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Start-Ups

What is an “Intrapreneur” and How Can They Help You Innovate?

By Townes Haas   |    June 22, 2016   |    10:14 AM

Intrapreneurship” is a relatively new concept that focuses on how employees of a company may have many of the attributes of entrepreneurs. 

By extension, intrapreneurs help promote innovation within a company, allowing higher ups like the CEO to focus on running the business. An intrapreneur is someone within a company, whether it’s a large, multi-layered operation or simply a small business, who takes risks in an effort to solve a given problem. Examining the role of intrapreneurs within the structure of a small business or entrepreneurial enterprise can be complex.

In a small business, the distinction between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs comes down to a difference in the level of focus. While a small business founder sees the company as a vision from starting the business to its logical end point, the intrapreneur isn’t focused on the big picture. The intrapreneur, in essence, works within the small business to solve a specific challenge. Intrapreneurs ideally should also have more directly applicable skills for a given task. The intrapreneur, unlike the company founder, takes risks within the context of their role in the company, rather than in the company as a whole. The founder is focused on the entire company; the intrapreneur is focused on processes within the company.

In a small business, intrapreneurs are also major contributors to innovation, which leads to increases in productivity. In a similar role to the founders of small businesses, intrapreneurs seek solutions to unique market-driven challenges. Their role is to seek out policies, technologies and applications that resolve barriers to productivity.

Intrapreneurs are major contributors to increases in productivity within companies. Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs take risks and find more effective ways to accomplish tasks. An intrapreneur, in the most basic sense, is a skilled problem solver that can take on important tasks within a company. While the founder of a small business is focused on the goal of providing goods or services, the intrapreneur’s role is to focus on tasks within a small business to increase the capacity of the small business to serve its customers.

Similar to how entrepreneurship requires the ability to experiment—to “fail better,” as Silicon Valley likes to frame it—the process of intrepreneurship requires a level of autonomy and independence to truly investigate every angle of the given challenge with which they are presented. This may present a challenge to entrepreneurs whose impulse is to control the actions of the intrapreneur, which may stifle the experimental and creative process.

Similar to an entrepreneur, a successful intrapreneur has vision and understands trends. They see where a small business needs to go before anyone else. Any successful small business needs at least one intrapreneur and possibly more to predict future trends and meet those needs before the competition.

In summary, good intrapreneurs are one of the most important assets of a small business. They become the building blocks of a small business’s leadership. They are the driving force that moves a small business forward and inevitably become one of the company’s visionaries because they understand the small business from all angles. A small business can only grow when its leadership discovers the virtues of entrepreneurs hiring intrapreneurs. In this model, a small business’s culture is developed where talented innovators teach and foster the growth of other talented innovators.