What Is an Intrapreneur?

An intrapreneur is an employee who is tasked with developing an innovative idea or project within a company. The intrapreneur may not face the outsized risks or reap the outsized rewards of an entrepreneur. However, the intrapreneur has access to the resources and capabilities of an established company.

Key Takeaways

  • An intrapreneur works inside a company to develop an innovative idea or project that will enhance the company's future.
  • The term "intrapreneur" is a portmanteau of the two words "internal" and "entrepreneur." It was first coined by Gifford Pinchot III and Elizabeth S. Pinchot in a 1978 white paper.
  • The intrapreneur is generally given autonomy to work on a project that may have a considerable impact on the company.
  • Over time, an intrapreneur may turn into an entrepreneur and start their own venture outside of the established organization.
  • Intrapreneurs are typically highly motivated individuals who have specific skill sets—as well as leadership abilities and an innovative vision that others in the corporation can get behind.

How Intrapreneurship Works

Intrapreneurs are employees of a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project. They are given the time and freedom to develop the project as an entrepreneur would.

However, they are not working solo. Intrapreneurs have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal.

Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs have different objectives. An entrepreneur envisions creating a company from the ground up. An intrapreneur has a broader vision for an established company. This vision may involve radical changes to company traditions, processes, or products. The intrapreneur typically has directly applicable skills and experience to bring to the job.

An entrepreneur starts a company as a means of providing a good or service. An intrapreneur seeks to improve an existing company.

History of Intrapreneurship

The term "intrapreneur" is a portmanteau of the two words "internal" (or the prefix "intra" to mean internal) and "entrepreneur." It was first coined by the couple Gifford Pinchot III and Elizabeth S. Pinchot in a 1978 white paper titled "Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship" for the Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs. After this white paper was released, the term began to gain traction in various academic studies. In February 1985, TIME magazine had an article "Here Come the Intrapreneurs" which popularized the term even further.

Advantages of Intrapreneurship

An entrepreneur starts a company as a means of providing a good or service. An intrapreneur explores policies, technologies, or applications that will help improve the performance of an existing company. Inevitably, as an intrapreneur develops the skills needed to recognize and solve important problems, that intrapreneur may turn into an entrepreneur.

An intrapreneur can expect to be given the freedom and autonomy needed for such a project. Day-to-day deliverables are generally not demanded. The intrapreneur is expected to analyze and understand the trends necessary for planning the company’s future. Intrapreneurs synthesize their findings and make proposals for staying ahead of their competitors.

Intrapreneurs often become a company’s executive leaders over time. They move the business forward and rise to the top with a deep understanding of the business from all levels. When intrapreneurs work at solving problems, they foster the growth of other talented intrapreneurs and integrate more new ideas for the good of the entire company.

An intrapreneur is usually given the freedom and autonomy needed to explore new projects, but sometimes they have to do this in addition to their regular day job.

Characteristics of an Intrapreneur

In the original "Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship" whitepaper, Pinchot outlines that intrapreneurs are people who follow some of the following principles, including:

  • Risk something of value to themselves - such as time or financial sacrifice.
  • Share the reward of an intrapreneurial project between a corporation and the intrapreneur in a defined and equitable way.
  • Give the intrapreneur the ability to build something akin to capital.
  • Are given independence by the corporation, after it is earned.
  • Become their own "venture capitalist" within a corporation

Intrapreneurs are typically highly motivated individuals who have specific skill sets—as well as leadership abilities and an innovative vision that others in the corporation can get behind. Although intrapreneurs may have their "day job" and usual assignments on top of their new venture, they are willing to take certain risks and interpret trends in the marketplace to visualize the next steps that a company may need to innovate or stay ahead of the competition.

Example of an Intrapreneur

In less than a year on the job as eBay’s chief of staff of global product management, Healey Cypher realized the company was missing out on a major business opportunity.

At the time, eBay offered only e-commerce services to its clients. Despite the growth of Internet retail, the majority of consumer purchases are still made within 15 miles of a consumer’s home. Many eBay retailers told Cypher they wanted a physical retail presence as well.

After consulting with eBay’s chief executive officer (CEO), Cypher assembled a team of engineers to develop tools that could be used to create an eBay presence in physical stores. The engineers created an interactive storefront that Toys'R'Us eventually installed. Over the following two years, the engineers did the same for TOMS, Sony, and Rebecca Minkoff.

Cypher’s success became a new division of eBay, giving workers autonomy for solving problems and moving the company forward. Cypher became eBay's Head of Retail Innovation. He is now CEO of Boombox, a virtual events platform.

Intrapreneur FAQs

What Is the Difference Between an Entrepreneur and an Intrapreneur?

An entrepreneur envisions creating a company from the ground up. An intrapreneur works within an established corporation to develop an innovative idea or project.

Who Is Called an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are employees of a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project. They are given the time and freedom to develop the project as an entrepreneur would.

What Is the Role of an Intrapreneur?

An intrapreneur explores policies, technologies, or applications that will help improve the performance of an existing company.

What Is the Intrapreneurial Mindset?

An intrapreneur has a broader vision for an established company. This vision may involve radical changes to company traditions, processes, or products. The intrapreneur typically has directly applicable skills and experience to bring to the job.

How Do You Become an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are high-performing employees who are typically assigned to explore new ways for a company to innovate, improve its existing products, or stay ahead of the competition. However, intrapreneurs are not always assigned this role and individuals with innovative ideas can also surface them or work on these projects on the side, before introducing them to senior leadership.

The Bottom Line

Intrapreneurs are often overlooked within the realm of entrepreneurship, but innovation with already established corporations can also be world-changing. In many senses, intrapreneurs get the best of both worlds: the autonomy to pursue innovative projects and the financial backing of a company that has resources and attention to devote to these strides.