What Is An Intrapreneur Anyway?

The word entrepreneur is more than 150 years old, having come into English from French in 1828. But it was not until comparatively recently that its intra-corporate counterpart, intrapreneur, was introduced to the business lexicon.

“a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.”

The term is usually credited to Gifford Pinchot (the grandson of the first Chief of The US Forest Service, also the 28th Governor of Pennsylvania, with the same name). According to Mr. Pinchot’s website, in a 1982 The Economist magazine article, Norman Macrae gave credit to Gifford Pinchot as the inventor of the word intrapreneur. Mr. Pinchot went on to publish his book “Intrapreneuring” in 1985. In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary added Intrapreneur … giving new legitimacy to the term.

There are obvious derivations of the word … Intrapreneurship, Intrapreneurial, Intrapreneuring and even Intrapreneurist (the name of this blog – but I’ll save that explanation for another blog – it’s sort of a John Wayne thing).

In a September 30, 1985 Newsweek magazine interview, Steve Jobs used the term to describe his team, “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship, a group of people going in essence back to the garage, but in a large company”).

Wikipedia has embraced and references the original American Heritage Dictionary definition cited above. This definition is by far the best. I give this definition an “A”.  I will make a small tweak or two in my version below but it’s a solid “A” nonetheless. There are strong decision-making and collaboration components in support of the risk taking aspect … and navigating corporate politics make collaboration essential, which is something entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about. Also implied in the definition, is the fact that the role requires strategy, execution and delivery of results.

My tweaked version is: “a person within a large organization who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea (or innovation) into a profitable finished offering through assertive risk-taking and effective stakeholder collaboration.”

Here are some other popular definitions:

Dictionary.com (which is based on the 2014 Random House Dictionary)an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols.

My rating is a “C-“. This definition is a little loosy goosy … intrapreneurs may get some latitude but freedom is a stretch. Saying they do not have to follow protocols is also a stretch.

Dictionary.com II (which is based on the 2009 Collins English Dictionary)a person who while remaining within a larger organization uses entrepreneurial skills to develop a new product or line of business as a subsidiary of the organization.

My rating is a “B-“. This definition is tighter. Saying that an intrapreneur develops a new product as a subsidiary does not make sense organizationally though.

Merriam Webster Dictionary: a corporate executive who develops new enterprises within the corporation.

My rating is a “D-“. This definition is too short and limiting. You don’t have to be an executive, and intrapreneurs don’t develop just new enterprises or work in only corporations. Pretty poor for such a prestigious brand. I suppose being too narrow is not as bad as being wrong though.

Speaking of wrong … the usually reliable Investopedia has a rather bizarre definition: An inside entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur within a large firm, who uses entrepreneurial skills without incurring the risks associated with those activities. Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned a special idea or project, and are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal. The intrapreneur’s main job is to turn that special idea or project into a profitable venture for the company.

My rating is an “F” (can I rate it lower?). This definition is laughable. Being assigned an idea and instructed to be an entrepreneur is a hilarious notion. It sort of misses the point doesn’t it? … and takes all the initiative out of it. Having all the resources and capabilities at one’s disposal is also an amusing thought.

When I started writing this blog, I did not expect to find such a large disparity of definitions. I was disappointed to find so many uninformed (aka lame) “name brand” definitional sources.

What is your definition?

As always, leave me your thoughts and ideas here.

7 thoughts on “What Is An Intrapreneur Anyway?

  1. Great post and very interesting how, knowing you most of my life, again you and I would think the same way. Especially, after having shared an “entrepreneurial” venture with you.

    While, I pride myself on having a well rounded vocabulary, and follow “Jim Rohn’s” advice to never be lazy with language. I have to admit, I never even knew of this word “intrapreneur,” apparently my spell check doesn’t know it either.

    To me, it sounds like a “BS” word designed by some corporate or large organization guy to, at minimum pirate, commandeer or to even “quash” individual idea development. Especially within a large corporate structure. While those two words may be harsh, and while I have never really been a team member of a “large” corporation where my ideas were implemented into something larger, and better or for the greater good “liberally applied term.” Actually, as an adult (loosely applied definition) I have only had one job. I have always been at heart an “entrepreneur.”

    Basically to me “intrapreneur” is a way of a corporation enforcing intellectual property rights over you and your individual ideas. Now, maybe you as an employee are hired to be part of a group to develop collaboratively on a project, well to me that just makes you an employee. If you are developing on the corporations dime.

    However, if you work for one division of a large company and outside of work (or even inside) you have an idea that involves using a delivery platform from a completely different division of that company with something that they are not even doing, I don’t believe that you should be forced to surrender that idea or even have to submit that idea to see if said larger corporation wants to use your idea, as their own. Especially for 5 years after you have left said corporation.

    It also became evident to me, while I glanced for years at the internal job postings at said large company to see if there was a position that I could use my “intrepreneurial” mind/dreams/skills to be a good valued team player, I lacked the educational background to even get “behind those doors.” So, if I lack the educational background (which we know for most means absolutely nothing) to work in that division the said corporation should have no right to “my” intellectual property.

    I know now, you are reading between the lines. Having just left a “large” company environment, and being an “out of the box” thinker, I have an idea. I’ll call ya later “wink, wink.” No seriously.

    Which leads me to believe that when that happens and someone has and idea or a widget and they don’t have the comfort of a large corporation’s resources to help them develop it, they turn to the only way they know how to get it done. They develop it themselves and hope they make it to market before someone else does. They take the risk maybe they make it, most probably don’t.

    What is interesting and I started to think while writing this is, at what point does an “entrepreneur” stop and become an “intrepreneur?” when they become a large company and then they become an “intrepreneur” and I guess only if the company continues to grow new ideas. Witness someone like, Michael Dell, or even Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Of course Woz, went the full course entrepreneur then “intrepreneur” then after he was ousted back to entrepreneur, or maybe we could accuse him of just being a geek after his ousting, albeit a geek with a ton of cash.

    Let’s face it, it is in “our” human’s nature to discover, invent, improve things.

    The American dream, probably the dream of all Nationalities is to be free, from tyranny and that includes tyranny from your employer. Easier said than done. Being your own “Boss” is what I find a lot of people especially as they get older, and have worked in the market for a while want. Witness the surge in “home-based” direct sales businesses. People sign up for these opportunities all the time. Many (90%) not making back what they invested into the opportunity. But some making a lot of money, it all comes down to that “entrepreneurial” spirit.

    As a mentor once said to me, “if you are walking in to a building with someone else’s name on it, you are building someone else’s dream!”

    Well said, I say. Here’s to the dreamers or as Steve would have put it “the crazy ones” regardless if they dream alone, or in a group. Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur just keep dreaming!

    • Chip – As always you raise many interesting, and in this case some “provocative” points. I am sure we will have a debate over this the next time we get together. I have never seen intrapreneurship as big brother enforcing IP rights over the working class – that’s far too Orwellean and 1984ish for me. Ironically, it reminds me of the famous Apple Super Bowl commercial that we often discuss. … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_(advertisement)

      Not everyone is willing to go “all in” for the risk and reward of entrepreneurship. Keep in mind that corporations also have need to new deliver innovation in order to maintain competitive advantage. Someone has to bring that innovation to market, which requires many of the skills that a start-up might need.

      The world is big enough for, and needs, both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike. Great comments!

  2. Hi Craig, I like your definition. My definition is a bit of a tweaked version of yours:

    “A person or a group of people, within a large organization who take the responsibility and the lead of the successful development and transformation of an idea, service, product, innovation or opportunity into a viable and profitable business, with required organizational structure change through assertive risk-taking and effective collaboration.”

    (the word ‘stakeholder’ has the connotation of a project)

    My examples for this definition: Watson group, Acquisitions & Mergers.

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