How to Spot Entrepreneurs Lurking in Your Organization

The biggest enemy of intrapreneurship is management power
workers collaborate

By Paul Chipperton

Historically, companies have had a 40- to 50-year life cycle. In recent years, the product life cycle has become much quicker and the company life cycle much shorter. RIM is a good example. If we had have been sitting here a decade ago, every single one of us would have been holding a Blackberry. At best, RIM’s life cycle was 30 years.

Every company that is still an incumbent large entity is now saying, How do we do better with the resources we have because the markets are changing faster, the product life cycles are shorter, and our inventory is becoming redundant faster? How do we make our companies more nimble and better able to adapt to the market faster?

That’s one reason why there has been a great deal of interest in intrapreneurship over the last 10 years, probably more than ever. I define an intrapreneur as someone who has big ideas and wants to change the world, but who needs a support network to do it, as opposed to an entrepreneur who wants to change the world and will just do it on their own.

Intrapreneurship is much more complicated than entrepreneurship because there is no green field. There is incumbency, there is legacy, there are existing structures. Quite often, there is hierarchy. An intrapreneur doesn’t have the latitude to grab any resource from any space she wants, as she does as an unfettered entrepreneur.

Internal Agitators

Intrapreneurs are internal agitators that are naturally entrepreneurial who can see that there is some room to be an entrepreneur in their existing environment, and who believe in the main goals of their company. These are people with emotional sensitivity and a strong ability to play the complex hierarchical political games so typical in organizations. Entrepreneurs tend to be driven by emotion. Intrapreneurs are able to govern their emotions better and see the future clearly, likely more in incremental than disruptive ways.

Many companies struggle with how to support intrapreneurs. It’s easy to say, We are going to be a intrapreneurial entity now — that sells. People will be attracted to your organization, but the tricky part is aligning corporate goals and the talk of being intrapreneurial with the act and the walk of being intrapreneurial.

The biggest enemy to intrapreneurship are management power and authority. It’s easy to forget that every manager’s or director’s job involves budgets and strategic planning cycles. They have a bunch of people working with them, for them, and around them, and they have a long list of deliverables. To suddenly expect them to change without receiving some benefit is unrealistic. They need to see that their participation in intrapreneurship will yield more money, power, or authority.

In the end, the principles guiding the successful diffusion of innovations also hold for developing a culture of intrapreneurship. Advanced by researcher Everett Rogers back in the early 1960s, these principles are: relative advantage (the perceived efficiencies gained by the innovation compared to the status quo); compatibility with the existing system; complexity; trialability (the ability to be tested); and observability. These are the core considerations that need to be managed carefully to be able to start the process, sell the process to a small group and the larger organization, and then get it to stick.


Paul Chipperton is entrepreneur-in-residence at a venture capital firm and continuing adjunct lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship at Smith School of Business.


woman worker
They look like mission-focused champions who can balance stakeholder needs and stick to disciplined processes

Smith School of Business

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Kingston, Ontario
Canada K7L 3N6

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