Cast your mind back, to pre-2008 times, when bright and bushy tailed graduates would come out of business school looking for roles in the relevant employers of choice. Generally those organizations were large businesses, providing incentives such as expensive dinners, a career advancement path and generous financial packages.

Well, a lot has changed since then, and one of the benefits generated from the great recession has been the explosion of entrepreneurial activity across all sectors of the economy. This is both a business and societal change, generating amazing wealth and turning successful entrepreneurs into the rock stars of their time. Talk to any business school graduate these days, and what they want is to actively utilize their new found skills to create value, in a supportive, fast moving culture with a broader positive societal impact. The stark reality is that they don’t see large organizations providing those opportunities.

Of course, this provides a challenge to large organizations, as they all want to be innovative, but are struggling to adjust to the needs of the business and their employees in this new environment. I have pointed out the desires of new graduates, but this entrepreneurial spirit is relevant to employees at pretty much all levels within an organization. The genie is out of the bottle.

In response, the concept of “Intrapreneurs” has bubbled up within the innovation community, as a way for large organizations to fight back and engage those employees that want to flex their entrepreneurial muscle in ways that drive business value to the enterprise. Leaders of Corporate, HR, L&D and Innovation functions are actively pursuing this concept and approach.

The stark reality is new graduates  don’t see large organizations providing the entrepreneurial career’s that they desire.

So, before I go further, let me just outline what I think the term ”Intrapreneur” means.

To me (the thinking amongst innovation thought leaders is pretty consistent here) they are employees that are encouraged to generate and develop new ideas within the context and structure of an existing corporate organization. The idea is to take an entrepreneurial mindset and approach, utilizing that within a larger enterprise.

Conceptually the definition is simple, but as talk to companies and think about this area of interest, I see different approaches to building and supporting Intrapreneurs within organizations:

  • Intrapreneur consultants: Some organizations choose to develop internal consulting SWAT teams that are charged with generating and deploying new ideas as a full time role. Members of these teams can own the development of ideas at various points, or throughout the whole development process

    • Pros: Can be a great way to get focused execution on a limited number of key ideas
    • Cons: Can be an expensive model to maintain and cultural benefits from these employees are not leveraged more broadly across the organization. Ownership by business units, at the time of launch / handover, can be challenging
  • Intrapreneur as a development opportunity: In this model key employees are given opportunities to work on ideas for a period of time, but then asked to go back into their existing roles. There are a few different ways that this approach can work, including positioning intrapreneurs as part of a high potential / leadership development program or members of a corporate incubator.

    • Pros: Can often be easily integrated into an existing leadership or high potential development program.
    • Cons: Employees are often dissatisfied in going back to their old day-to-day roles.
  • Intrapreneurs as owners: This approach most often takes place when entrepreneurs are introduced into larger organizations through corporate venturing efforts. These entrepreneurs then switch over to being intrapreneurs within the context of the corporate organization.

    • Pros: These are expensive individuals with real world experience that is clearly valuable to a large corporate entity. Providing active approaches to support, engage and drive additional value from these individuals becomes a powerful incentive for action
    • Cons: These individuals often struggle to find their footing in large organizations (they started out as entrepreneurs for a reason) and so keeping them within a large organization can be challenging.
  • Intrapreneur networks: Many organizations are building and supporting networks of intrapreneurial-minded employees. As part of these efforts these individuals are trained in new skills, connected with like-minded individuals and given the opportunity to work on new ideas, often as an extension of their day-to-day roles. I have written about this model on several occasions

    • Pros: Leverages skills across an organization, engages a range of employees, positions key employees to act as catalysts for broader behavior change within an organization, leads to longer-term cultural change.
    • Cons: Requires a high degree of commitment from leadership, can require more resources to maintain and track success

This is obviously a high-level overview to the various models and approaches to supporting intrapreneurs within established, corporate organizations. In future articles I plan on delving further into these models.

For my money, the approach around intrapreneur networks is what drives the most lasting impact and ROI for organizations, but of course the specific circumstances and needs of businesses need to be accounted for.

In my next article, I plan to focus on some of the broader benefits of intrapreneurs, and also some actions and steps that organizations can take to support these individuals. Be sure to check back in next week.

By Anthony Ferrier

About the Author

Anthony Ferrier is a well-regarded executive, entrepreneur, advisor and thought leader on corporate innovation. He has worked with organisations in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia to develop effective innovation strategies that guide organizational change and build cultures that encourage the development of new products and solutions. Anthony has worked with organizations such as Transport for NSW (Australia), Department of Defence (Australia), Bristol-Myers Squibb (US), Fidelity Investments (US), Pfizer (US), Volkswagen (Sweden), Ergo Insurance (Germany), etc.. He currently leads innovation and commercialisation efforts at Swinburne University, and previously led The BNY Mellon global innovation program, as well as co-founding two successful tech-driven consultancies. He has a Master of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

Article Series

Fueling Your Employees’ Entrepreneurial Spirit

Part I: A New Approach to Intrapreneurs and the Value They Create (Current)

Part II: Supporting Your Employee Intrapreneurs

Part III: Intrapreneur Case Studies and Successes (up next!)

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