How I became an intrapreneur

For as long as I can remember I have always been entrepreneurial and had a strong work ethic, working non-stop since the age of 16. I always found creative ways to make money. As a broke student at university, you had no choice but to get creative and find multiple streams of income. I set up my first business aged 20 ‘Exquisite Celebrations’ a party planning service and launched it on my 21st birthday with a big bash at a plush club in the City. It was a nice little earner as I charged my guests a £10 entrance fee. 

In my final year of University, I wanted to reduce the number of teenagers joining gangs and set up my first social enterprise ‘The Rafiki Network’ when I was 21 years old. We delivered mentoring and training programmes for young people at risk of joining gangs and had funders that included The Big Lottery Fund and Peabody Housing. I always had the quality of bringing people together, solving social problems, motivating people, building new relationships and selling an idea!

Despite how great these qualities were as a 21 year old university graduate I lacked the experience needed to really develop these skills to lead a successful and sustainable business. These were the types of qualities and skills that needed to be nurtured by an employer. There were plenty of talented young graduates like me who were forward thinking and buzzing with ideas however I found that many of the large graduate employers were not thinking outside the box and missed out on graduates like us because they were stuck in a rigid corporate view of a good employee. 

After I completed my Masters in Sustainability and Management in 2012 I knew that I wanted to run a business in the corporate social responsibility sector. But instead of diving right into it I decided to look for a job and ended up working for a small organisation with a team of 10 staff.

The Brokerage Citylink was an organisation that worked closely with businesses in financial services, delivering their corporate responsibility programmes and connecting them with talented young people from inner London boroughs. I joined the company as a programme manager and had clients that included The Bank of England, Rabobank, Barclays, Reed Smith, Deutsche Bank, Clifford Chance, HSBC and Barclays.

Due to the small staff structure I was able to get involved in all aspects of running the organisation and with the support of my line manager I was left to lead on client meetings, pitching for funding for new programmes, producing and submitting reports, managing other members of staff and implementing systems to ensure the organisation ran smoothly. All of these experiences and responsibilities not only enabled me to become more entrepreneurial within an organisation but allowed me to progress quickly within the organisation and I became a senior programme manager and part of the senior management team after a short while. 

Questions every intrapreneur should ask about their decision to stay in employment:

  • What will this job do for me and my career?
  •  Am I really making a difference?
  • Where do I fit in?
  • What impact have I and my work had on the business?
  • Are my opinions and ideas valued?
  •  Am I respected and taken seriously?
  • Is there room for development in the company where I can progress quickly?

At the time when I had a lot of student debt to clear, so being an intrapreneur was the best option for me until I was ready to take the leap and eventually start my own business. I ended up starting my current business, Girls Talk London, whilst working at The Brokerage and it was my strong client relationships and understanding of how a successful social enterprise in my sector works that gave me the perfect platform to finally start my journey as an entrepreneur. 

Businesses should not be scared of supporting intrapreneurs in their staff because they can create a legacy that lasts beyond their time at the company – I know that from my own experience. Small businesses especially can benefit from the value that intraprenerus add. Employers need to ensure that they give intrapreneurs the freedom to create projects, share their ideas and create a platform for them to openly express their thoughts on their company. 

Intrapreneurs should be encouraged and trusted to lead on projects, manage their own workload and budgets. To keep them engaged and loyal to your business you need to give them the opportunity to create something like a new project with no unnecessary restrictions or red tape. If a business fails to do the above the danger is there could be a skills gap and shortage of talent with entrepreneurial skills who cannot see the benefit of working for a large business.  

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