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Forget Entrepreneurs: Key Strategies For Cultivating Intrapreneurs On Your Team

Matthew Toren
Matthew Toren

Only 7% of Us Are Entrepreneurs, But "Internal Entrepreneurialism" Is Growing

Entrepreneurialism has become the zeitgeist of modern culture. While many admire key aspects of the entrepreneurial spirit, most individuals in the United States are actually employees.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only about seven percent of the U.S. population can accurately be defined as an entrepreneur amongst the employed. Does that mean that only those who are on their own can embody the skills of entrepreneurialism? Not at all.

In fact, a growing trend in many corporate cultures is to foster their own internal entrepreneurial, or intrapreneur, programs with their current employees. An intrapreneur program is something you can adapt for your organization and it can be a great thing for both your employees and your business.

Here are five key strategies for cultivating intrapreneurs on your own team. 

1. Actively Promote Conversations

Entrepreneurialism thrives on ideas and innovation born out of conversations. If you want to start encouraging intrapreneurs within your ranks, give them the dedicated space and structure to have the right kind of conversations.

Uninterrupted time to tackle problems in small, highly functioning teams can be a great chance to creatively problem solve without the pressure of worrying about corporate hierarchy or oversight, which tends to stifle innovative exchanges.

How big of a hindrance to progress can corporate hierarchy really be for employees? According to an article in Forbes, the top three reasons people listed for leaving their jobs were split between:

  1. Disliking their boss
  2. A lack of empowerment
  3. Feeling frustration over internal politics

If someone finds internal politics challenging enough that they’re willing to quit their job, imagine how powerfully those structures might be impeding innovation within your current ranks?

This isn’t to say all staff members on your team are capable or have the desire for intrapreneurial tasks, but it can foster a feeling of empowerment for those who express interest and identify as being up to the challenge. It can encourage conversations and innovation within your team outside of the traditional organizational structure.

In hierarchal meetings, subordinates with great ideas may not chime in if they feel it will risk backlash or if there’s a perception it’s outside their position’s jurisdiction. Open up the conversations on a non-hierarchal track so ideas at all levels can come to light as a part of your dedicated intrapreneur track. 

2. Act on Ideas 

Ideas are great, but ideas without action aren’t going to get you far. The next step in a strategy that promotes intrapreneurship is to dedicate an appropriate amount of resources in the form of time, budget and skill from your team to properly start to act on the best innovations.

Many large companies like ATT, LinkedIn and Google have their own internal incubator programs to foster innovation and give their employees the structure and power to act on those ideas. A surprising innovation incubator example you may want to emulate comes from Whirlpool.

Huffington Post reports that Whirlpool claims most of their ideas come from structured ideation sessions and that they open up the idea process to all employees who want to contribute. “Employees follow a specific ideation process that goes as follows: idea generation, basic business case formation, competition for the development of the idea, testing and experimentation, and finally, large-scale commercialization,” says the article.

This is a great way to provide structure and guidance while allowing employees to bring innovation forward and into actualization. Consider what structure you could lay out to formalize an intrapreneur incubator program at your organization if there isn’t a structure in place already. You’ll need to formalize the plan to bring it to executives for approval, as well as explain it to employees, so get a good framework prepared. 

3. Allow for Failure and Risks

Entrepreneurship is all about risks and learning from failures. You absolutely must have a corporate culture and policy that allows for failures and you must be willing to allow your employees to take certain kinds of risks if you want your intrapreneurship program to be successful. 

Maintain a degree of accountability, and understand that every successful venture requires risk and will encounter some degree of failure. Employees need to be empowered to take those risks. 

4. Give Real Ownership

With a great program comes great responsibility. By giving your employees the option of participating in an intrapreneurship program and allowing them to make decisions, you’re also giving them accountability and real ownership over their ideas.

They should be accountable for basic business structure, logic and sound decision making that goes into their ideas to really have ownership. Like the structure of the Whirlpool program, ask those with great innovations to come up with a formal business case formation for their idea.

Challenge them to pitch and present in competition for the development of their idea and consider milestones and checkpoints for progress. Just as an entrepreneur would need to formally pitch and organize their thoughts for funding or financial backing, you can encourage ownership and big-picture thinking by requiring a formal process for your intrapreneurship program.

This can result in greater job satisfaction for your employees, personal as well as professional growth for them, and potentially innovative solutions for your company.

5. Reward Innovation

In the previously cited Forbes article, another top reason employees claimed was the catalyst for their quitting was a lack of recognition or reward for a job well done. To truly make a program of innovation work, consider how to reward your intrapreneurs when their hard work results in something great for the business.

Innovation Excellence supports this theory explaining that today’s most innovative companies like Dreamworks and Google build rewards into their intrapreneurship programs to foster the continuation of great ideas. These can range from financial incentives and company options or shares to less tangible rewards like the opportunity to name products or services they’ve been responsible for creating.

The range of rewards will vary depending on the contribution and your business’s bottom line, but consider a variety of tiers for rewards to show your intrapreneurs that they are appreciated.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Matthew Toren
Matthew Toren Member
Matthew Toren is an advisor, investor, growth strategist and co-founder of and He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right.