may lose the drive to develop a business themselves and so intrapreneurialism offers an alternative mechanism to pursue opportunities while limiting risk.

An intrapreneur is an entrepreneur who works for someone else and they can be found in a wide range of organisational settings, such as the:

  • Corporate sector
  • Public sector
  • Social sector

Corporate sector intrapreneurs

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As organisations grow and become established, they often develop a culture and structure that is more process driven, hierarchical and less agile. It becomes a challenge for the organisation to respond to opportunities in the same way that a more entrepreneurial organisation might. Intrapreneurship gives businesses a way of managing the synthesis between the stability of an established business and the growth orientation and agility of an entrepreneurial business (Wickham 2006).

Many organisations recognise the value of getting employee input to help develop new products or opportunities. Intrapreneurship is a way of formalising that contribution by giving people time to work on new idea or opportunities on a full time or part-time basis. Google’s Intrapreneurship programme, for example, gives employees 20% of their time to work on new projects that interest them. This is a way of both incentivising people to come up with new ideas, but also keeps them engaged and interested in the future of the business. Not all businesses have the capacity to take the Google approach, but find other ways to enable intrapreneurship.

Intrapreneurship is very different from entrepreneurship (Nielsen et al. 2017: 227). The intrapreneur experiences both advantages and limitations from working within an existing organisational structure and culture: on the plus side, they have access to the existing resources within the firm; their exposure to risk may still be present but is different from that of the owner of a business. The risk may be to their reputation if they fail rather than the financial risk faced by a business owner.

Intrapreneurs may be tasked with creating, discovering and innovating, but within the constraint of the existing structure or culture of the business. This may reduce the scope of the opportunity or limit the autonomy of the intrapreneur.

Public sector intrapreneurs

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Hisrich and Ramadani (2017: 6) characterise an intrapreneurial individual in the public sector as someone who initiates change by adopting innovation and risk, but recognises that personal goals and objectives are less important than generating results for the organisation.

This definition embraces many of the characteristics of the traditional entrepreneur, but with a focus on organisation and public gain, rather than personal gain. Unlike corporates, public sector organisations do not exist to compete or make profit. Rather, their focus is on efficiency, reducing costs and minimising the waste of resources. They are often quite risk averse as they are accountable to the public for their failings or loss (Hisrich and Ramadani 2017). Expecting employees to be innovative in this context can be challenging.

Social sector intrapreneurs

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Interest in social entre/intrapreneurship has grown massively over the last 20 years and this has led to a very broad and diverse range of company types and agendas.

Social enterprises do not exist to increase the personal wealth of individuals. Ideally, they should be managed as part of a collective or board so that no one individual has control or an invested interest in the enterprise. While they can pay wages to staff, the profits after costs are reinvested in the business or used to start a new venture.

Social enterprises’ vision and mission are often tied to serving community needs and as such they may employ socially disadvantaged people, and those with physical and/or mental health disabilities.

Social enterprises aim for financial sustainability by generating income from ethical trading - that is trading that does not compromise their vision or mission. In this respect the social enterprise may be more focused on intrapreneurial leadership, which is needed to ensure a balance between generating income, risk management and ensuring that the values of the organisation are maintained.

Your task

Identify a successful intrapreneur that you admire and respect. It could be a high-profile intrapreneur (perhaps a founder of a charity), someone you know personally or someone you have worked with.

Briefly describe the person, their behaviours and say how they exemplify some aspect of intrapreneurship (such as passion, tenacity or business focus). Include your ideas about which of the GET2 test traits you think they might possess.


References

Hisrich, R. D., and Ramadani, V. (2017) Effective Entrepreneurial Management: Strategy, Planning, Risk management and Organisation. Switzerland: Springer

Nielsen, S. L., Klyver, K., Evald, M. R. and Bager, T. (2017) Entrepreneurship in Theory and Practice: Paradoxes in Play. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Wickham, P. (2006) Strategic Entrepreneurship. 4th edn. Essex: Pearson Education

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This article is from the free online course:

Demystifying Entrepreneurship: How to Think like an Entrepreneur

Coventry University