What is an intrapreneur? And how do you support them?

Intrapreneurs can offer vital new ideas that push an organization forward

WeWork Montes Urales 424 in Mexico City. Photograph by WeWork

A person within your organization who spearheads change: an intrapreneur. Most businesses have one or two of those types of individuals making waves every day. But how do you support those individuals? What can you offer them that fosters their innovative qualities without losing them to their own adventures? As an employee at a technology company that believes in fostering creativity and innovation, I started to think about how other business leaders can learn to cultivate their own intrapreneurs to build a better business.

What is an intrapreneur?

An intrapreneur is someone who works like an entrepreneur but within the constraints of a company that’s already established. They’re empowered to break free from the company’s normal business operations and culture in order to bring new ideas, creativity, and innovation. Intrapreneurs are always looking to do their own thing that, in the end, helps the company excel.

Intrapreneurs play a critical role in companies like these because they’re always looking to create something new and different that pushes the boundaries of existing thought. This unique factor makes intrapreneurs a fantastic asset to any business; their creative ideas and out-of-the-box thinking can help even large organizations be a lighthouse brand in their industry.

Large organizations should consider acquiring and retaining their creative talent (intrapreneurs) to help them stay innovative. Otherwise, they cannot compete with smaller, disruptive companies, which have less overhead and more flexibility. One example of how a large company has tapped into its intrapreneurial talent is Google. The leadership at Google has worked hard to create a startup culture within their enormous corporation in order to retain their highly coveted talent and thus the entrepreneurial nature of Google as a company.

Unfortunately, it’s relatively common for intrapreneurs to leave their company to start their own ventures. Their biggest strength, their creative and driven mind, doesn’t mesh well with the rigidity of most organizations. So now they’re entrepreneurs, and potentially, your competitors. What can we do as business leaders to retain intrapreneurs and support their strengths and needs within our business? How do we keep to our core principles and deliver to existing customers while still trying to evolve and foster this creativity?

How to support intrapreneurs

  1. Allow intrapreneurs to explore their ideas privately within a public setting. Invite them to wear headphones or go to a quiet place within the company building to brainstorm new ideas that advance the company’s product or service lines. Perhaps your company can even have a special room where employees can freely go to think and channel their creative side. Our company has a “Zen Room” where we encourage employees to step away from their desks and get creative!
  2. Another way to encourage intrapreneurs is to actually take ideas a step further and implement them into the machinery of the company. Try employing their ideas internally first before taking a bigger risk and incorporating it into a client’s existing project or even in an internal initiative.
  3. Discover your employees’ outside passions and encourage them to bring them within the company. For example, our Creative and Marketing teams have a monthly “show and tell” meeting in which team members are all tasked with creating something based on a theme for the month. Last month’s theme was around augmented reality; some members even built their own demo apps or just brainstormed ideas. If a concept from this meeting is good enough, we will take it to the next level. We are actually about to launch our very first mobile game, a reimagined version of Jacks, built buy some developers from our Storm Team!

By finding ways to support intrapreneurs internally, your organization can begin to foster a startup culture; the result is improvements in talent retention and a creative flame that is fanned organizationally. In the end, intrapreneurs can bring a lot of positivity and growth to your business and take it to heights you might not have expected. Intrapreneurs might sometimes be the “black sheep” of the company culture, but oftentimes, it is those unique perspectives and big-picture thinkers that can bring the best value to your business success.

The best companies figure that out; good companies try, and the best companies acquire it. Some people are willing to work 40 hours a week to live, but others are really excited by what they do in and outside of work. Now, it’s your job as an entrepreneur to bring the creativity out of the intrapreneur and work together to pursue your passions collaboratively for the advancement of the company and each other.

This article was originally published on July 6, 2014, and has been updated throughout by the editors.

Rethinking your workspace?

Was this article useful?
Management and Leadership