Explore the difference between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship to inject some fresh ideas into your business.

While ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘intrapreneur’ may sound similar, the terms are actually quite different. As an executive or business leader, you need to understand the differences to be able to promote and nurture successful innovation.

With over 582 million entrepreneurs worldwide, entrepreneurship is something most people understand. However, you might not hear the word ‘intrapreneurship’ as often during your daily meetings.

Join us as we explore key differences and explain the value of intrapreneurship in today’s increasingly competitive market to drive innovation.

What is an Intrapreneur?

An intrapreneur is an employee within an organisation who drives business value generating opportunities to give their company a competitive edge.

While an entrepreneur aims to increase their individual wealth and ownership by creating a new business, intrapreneurs are rewarded to leverage existing resources and networks within a company to launch transformative innovations and initiatives.

Intrapreneurs can be tasked to work on anything from incremental innovation projects to more experimental ideas. Internal innovation helps companies thrive in an ever-more competitive and dynamic market.

Checkout our key takeaways from our Corporate Entrepreneurs series on the ingredients of successful intrapreneurs.

The Two Types of Intrapreneurship

Many consider intrapreneurship as a form of research and development within a business. Intrapreneurs experiment with new ideas and push creative boundaries.

These experimental projects usually follow one of two directions:

Linear Growth

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”

– Peter Drucker, Author of “The Effective Executive” (1966)

Linear growth intrapreneurship involves boosting operational efficiency, refining product design and enriching customer experiences to make incremental improvements.

Facebook’s infamous ‘like’ button was born from their very own internal innovation programme — a hackathon. This is an example of linear growth as the innovation creates value by adding a new dimension to the customer experience.

If Facebook stood still and remained a simple social network to connect college students, we wouldn’t be talking about them today.

Competitors will quickly catch up if your organisation rests on its laurels and fails to innovate.

Spin-Offs

Some intrapreneurs focus on side ventures which allow the company to enter new markets and diversify their product offerings.

Whether it’s a drinks company starting a Formula One team or an online book store selling Ebook Readers, spin-off ventures can diversify business portfolios in entirely new directions.

Creating spin-off ventures can build upon existing brand identities, established audiences, and economies of scope to enter new markets.

Discover how Pentland Brands helped the likes of Speedo, Ellesse and Lacoste create internal ventures which foster intrapreneurship and  identify growth opportunities.

Spin-off intrapreneurship may also occurs within academic contexts, where research innovations are commercialised. When university organisations commercialise their research, they’re 108 times more likely to ‘go public’ than non-academic competitors.

Check out our exciting work with quantum technology researchers from Imperial College London to create feasible entrepreneurial ventures.

What Is the Difference Between Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship?

So, now you have a better understanding of intrapreneurship, let’s take a deep dive into how it differs from entrepreneurship to find the right approach for your business:

Goal-Setters

While most entrepreneurs rely on pure grit and determination to reach their goals, an intrapreneur’s targets are typically set by senior mentors.

As an employee of a company, intrapreneurs don’t have complete autonomy over how they work or what they work on. Their ultimate goal is to reach milestones and meet business outcomes.

Entrepreneurs only have themselves to hold accountable if they miss their goals — even if it takes a lifetime to get there.

Take Elon Musk, for example. In 2002, Musk set out on his ambitious plan to put humans on Mars. Eighteen years later, SpaceX announced plans to launch one-hundred humans to the red planet in 2024.

Access to Resources

While great ideas are almost exclusively involve collaboration, the environment within which this occurs differs between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

Working within a large corporation versus building a stand-alone venture means intrapreneurs have access to extensive networks and resources.

Being ‘out in the wild’ means entrepreneurs rely on personal networks and brand equity to forge their own path. In comparison, the breadth of resources available to an intrapreneur provides a ready-made highway to the top.

On the flip side, some entrepreneurs enjoy not having to contend with managing stakeholders, convincing investors, and mediating competing agendas.

Taking Risks

Risk-taking is all in a day’s work for both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. However, the types of risks they take can differ dramatically.

Ambitious entrepreneurs put themselves in an incredibly vulnerable position when taking-on established competitors. Whether it’s quitting the day job or gambling with their life savings, entrepreneurship is inherently risky.

Entrepreneurs have a reputation to uphold as they’re directly responsible for their actions.

An intrapreneur still has some risk as a failed venture could damage their personal brand within the company or industry. However, there’s less financial risk as they’ll still receive their salary.

Progressive organisations are using creative compensation models to mimic equity ownership and encourage risk-taking.

Avoiding Failure

Did you know that 60% of entrepreneurs fail in their first five years of trading?

The size and value of a large company can stunt the creative flow of an intrapreneur. Every decision must reflect the company as a whole, not just an individual’s maverick ideas.

Fear of failure means intrapreneurs don’t have the luxury to learn from repeated mistakes. When things don’t go to plan, the consequences aren’t isolated to the individual.

In comparison, entrepreneurs are solely responsible for their failure. While it still poses a threat to the individual, entrepreneurs are responsible for their fate.

That said, corporations are slowly understanding the need to give intrapreneurs a wide berth. If they never experience failure, they’re probably too conservative.

Safety Nets

While a single month of poor sales can be game over for entrepreneurs, established organisations have a financial safety net to encourage risky behaviour.

Intrapreneurship promotes experimental ideas. Whether it’s Google’s failed Project Glass or Amazon pulling the plug on their innovative solution to shopping, not all ventures succeed.

For entrepreneurs, failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Companies can learn from failure to understand what their customers want and stretch the boundaries of what’s possible.

As sci-fi author, Arthur C. Clarke once wrote: “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”

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