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.