Success & Motivation

Are intrapreneurs tomorrow’s competition?

Photo via Virgin Entrepreneur

There is a fine line between encouraging intrapreneurial spirit and inspiring the next wave of entrepreneurs. How can business leaders retain intrapreneurs without stifling their ambition?

It’s no secret that enabling intrapreneurs creates exponential growth within business. But when corporate culture consists of rigid processes that don’t flex for innovation, intrapreneurs can become frustrated and disillusioned, eventually departing to apply their skills to entrepreneurial ventures.

An entrepreneurial stepping stone?

Logan Naidu, entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of Dartmouth Partners, was unwilling to settle for the corporate “status quo” setting his sights on disrupting the recruitment consultancy market. Naidu’s Dartmouth Partners, who connect rising stars and future leaders with top-level companies, believes the exodus of intrapreneurs is gaining momentum due to the numerous entrepreneurial avenues available, “I think there will always be fear, but nowadays the barriers to doing something or doing your own thing are so low.”

The safe option?

However Richard Edwards, entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of Native Consultancy, a PR and Marketing company delivering revolutionary communication models to their clients, believes intrapreneurs are staying put, “my perception is that unlike someone who starts their own business, they’re not the kind of people who would put their house and life on the line to make a business work.”

Intrapreneurs can be accused of wrapping themselves in corporate cotton wool, unwilling to take the risks entrepreneurs face daily. However many intrapreneurs develop their ideas outside work and rarely for remuneration, opting only for the opportunity to change business practice. Granted, a guaranteed salary takes the edge off an initiative’s success or failure, but extracurricular innovation outside their job description and risking their reputation within the corporate ecosystem, show a commitment to avoid the safe option at any cost.

Backing the intrapreneur

Barclays social intrapreneurs – a socially conscious strand of the movement – David Spears and Tim Heard’s belief in the intrapreneurial journey is encouraged through Barclays annual Intrapreneur Challenge. Ideas are pitched to 60 MDs across the company in a Dragons Den style scenario. Spears and Heard’s idea, an initiative allowing socially conscious customers to make a difference with their spare change, created exposure for themselves and won £50K in development funding from Barclays.

The two regard intrapreneurs as the “Trojan horse” within a large corporate, waiting for their moment to affect greater change whilst accessing an already established customer base. With roughly 20 million Barclays current account holders at their change making finger tips, the opportunity to scale an idea to a much larger audience is an advantage the two intrapreneurs are not keen to surrender.

“For a start-up business to be able to market to that amount of people straight away, that’s impossible. We’ve got the advantage of a large customer base and when you actually get something through you’re able to talk to a lot more people about it, a lot sooner,” says Spears, “I think Barclays is quite far ahead” in their willingness to bring an intrapreneurial project together, but not everyone has “got it completely figured out.”

Retaining the intrapreneur

“Half of being an intrapreneur is being frustrated, but it’s about how you deal with the frustration and setbacks,” says Heard, who along with Spears and the backing of Barclays, launched the Circle of Intrapreneurs to offer advice to other millennial intrapreneurs when these internal road blocks occur.

Even Naidu admits that now his consultancy is growing – the company has just opened a second office in Frankfurt – it’s a fine line to walk between creating an effective work culture and hindering intrapreneurial ambition, “you have to put processes into the business, you have to put structure in, but that can be stifling. You’ve got to try to balance both.”

“Keep backing it and keep looping around people who are obstacles,” says Heard, “build a group of senior cheerleaders because eventually you’ll find the right people that like it.” When you work to the paradigm “do good, do well,” it’s hard not to break out the pom poms for all social intrapreneurs and their enablers.

Setting the intrapreneur free

In an unexpected twist, Edwards welcomes and even encourages the intrapreneur departure, “I would define the success of an intrapreneur not only by the financial results, but whether that person upped and left to start another business – if they didn’t I’d be thinking I could have hired someone with more fire in their belly who could have done better.”

If elasticity exists within the corporate structure, intrapreneurs have the freedom to innovate and drive change within their corporate bubble, rather than acting on their entrepreneurial desire. However, perhaps, business leaders should encourage the “fire in the belly” determination of the intrapreneur-come-entrepreneur and welcome their departure. After all, profiting from socially conscious innovation, creating an ecosystem where new initiatives thrive and inspiring a generation of change makers within their company to step up to the intrapreneurial plate, they might be better for the experience.


We encourage you to visit Virgin Enrepreneur to read more fascinating articles.

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