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Entrepreneurship & Startups Updated: 23 Dec 2015

Is now the time for intrapreneurs?

Such employees are ambitious and creative, and represent the drivers of ideas at companies. Senior executives are beginning to encourage such workers, who are playing increasingly important roles at their companies.

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They are proactive people who think about the best ways to improve their companies and do not follow the same routine day in day out.” This is how Celia Villalobos, Strategic Partner Manager at Google, defines intrapreneurs. These individuals are now becoming increasingly prominent at companies as a means of driving new ideas. A study by the Spain Business Schoolfound that 40% of future entrepreneurship would be driven by intrapreneurs.

These are entrepreneurs who, rather than going independent, launch projects under the umbrella of a larger company, but they may not be a member of the firm's senior management. Villalobos believes they play a vital role and called on companies to support them.

At Google we do this via the now famous 20%. This is the percentage of working hours that Google employees dedicate to new ideas. The company's staff are given freedom from the daily routine to develop their own projects, but this means management must listen," she says. The approach aims to encourage developers to work as a team, to ensure that they feel valued and are able to explore new possibilities without leaving the company.

Alberto San Agustín, Managing Director of The Digital Gate Company, believes that what sets intrapreneurs apart is “their attitude. They have a natural curiosity; they are creative people with ideas. They are also the engines driving companies and what make them dynamic." He believes businesses need to listen more to their employees. And not just digital companies.

Microsoft and Google are tech firms in rapid evolution, and thus it makes sense for them to cultivate such employees. But intrapreneurs can be great assets for any company; all businesses need to retain and motivate such employees to ensure that they do not go elsewhere or set up their own companies. It is better to have them working with you than as your competition.”

Both Villalobos and San Agustín agree that the public sector is yet to harness this model. “Such sectors are highly hierarchical, established in the old fashion and lacking any bottom-up communication. It's frustrating for workers as they know their ideas will be ignored. They feel caged," says Villalobos. “Each individual has a highly restricted role in the public sector”, adds Alberto San Agustín.

Both experts believe that intrapreneurs can benefit companies and that firms need to encourage and provide resources for their ideas. “When your company launches a project that you came up with you feel great, really motivated. Intrapreneurs are individuals who are capable of running projects and managing teams; they are creative and willing to change how things are done. Companies are crying out for people like that," explains Villalobos.

The profile of an intrapreneur

“There is a pervasive thought that intrapreneurs at companies have to be engineers or developers, and this is a mistake. Anyone can develop ideas and take small steps that will help companies," says Villalobos.

“They are not driven by personal interest but seek wider benefits. They have ideas to improve processes, products and services, which therefore benefit their area of influence and by extension the company," said San Agustín, who went on to underscore the importance of giving employees greater freedom: “I don't think you should promote intrapreneurship within specific teams, but across all departments and staff. A number of companies have already introduced such initiatives, appointing so-called "champions" in specific areas where inefficiencies have been identified. Such figureheads are selected from a group that have been identified to help improve processes and services. They need not hold a particular rank or position."

A study entitled The profile of intrapreneurs in Spain points out that “higher levels of education (doctorates, additional university degrees) do not necessarily mark out successful intrapreneurs and successful professionals.” Both Villalobos and San Agustín agree that the keys to successful intrapreneurship are employee attitudes and companies being committed to meritocracy, turning their backs on the old business hierarchies.

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“An individual who acts like an entrepreneur but within a consolidated organization”

Jennings, Cox and Cooper