Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs: Understanding the difference

Many businesses try to foster innovation, but are you aware of the difference between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs?

Companies must constantly innovate to bring new products to market, grow their business and stay ahead of industry competitors.

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed that a lack of skilled workers is one of the primary challenges firms face when trying to encourage innovation. In fact, 17.2 per cent of organisations cited this as a barrier.

Entrepreneurs typically have an innovative spirit, guiding companies in new directions and taking risks in an effort to drive the business to greater success. However, by their very nature, these individuals prefer to be at the top of the food chain, leading their own enterprises and building firms up from the foundations.

This is why many senior executives turn to intrapreneurs, as they can provide fresh ideas and effect change within an already established organisational environment.

Managing intrapreneurs

Intrapreneurs share many characteristics with entrepreneurs; they are passionate, persistent and imaginative. Willing to work within the confines of a large business, they offer the creativity and lateral thinking that can prove essential to innovative processes.

However, managing intrapreneurs can be a challenge, as they share a number of similarities with entrepreneurs, but with a few key differences. If you are looking to bring more depth to innovative practices at your business, here are some crucial considerations for getting the most out of intrapreneurs.

Resource allocation: Unlike entrepreneurs, who have an entire organisation at their fingertips, intrapreneurs must battle for funding, staff and other resources along with other teams and projects.

In many cases, it will be up to the CEO and senior executives to make the final judgement on whether an innovative plan should get the go-ahead. This could result in conflict between departments that requires careful management.

Risk: Entrepreneurs are known for their risk-taking behaviour, which can result in big wins or substantial losses. While intrapreneurs share some of these tendencies, it is not usually to the same extent.

These individuals will therefore often need more guidance and clarity, as well as an alternative reward scheme, as they will not directly benefit from company successes. Instead, internal recognition, salary perks and achievement awards are more likely to spur intrapreneurial activity.

Chain of command: Entrepreneurial ideas require space and freedom to develop, which means providing a certain amount of autonomy to employees you are relying on for innovation.

However, it is important to establish a solid chain of command to ensure intrapreneurs do not push the boundaries too far or ignore workplace rules. Leaders must make intrapreneurs aware of what is expected of them.

Businesses that want to remain competitive must find ways of encouraging innovation within their organisation – and fostering an entrepreneurial attitude among workers is key.

Intrapreneurs can provide many benefits, but they require effective leadership and creative management to maximise their impact on an organisation’s direction. Only then can companies extract value from such employees.