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 who thinks and acts like an entrepreneur within a business. They apply problem-solving, creativity, communication skills and critical thinking to deal with ambiguity and to become agents of change and growth for their employer.

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.

An intrapreneur is able to take the peculiar human capability of connecting the dots and mobilising momentum and energy to take ideas to the next level, to help future-proof the organisations they work for, and future-proof themselves too from a professional point of view.

They deeply understand customers and stakeholders, see their frustrations, use insights to identify opportunities, creatively devise effective solutions and finally mobilise resources to make their vision a reality.

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 mentioned as 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.

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 events and webinar series on the ingredients of successful intrapreneurs.

What are the skills that make an intrapreneur?

We have seen that they always display a combination of the following:

  • Problem-solving & critical-thinking
  • Creativity
  • Dealing with ambiguity
  • Resilient growth mindset
  • Strong communication

Essentially, intrapreneurs can take calculated risks, have a vision for greatness grounded in the desire to improve the pain points of the everyday, and work relentlessly with the drive to achieve their vision.

You might have noticed already that Intrapreneurs have a lot in common with entrepreneurs. There is one big difference though: they are entrepreneurial from within organisations. 

This means that the way intrapreneurs set goals, access resources, mitigate risks, approach failure and enjoy safety nets are different.

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.

However, we know well that this might 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.”

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Why Intrapreneurship is a top wanted skill today

Today’s organisations face a world of fast change and heavy uncertainty.

Just to name a few examples, COVID-19 is set to trigger a $28 trillion drop in global GDP, and the adoption of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace is expected to displace up to 800 million jobs.

The combination of technological progress, environmental instability, societal advancement and new challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic has drastically re-shaped the worldwide context and global markets.

Embracing innovation and supporting entrepreneurial talent within the organisation will play an important role in how organisations can adapt to change, realign their focus, become more resilient, and drive growth.

Most importantly for you, intrapreneurship is a skill on the top of the list for hiring managers across the world!

In 2020 the global recruitment firm Michael Page named intrapreneurship as the most desirable skill of the year.

Research shows that organisations intend to focus 40% of their innovation budget on intrapreneurship in 2021.

75% of HR professionals surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management believe creative problem solving, communication and the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity are critical skills to succeed in the future of work.

Senior executives know this very well. Research shows that 50% of executives think that creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are primary workforce requirements for their organisations to excel in today’s increasingly complex world.

Senior executives know this very well. Research shows that 50% of executives think that creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are primary workforce requirements for their organisations to excel in today’s increasingly complex world.

Eric Schmidt, former CEO at Google once said, “to upskill the workforce in entrepreneurial skills is critical to surviving through this new era.”

Intrapreneurs have a much higher likelihood to succeed, join them!

The bottom line is, and you might have noticed by now, that compared to entrepreneurs, Intrapreneurs are in fact better positioned for success.

As opposed to early startups, established organisations provide:

  • more regulatory cover
  • larger amounts of data
  • substantial financial support and predictability
  • easier routes to market
  • access to existing resources

which put intrapreneurs and their efforts at a great advantage.

Whether you are in sales, administration or engineering, companies are increasingly looking for Intrapreneurship traits in their next hires, especially those at more senior levels, because these are the individuals who will be able to lead into the future.

Don’t miss the opportunity to make yourself stand out and boost your professional progression: become an Intrapreneur now!

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