The What, Why and How of Intrapreneurship

The first time I heard the word “intrapreneur,” I dismissed it based on its name alone. What I took to

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The first time I heard the word “intrapreneur,” I dismissed it based on its name alone. What I took to be a cutesy pun led me to believe it was a less-than-serious concept — another business buzzword. On a walk this morning, however, I started second guessing my etymological assumptions. I’d been thinking of “entrepreneur” as a term with a single root, when in reality it was probably a combination of two separate roots (“entre” plus “preneur”). And if that was the case, wouldn’t that make “intrapreneur” a logical variant of the word, and not just a queasy branding job?

(Yes, these really are the kinds of revelations I experience on my walks).

Fast forward fifteen minutes, and I’ve discovered that “entrepreneur” comes to us from Latin, by way of French. “Entre,” meaning “between,” joins the verb “prendre,” meaning “to take,” ultimately creating the idea of “one who undertakes.” Swap “entre” for “intra,” and you’ve got somebody who’s taking charge from within. In other words, I was totally wrong in my initial assessment — and that meant I wanted to give intrapreneurship a fair shake. What I discovered in my subsequent research is that it’s an idea very much aligned with many of our core beliefs at Torrent — we just haven’t been using the term.

Given that, I thought I’d take a moment to explain what exactly intrapreneurship is, why it’s important, and how you can integrate it into your own company culture.


Intrapreneurship: The What, Why and How

What it is:

To understand what intrapreneurship is, first bring to mind some common ideas of its cousin, entrepreneurship. Something like: The tendency to go one’s own way, taking risks and trying new things in order to pursue a vision and achieve meaningful results. An intrapreneur is basically someone who does those things within the structure of an existing organization. Instead of building a totally new entity from the ground up, they’re expanding the definition of an existing one.

As Inc. puts it, “an intrapreneur is someone within a company that takes risks in an effort to solve a given problem.” I like this definition because it touches on the idea of risk. Pushing back against the status quo in an organization with defined processes is risky, after all, because you’re essentially pitting your ideas against ones that have been deemed acceptable by the powers that be. It isn’t exactly the same kind of risk an entrepreneur takes, but it’s still significant.

Why it’s important:

Fostering a culture that values intrapreneurship is important for two reasons: It leads to innovation and success, and it helps make sure your best talent sticks around. Really, those two points are almost so interrelated that it feels silly to separate them. Employees with the drive to innovate aren’t going to do well in an environment where they have to do things a predefined way. These are the kinds of people who often leave their jobs to become entrepreneurs. But if you make it clear that your company values innovation, these same people are much more likely to stay and put their ideas into practice within your organization. Here at Torrent, the rapid growth of our Small Business division is proof of concept. One of our employees had an idea that he wanted to pursue, and the company made it clear that he could pursue that vision, that he could take risk, within the context of the organization. As a result, we’ve all benefited from a successful idea. Had Torrent been a different kind of company? Well, that employee might have left to start his own business.

How to integrate it in your company:

Successfully integrating a culture of intrapreneurship in your own company comes down to a few factors, and the first is communication. You need to communicate to your employees that you value new perspectives, and that want to hear bold ideas, even when they might seem totally infeasible. By encouraging your team to share their wildest imaginings, you help make sure no great idea gets squashed before it has the chance to take its first steps.

Another important factor in integrating intrapreneurship is a growth mindset. When your company isn’t growing, there’s less room for new opportunities — and therefore less room for intrapreneurs. Thankfully, you don’t only have to grow vertically. It isn’t all about bringing in more and more revenue doing the same thing. You can also expand horizontally, into new lines of business. True intrapreneurs will jump at the chance to lead an entirely new team within the company, and can help build that new division into something great.

Finally, I’ll say that integrating intrapreneurship into your company should be thought of as a long-term process. It’s not as if you can make an announcement tomorrow and suddenly a handful of employees will launch new initiatives that instantly bring unprecedented levels of success to your organization. Instead, it’s about making a repeated effort to encourage your team to think beyond their roles — to let them know that it’s okay to dream big, and that you want them to explore those dreams here. They don’t have to leave.

(And yes, I’ve learned my lesson: Never again will I dismiss an entire concept based on its name).