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An intrapreneur is someone who works within a company to develop an idea into a workable product. Intrapreneurs are given a high level of autonomy for their projects by the companies they work for and they are often said to be acting essentially like entrepreneurs without the risks associated with being an entrepreneur. The concept of intrapreneurship dates to the mid 20th century, when several American companies started to encourage the development of small working groups within the company to work on projects and develop new ideas.
Like an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur is driven, motived, creative, and able to think outside of the box. He or she must be able to examine an idea, identify its merits, and work on developing the idea into something workable in the real world. Intrapreneurs learn from their experiences as they develop new projects and they take lessons from both successes and failures. They typically also have a small support team taken from coworkers at the organization they work for, with the intrapreneur assembling a team which will be most suited to a particular project.
Unlike entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs are far less exposed to the risk of failure. They have the substantial finances of the company back their efforts, and they can also take advantage of connections, experience, and skills available to the company. This can make intrapreneurial projects far more likely to succeed and it means that people can afford to sink substantial resources into a project to push it as far as possible.
One of the most famous examples of intrapreneurship is the famous Skunk Works® at Lockheed Martin. This working group within the well-known defense manufacturer has been responsible for the development of numerous cutting edge aircraft and other innovations since 1943, when it was established to work on secret projects for the United States Air Force. In some companies, a working group of intrapreneurs may be referred to as a “skunkworks project” in reference to Lockheed's famous subdivision.
Studies on intrapreneurial efforts indicate that they are most likely to succeed when their projects are closely tied to the core mission of the company. They also tend to be more successful when the employees in the working group are allowed a great deal of freedom to work on their projects, without interference from members of management. For an intrapreneur, the ability to work offsite or in a dedicated area can also be critical, as it isolates the team from conflicts with the rest of the company. It's also critical to have a team head who is creative, dedicated, and highly flexible.
Some people also consider certain self employed efforts such as running franchises to be intrapreneurial in nature. Franchise owners rely on the systems, backing, and support of a parent company, taking on few of the risks involved in starting a new business. An intrapreneur running a franchise is unlikely to fail.
Much like any innovator who wants to succeed, an intrapreneur has entrepreneurial characteristics that make him or her stand out and take charge. Though an intrapreneur may be working within a company or private business to develop ideas, he or she is still making a difference by using fresh ideas to help the business grow. While business entrepreneurs may face many financial risks associated with business development, those who choose to use their intrapreneuring skills within a company have a lot of support and the backing of the business. In other words, using your skills within an existing company is a great way to try out new ideas without the risk of going in alone.