Entrepreneurs or Intrapreneurs, We Couldn't Innovate Without Them

The best innovators are entrepreneurial thinkers. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an actual business owner or an “intrapreneur” who brings new ideas, products and/or services to the company for which you work. Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship (a term coined by Gifford Pinchot in his book, Intrapreneuring) both represent a way of thinking and being that creates a freedom and space for innovation to occur. The problem with many organizations, including entrepreneurial ones, is that they often stifle the very thing they say they want: original thinking, action and results. One way of dealing with this problem is to create champions of entrepreneurship within organizations.

In 1996, I had the opportunity to meet Bernie Goldhirsh, the founder of Inc. magazine. I remember that crisp New England morning when the cab dropped me off at the wharf where Bernie’s office was located. Bernie was a sailor and one of his entrepreneurial businesses was a magazine about sailing. You could tell Bernie loved the water and Boston the moment you entered his office – it was full of mementos of the sea and the area. Bernie’s legacy was, in part, about raising the reputation or brand of the entrepreneur. Before Inc. magazine (started in April 1979), entrepreneurs were often seen as suspect and some equated them with hucksters. Bernie insisted that Inc. include real stories about the men and women who had the guts to take the calculated risks necessary to build something out of nothing. Inc. also pioneered the sharing of ideas and strategies that other entrepreneurs could learn from. In short, Bernie was not just an entrepreneur but served as a champion of entrepreneurship itself.

Intrapreneurs need champions, too, who help nurture a corporate climate friendly to entrepreneurship. Some of the most traditionally innovative companies, such as P&G and 3M, create a climate for innovation by building it into their plans and rewarding and recognizing innovation in ongoing and relevant ways. They also provide support through sponsorship. Sponsors typically serve as advisors to the intrapreneur and help to remove organizational barriers. Key to promoting intrapreneurial thinking is a clear vision of where the company, department or team is heading and communication of how others have contributed to bringing that vision closer to reality. Companies need to be less concerned with the methods that intrapreneurs use and more focused on the results. Like all good entrepreneurial businesses, intrapreneurs need a plan that includes milestones, budgets and resources required. Once the boundaries are drawn, companies need to offer the space for internal entrepreneurs to flourish, and the champions must lobby to create such space. We see our role at i4cp similar to Inc.’s in the past in that we provide a community and space for the sharing of ideas, research and strategies that stimulate innovative thinking, action and results.