What does intrapreneurship look like in different sectors?

Intrapreneurship is a term that’s often associated solely with business. But does it exist in other sectors? 

Education is one area that’s ripe for disruption and in schools and universities across the world there are intrapreneurs starting to make changes. Take Nancy Everson, head of Academic Enrichment at the College of William and Mary, for example. In 2013, she launched the Tribe Tutor Zone in response to discussions from professors about the need for a centralised location for tutoring.

Will Morris, one of Everson’s colleagues, explains in a blog: “There was sometimes a small amount of tutoring available in one academic department or another, but there was no overarching campus infrastructure that ensured all students had access to tutoring. Some students charged a lot of money to independently tutor other students and some volunteered.”

Everson found that often when students were approaching her to find tutoring, she had nowhere to send them, which is why she founded the Tribe Tutor Zone – despite parents telling her it would “never work” and the students “won’t use tutoring”. She also overcame the issue that many intrapreneurs have by making the tutoring centre financially sustainable and scalable. Students are charged $10 an hour for tutoring and tutors are paid directly from that charge – thus removing the need for donations, meaning that the centre was able to do more without being restricted by a lack of funding.

The College of William and Mary isn’t the only higher education institution recognising the importance of intrapreneurship, however. In 2014, Northeastern University appointed Nick Ducoff as their vice president for new ventures. Coming from a start-up background, Ducoff was faced with the challenge of leading a team to incubate new business ideas, diversify revenue streams and advance a new model of education, beyond the traditional boundaries. In the first year on the job, he had evaluated more than 100 opportunities and launched three new ventures.

“Every organisation needs to be constantly innovating,” he told the Intrapreneurship Conference last year. “A recent survey of intrapreneurs conducted by Innovation and Innosight discovered 48.9 per cent believed less than five per cent of their company’s staff was trained on innovation techniques. We think every contributor can be an innovator and thus should receive some level of innovation training.”

Professionals in healthcare are also starting to come round to this idea of intrapreneurship and encouraging and enabling individuals to come up with ideas that will improve services. Research has identified the ‘nurse intrapreneur’, “a salaried employee… who develops, promotes and delivers an innovative health or nursing service within a health care setting”. These are nurses who are thinking more innovatively about their work to provide the best quality of healthcare for every single one of their patients.

Healthcare trusts have even adopted this intrapeneurial way of thinking. For example, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust introduced Operation Onion, a daily meeting that enables staff – both clinical and non-clinical – to ‘peel back’ the layers of hospital care and put forward suggestions to improve the service and put patients first.

“It’s about listening to our clinical and non-clinical staff and looking at immediate changes we can make to ensure our patients are treated quickly, efficiently and correctly, first time,” Samantha Jones, CEO of the Trust explains. “We are challenging everything we currently do and seeing if there are ways we can do things differently, and better. The essence is: what can we do to make it happen, not why it can’t be done. It also focuses on how we do things, not just what we do.”

The team at the Trust asks the same question every day – one very similar to the question on every intrapreneur’s mind: “What can we do differently today to make a difference for our patients tomorrow?” 

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