How corporate intrapreneurship can help entrepreneurs


Entrepreneurship communities are booming across the world. From 15 to 50, people in all age groups are generating the brightest ideas and are not afraid in the slightest to launch their own ventures. No wonder, then, that globally, more than 100 million startups are launched every year (three startups every second!).

While the roots of entrepreneurship will continue to go deeper, the concept of ‘intrapreneurship’ has been catching up with not only startups but large organisations across the world as well.

For the uninitiated, intrapreneurship is all about promoting entrepreneurship within the organisation. An intrapreneur is an employee of the company who has the freedom to think and test his own new ideas to add value to a certain process or business unit of the organisation, or maybe design an altogether new product. Intrapreneurs are not the founders of the organisation or working on a personal venture, but they possess all the necessary attributes and mindset of an entrepreneur to lead the company to greater heights.

The term ‘intrapreneurship’ perhaps gained the most popularity during the era of Steve Jobs when he created the Macintosh team. There are several other intrapreneurs who have made distinct identities for themselves in the last few years, for instance, Krishna Bharat, the man behind Google News. The American multinational technological company Google cultivates intrapreneurship by offering its workforce a 20 percent timeframe for developing personal projects related to its business.

Then there is S Sivakumar from the Indian conglomerate ITC who set the foundation of e-Choupal, a disruptive farmer empowerment initiative which now benefits more than four million farmers through customised agri-extension and market linkage services. ITC too fosters the culture of employee ownership and gives them autonomy to run the show.

Intrapreneurship is the biggest opportunity for entrepreneurs, and can be instrumental in bringing big rewards. Corporate intrapreneurship can prove beneficial to entrepreneurs in many ways:

Intrapreneurs value accountability

This set of people has P&L responsibility for the development of a product or business unit, so they very well understand each and every little perspective required for the initiation of a startup venture. Apart from the design, they will also focus on reducing costs and churn rate, and increasing profitability. It becomes their KPI. Since startups usually work with limited resources, intrapreneurs can ensure that every resource is effectively utilised.

Intrapreneurs are innovative

Disrupt or die — in today’s fiercely competitive milieu, only startups that innovate will survive. However, innovation requires allowing employees to wear their thinking hats. Intrapreneurs possess an innovative streak and a creative thought process to convert the seed of an idea into a full-fledged plan, and even execute it suitably. They are the drivers of innovation and adopt a unique problem-solving approach. They think and act differently, creating a pool of ideas.

The popular Las Vegas-based e-tailer Zappos firmly believes in one of its many core values – ‘be adventurous, creative, and open-minded’. It has a separate research and development wing called Zappos Labs, where its employees have free rein to test new ways of improving the online shopping experience for its customers. Its staff spends a great deal of time observing consumer behaviour and shopping habits at brick-and-mortar stores. The experiments pay off, which is clearly visible in its distinct and successful customer experience initiatives such as Glance, PinPointing, and TweetWall.

Intrapreneurs are leaders

One of the top reasons for the failure of startups is not having the right team on board. Building a business takes team effort, but if all members are not on the same tangent and don’t share a common goal, it is a recipe for disaster. As startups climb the growth curve, team building becomes crucial. Team dynamics may become volatile, creative and ideological differences may arise, and competitive pressure may make them vulnerable. The founder/owner is busy growing the business; he may not have sufficient time to work on these components. Intrapreneurs can easily slip into this role.

Intrapreneurs have the confidence and attitude to lead. They know what the top management expects, but at the same time, being one of the employees, they share a good rapport with their peers. Their team experience coupled with the ability to rise to the occasion can build a strong team in the organisation.

Intrapreneurs are business-savvy

Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs are passionate about their ideas. Every time they have a unique idea to discuss, they put in their heart and soul to present their business case to the management. Over a period of time, they build their pitching capabilities. They come to understand the importance of a strong business pitch, and when the situation arises, they can represent their startup to the stakeholders with the same passion and self-belief with which the founder would.

Intrapreneurs are an army within the organisation that can perceive the business environment from an entrepreneur’s eyes. However, it is up to startups to develop a breeding ground for intrapreneurship. A Deloitte white paper presents five insights into understanding the concept behind intrapreneurship and integrating it in the DNA of organisational culture:

  • Intrapreneurship describes a people-centric, bottom-up approach to developing radical innovations in-house.
  • Intrapreneurship pays off many times over in terms of company growth, culture, and talent.
  • It’s not about creating intrapreneurs, it’s about finding and recognising them.
  • Intrapreneurs know the rules and break them effectively.
  • Intrapreneurship requires a different management approach.

Intrapreneurs thrive on supportive autonomy. They grow with the entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurs help them grow, and together, they both grow. It is a symbiotic relationship that exists within the framework of organisations.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)