Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurs trapped inside a corporate body. Constantly looking for new and better ways to do things, they take risks and demonstrate passion around new ideas. They are fundamentally curious, always challenging and questioning, but prone to frustration at feelings of being and stifled by the more regulated confines of a corporate environment.
While some may not even recognise those qualities in themselves, others have brought their entrepreneurial instincts to the fore, and been recognised and rewarded for their contributions that have ultimately benefited the business.
After the birth of her first son, the cost of childcare and travel combined with a demanding job involving long hours at a global communications firm, made returning to work full time almost impossible for Lisa Pantelli, at least if she wanted any quality time with her son.
She said: “I had a bit of a battle to work part time, and when I did return, I had to deal with issues around my part time days and flexi hours and the fact that I was one of the few senior members of the team with kids. There was an assumption by some that I wouldn’t be as ambitious, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.”
Pantelli demonstrated this by using her enterprising approach to identify a need for a new business unit, one focused on employee engagement, within the company.
“I’d always wanted my own business and I knew I needed the challenge, but there was also a very real commercial opportunity there,” she says. “After doing my research and securing the buy-in of the managing director and CEO, I went full steam ahead.”
Although she had no experience in that particular area of business, she quickly developed the skills she needed, assembled a team around her, and within a year had established a profitable new practice, picking up an industry award along the way.
Since then, Pantelli, now a director at employee engagement firm People Lab has had another baby and won another Chartered Institute of Public Relations award which recognised her as an industry ‘Future Leader’.
Young intrapreneur Ben Leeds helped to shape the fortunes of employee benefits platform Perkbox www.perkbox.co.uk a start-up dubbed ‘the disruptive Groupon’ for small business, by bringing innovation to an otherwise stagnant industry.
Leeds was 20 when he joined the business in 2013 as a marketing manager with the remit of generating leads for the ‘business deals’ side of the business, the brand’s only revenue stream at the time.
He was quick to spot untapped potential in extending the platform into something that focused on employee benefits and engagement. At a time when he was asked to prioritise on developing other areas of the business, Leeds used his spare time in the evenings and weekends to develop a new employee engagement technology product.
Within a few months of its launch it had acquired 10,000 users, with zero marketing spend, and went on to radically change the way in which the business operated for the future.
Leeds says: "The experience taught me to see problems simply as challenges and that most challenges can be won with the right combination of focus, hard work and grit. It’s given me the confidence to question everything; just because something has always been done the same way doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way."
Inside companies of all sizes and sectors are intrapreneurs like Pantelli and Leeds, looking for an opportunity to contribute, add value, and be acknowledged and rewarded. And as business coach Rob Brown points out, their employers should be mindful of the fact that intrapreneurs are always thinking beyond their current role.
“Whether that be their next career move or the possibility of getting our and doing their own thing, they're constantly moving beyond their environment and restrictions to break free,” he says.
Companies can avoid losing that valuable talent by being proactive in identifying and nurturing it within the workplace. To develop intrapreneurs, an entrepreneurial spirit should be incorporated into the business model of every company, from the ground up, says Gregg Hollister, UK and Ireland area director at Meltwater.
He says: “If you implement a clear employee profile during the recruitment process, you will attract the type of people who will embrace the intrapreneurial spirit and flourish in your work environment.”
Managers who are positive mentors will encourage their team to express their own views and opinions when it comes to making important business decisions.
“Involve every employee in decision making, even if only in a small way,” adds Hollister. “You will be amazed at how this will encourage them and further enhance their sense of ‘intrapreneurship’.”
And to those with entrepreneurial aspirations working inside a large corporate environment Brown’s advice is clear.
He says: “First, do what you're paid for. Be professionally competent, hit your targets, make your plan and get the job done. Secondly, develop your breakthrough idea, cause, product or project; work out what's going to put you on the map. Make it happen or see it through. At the least, create a prototype or make the business case for it. Thirdly, build your network. This will provide you with credibility and word of mouth. If you want people to back you and talk about what you're doing, you need an audience of advocates, champions and influencers.”