Sure, you know what entrepreneurship is: someone forging their own path, taking the lead, starting their own business, coming up with innovations, changing the world… We all know one. You may even be an entrepreneur yourself. But have you heard of an intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are much like entrepreneurs in that they come up with ideas, solutions, and innovations. The only difference is that instead of using their ideas to begin startups and come up with brand-new ventures, they’re doing so for a larger organization. Intrapreneurship requires the innovative, motivated, and proactive characteristics of entrepreneurship, but occurs within a pre-existing workplace.

Essentially, intrapreneurship allows corporations to get a taste of the benefits of startup life.

Hello, unique thinking

Intrapreneurship encourages employees to voice their ideas while helping them effectively bring those ideas to reality. Knowing that they have a platform to bring their ideas forward, intrapreneurship encourages employee involvement. When employees understand that their voice is heard, their sense of value increases tenfold. 

This creates a quite lucrative chain effect.

A valued employee is a productive employee, and productive employees tend to make their companies more successful and innovative companies. Consistently innovative companies are likely to generate revenue at a faster rate than those that are stagnant.

That’s why more intrapreneurship sometimes equals more revenue.

When employees know that they have the funding and the backing to see their big ideas through to the end, they’ll be motivated and encouraged to come up with these ideas in the first place. They’ll also be much more keen on investing their time and energy into making them successful because they’re confident that they have the necessary support.

A more agile way of working

For the most part, corporations move slowly. Big updates and changes often occur only annually at best, and it can be difficult to implement innovative ideas or work with startups. With intrapreneurship, employees are able to act as startups for a certain period of time, therefore enhancing the startup culture and mentality within a corporation.

Plus, introducing a startup environment and agile working style within the workplace can pave the way for actual startup acquisitions and can help employees familiarize themselves with the process before it takes place.

Take our Intrapreneurship program with our partner Zurich Insurance, for example: “Make the Difference” is a global initiative launched in 2018 that invites employees across Zurich Insurance to submit ideas and suggestions for workplace improvements. This feedback opens the door to ideation that allows employees’ voices to be heard, and then implements the ideas that they care about.

Many of these suggestions have already been adopted throughout Zurich Insurance, and some even translate into benefits for customers.  

When employees’ voices are heard in this way, they feel cared for. When their ideas are actually put into place, the effects are even greater. 

Greatness Awaits

Many corporations place quite a large value on intrapreneurship, as they should. After all, there are immense benefits to encouraging ideation and creativity within the workplace. According to Forbes, “Utilizing and optimizing existing products while embracing innovation is a key element of lasting growth and profitability.”

Take PlayStation, for example. If it hadn’t been for Sony employee Ken Kutaragi, what is arguably one of the most popular gaming console brands wouldn’t exist. Though he was only a junior employee at the time, Kutaragi dreamed up the idea for the console, a product that ended up generating billions for the brand.

In years to follow, Kutaragi would be named “The Father of the Playstation”, leading to his role as the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI), aka the subsidiary of Sony which holds the Playstation brand.

In a somewhat poetic manner, one of the more memorable taglines used by Playstation is “Greatness Awaits”. Was that a phrase that followed Kutaragi along his journey to gaming greatness?

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows…

Like all great things, intrapreneurship comes with its own set of challenges.

Intrapreneurship programs require total commitment from management. Even then, these ideas require financing in addition to HR changes (for intrapreneurship to take place, employees move around units and departments, and business leaders must be flexible in order for the process to work). 

Often, employees are so busy or focused on their “actual” work that it’s not easy to encourage them to take a break from their day-to-day operations to try their hand at innovation. It’s hard to get them to actually step away from their position for a few months, so all parties must truly be eager and willing to take action.

The biggest challenge of all with intrapreneurship is empowering the non-entrepreneurs to think outside of the box. Innovative ideas come easier to some than others, and it can be tricky to get those less creative to participate. These employees risk delaying innovation processes within companies, so it’s important that they have the required attention and encouragement that will drive them to think critically and come up with big ideas.
Despite these few challenges, it’s extremely worth it for brands to give intrapreneurship a go—even if only for a short period of time, just a few months may be enough to see some ideas truly start to flourish and change the future of the company for the better. After all, according to Richard Branson, “Healthy growth requires a smattering of intrapreneurs who drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development.”