What Is Intrapreneurship vs. Entrepreneurship?

Explore the difference between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship to learn why intrapreneurs get an head start when launching a new venture.

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.

Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs are in reality not much different.

They have many qualities in common; such as creative thinking, problem-solving, resourcefulness and ability to deal with ambiguity; the optimism of being able to recognise and take calculated risks to capture opportunities where others may not; the vision for greatness grounded in the desire to improve the pain points of the everyday; and the inquisitive relentless pursuit to achieve their vision.

They are both engines that make things happen while bringing others with them along the journey, and pushing beyond their comfort zones to grow.

However, intrapreneurs operate from within organisations, while entrepreneurs create new organisations from scratch. This means we should take few points into consideration.

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.

While entrepreneurship is commonly understood and accepted, depicted in the media frequently in all forms — from rags-to-riches visionaries to capitalist moguls, and generous geniuses to philanthropic plutocrats — intrapreneurs have largely remained unsung heroes, mostly depicted as internally successful executives who may have risen to the top of corporate pecking orders.

Intrapreneurs have rarely been a mass media celebration story, and the word ‘intrapreneur’ itself is so new that it still pops up as a spell-check mistake in text editing softwares. But they have always existed, whether you have noticed them or not, without being properly and deservedly celebrated for the impact and value they provide.

Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurially-talented individuals within organisations who use creative problem-solving skills to capture value-generating opportunities — developing ambitious ideas into scalable solutions or market propositions that drive progress for their organisations and society.

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 occur 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-Setting

Entrepreneurs rely on their vision or their capability to identify gaps in the market to set their goals, while an intrapreneur’s targets can be shaped together with or by senior leaders.

As employees of a company, intrapreneurs don’t have unlimited and unchecked autonomy over how they work or what they work on. This is a positive point though, as entrepreneurs often tend to fall in love with their ideas and seek strategic guidance and direction from their investors.

The reality check of senior managers and executives helps intrapreneurs focus on impact and keeps them on a path to success.

Access to Resources

Entrepreneurs mostly rely on personal networks, their own resources and stamina to forge their path.

On the other hand, intrapreneurs get access to the breadth of capabilities, resources and insights available from an existing organisation, giving them a clear head-start and certain unfair advantages, though this does mean they have to work with internal processes, stakeholders and political dynamics.

Mitigated 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 launching a new business.
Whether it’s quitting their day job or gambling with their savings, entrepreneurs face enormous pressure.

An intrapreneur also experiences risk because a failed venture could damage their professional reputation and career path within the organisation or industry. But there is less financial downfall as they’ll still receive their salary.

Approach to Failure

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

Entrepreneurs are responsible for their failures and mistakes, which are crucial for achieving eventual success.

On the other side, decisions that intrapreneurs make may have consequences that aren’t isolated to the individual.

However, failure managed correctly is key for companies to learn and understand what their customers truly want and expand the boundaries of what’s possible.

Safety Nets

While a single month of poor sales can be game over for entrepreneurs, and a single bad choice may mean financial disaster when new businesses are taking off

On the other hand, established organisations have the competitive advantage of providing safety nets if bets don’t go to plan, and have a financial safety net to encourage risky behaviour.

Even if a carefully planned innovation project fails, its impact will unlikely materially show on the overall company accounts, thus giving intrapreneurs more room for maneuvering and creativity.

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 intrapreneurs, 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.”

Unleash Intrapreneurship to drive
Strategic Change

50% of executives ranked creativity and entrepreneurial spirit as the top workforce requirement for their organisations to excel in today’s increasingly disruptive and complex world. (Source: Accenture)

Discover our learnings and insights on how to identify, empower and unleash the potential of intrapreneurs as key drivers of change from within.

How to Drive Transformation through Intrapreneurship. The I.M.P.A.C.T. Framework Intrapreneurship and Ambidextrous Leadership to Drive Your Core Business.001lr Innovation Portfolios And Experimentation for Corporate Innovation Studio Zao

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