The million-dollar differences between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs

Mississauga Board of Trade
Mississauga Board of Trade


July 17, 2020


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Author: Ken Tencer , Spyder Works Inc.

In these disruptive days, no company can grow without studying the entrepreneurial successes of such firms as Amazon, Google, Virgin and Uber. But there’s another type of entrepreneur you should be studying that may be even more important to your future: the intrapreneurs in your organization. 


Intrapreneurs are creative, resourceful people who champion new products and business processes within corporate structures. They are high-potential change makers who can make your companies millions by reviving tired product lines, spotting new opportunities, and helping bulky organizations become nimble and relevant again.


I believe that intrapreneurs represent the rocket fuel companies need to secure their futures in a world of change. By being more aware of the needs of these internal change-makers, companies can become active innovators without trying to change their culture or spending millions on outside sources of R&D.


To harness these self-motivated agents of change, however, organizations have to understand their intrapreneurs – and how they differ from traditional entrepreneurs. To begin this process, Spyder Works consulted with Multi-Health Systems (MHS), a leading publisher of scientifically validated assessments, to produce the first in-depth study of the traits of intrapreneurs.


MHS’s new study, Entrepreneurial Edge, surveyed more than 400 entrepreneurs and more than 700 intrapreneurs, mainly in the United States and Canada. The results find entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have many similarities. Compared to the general population, both groups rank off-the-charts (as you’d expect) in terms of risk tolerance, adaptability to change, innovation, and their ability to create and communicate a singular vision.


But entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs aren’t the same. They are separate breeds, with key differences in motivation and behavior. So, companies hoping to boost their innovation quotient should understand these four key differences between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs:


  • Driven:MHS’s research found that both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are internally motivated, achievement-oriented, and eager to make things happen. But traditional entrepreneurs are more driven to action than intrapreneurs. This makes sense; entrepreneurs often commit thousands of dollars and years of their time to pushing their plans forward – while intrapreneurs are being paid for their time and investing the organization’s capital rather than their own. But this is a reminder that intrapreneurs aren’t as single-minded as entrepreneurs – which means bureaucracies must be careful not to snuff out their creativity. Intrapreneurs’ drive is a limited resource that organizations need to cherish and promote.


  • Innovative: Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are both skilled at imagining new products and developing new solutions to old problems. But intrapreneurs score lower on this scale. This implies that they may be less creative when it comes to new ideas or need more support in developing new solutions. Some firms temper their employees’ innovative instincts through rules, budgets, or by providing inadequate resources. This finding suggests that companies that want real, consistent innovation should encourage these instincts rather than hold them in check. 


  • Visionary: Successful change-makers conceptualize their focus to create a clear vision they can communicate to all their partners in disruption: employees, customers, prospects, teammates, or upper management. Intrapreneurs rank below independent entrepreneurs on this measure.

Companies that need intrapreneurs to become successful leaders must ensure these key employees receive sufficient resources to develop a clear vision and have the confidence to trumpet their message as loudly as necessary. This can be hard for organizations that expect all employees to “be on the same page.” But innovation flourishes only when the innovators feel safe and supported.


  • Risk Tolerant:The data indicate that traditional entrepreneurs are significantly more comfortable taking calculated risks than are intrapreneurs – although this group still scores much higher than the general population. This is good news for employers: intrapreneurs are attracted to calculated risk. They weigh all the advantages and disadvantages before choosing which risks to take, which makes them not just positive sources of innovation, but also trustworthy stewards of the company’s resources. 


Business leaders must learn to understand and nurture intrapreneurs. Their creativity is your best defense against rigidity, and your most direct path to a more successful future.

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