What is intrapreneurship? Definition and meaning

Intrapreneurship is a term used to describe entrepreneurial behavior within a large organization. It is the process by which people with entrepreneurial traits work for companies. Intrapreneurs have a big-picture outlook, introduce innovative new ideas and take proactive steps to boost the growth of a company. 

The term intrapreneurship was credited to American entrepreneur Gifford Pinchot III in the April 17, 1982 issue of The Economist. 

Pinchot defined intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do. Those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind, within a business”.

Intrapreneurs use their creativity to turn an idea into a profitable venture. They take initiative to start something new within an organizational environment, without being told to do so.

According to the London College of International Business Studies, “Intrapreneurs are innovative and create effective change in the company. An intrapreneur will recognise what moves the company needs to make in order to reach a new level of growth. They are always imagining solutions that would make operations of a company better than it was before.”

The six patterns of successful intrapreneurs

Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai noted in a Harvard Business Review blog post that there are six patterns of successful intrapreneurs:

  • Pattern #1: Money Is Not the Measurement – intrapreneurs are primarily motivated by “influence with freedom”.
  • Pattern #2: Strategic Scanning – intrapreneurs constantly think about what is next.
  • Pattern #3: Greenhousing – ideas are contemplated internally as they develop. Intrapreneurs don’t share their ideas with others until they have thought about it for a long time. 
  • Pattern #4 Visual Thinking – intrapreneurs think visually and brainstorm new ideas.
  • Pattern #5 Pivoting – intrapreneurs aren’t afraid to change strategic direction.
  • Pattern #6 Authenticity and Integrity – intrapreneurs exhibit the traits of confidence and humility.

One of the biggest challenges that intrapreneurs face is the “Corporate Immune System”. Corporate hierarchy, bureaucracy and rules can inhibit the amount of intrapreneurial behavior within an organization.

In the video below Gifford Pinchot talks about the history of intrapreneuring and gives some insights into the industry.