Intrapreneurship vs Entrepreneurship: Driving Innovation in Different Ways

8 minutes
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Innovation is so vital for success. Did you know businesses prioritizing it stand over 60% more likely to lead their industries?

Two potent forces cultivating this innovation are intrapreneurship vs entrepreneurship. Though sharing the goal to craft value through new ideas, they function in distinct environments.

Intrapreneurship channels entrepreneurial spirit in established companies. It allows employees to innovate from within through examples like Ken Kutaragi inventing PlayStation at Sony or Paul Buchheit’s Gmail during “20% time” at Google.

On the other hand, entrepreneurship covers founding and steering stand-alone ventures. Entrepreneurs often upend entire industries, as Airbnb did for hospitality.

Grasping nuances between these two approaches proves key for leaders, budding innovators, and anyone wanting impact in corporate spheres. 

Innovation remains a dynamic field where traditional boundaries continue blurring. This discussion aims to separate misconceptions to better foster its life-changing potential.

Defining Intrapreneurship and Entrepreneurship

Intrapreneurship refers to the practice of entrepreneurship within an existing organization.

It involves employees taking the initiative to develop new products, services, or processes that benefit their company. Intrapreneurs operate within the structure of their organization but think and act like entrepreneurs, bringing innovative ideas to life.

What is Entrepreneurship?  

Entrepreneurship is the process of identifying opportunities, gathering resources, and creating a new business venture to capitalize on those opportunities. 

Entrepreneurs take on financial risks and responsibilities associated with starting and running their own companies, with the potential for significant rewards if successful.

Take Elon Musk, who left Silicon Valley behind to pursue his vision of transforming transportation through his startups Tesla and SpaceX. As a classic entrepreneur, he gambled his fortune to build these companies from the ground up.

Key Similarities and Differences b/w Intrapreneurship vs Entrepreneurship

Both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs share traits such as creativity, risk-taking, and a drive for innovation.

However, they differ in their operational environments, access to resources, and level of autonomy. Intrapreneurs benefit from existing infrastructure and resources but may face bureaucratic challenges, while entrepreneurs have more freedom but must build everything from scratch.

The Intrapreneurial Approach 

Intrapreneurs typically possess strong problem-solving skills to navigate corporate complexities.

They can work across teams and business units, leveraging a collaborative mindset. Resilience is key, as intrapreneurs often face internal resistance or bureaucratic inertia when championing new ideas.  

Benefits of Intrapreneurship for Companies

Companies have a lot to gain by fostering an intrapreneurial culture. It allows increased innovation without the risks of starting completely new ventures from scratch.

Engaged employees feel empowered to bring their entrepreneurial energy into the organization, boosting the retention of top talent.

The intrapreneurial approach helps companies stay competitive by consistently evolving products and adapting to rapidly shifting markets. Another advantage?

Efficient use of existing company resources, infrastructure, and subject matter expertise.

Challenges Faced by Intrapreneurs

While intrapreneurship avoids certain startup risks, it presents its own obstacles. Navigating layers of corporate bureaucracy and securing adequate resources and support for new projects can be difficult.

Intrapreneurs must find the delicate balance of managing day-to-day responsibilities while finding time to work on innovative new initiatives.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is overcoming resistance to change within established organizational cultures and processes.

An intrapreneur’s biggest adversary can often be institutional inertia.


The world is filled with examples of intrapreneurial success stories:

  • Gmail – Developed by Paul Buchheit while taking advantage of Google’s flexible “20% time” policy
  • Post-it Notes – Created by Art Fry as part of 3M’s innovation-driving “15% culture”
  • The Sony PlayStation – Envisioned by Ken Kutaragi, a product marketing manager who convinced his company to take on Nintendo and Sega

The Entrepreneurial Journey

While there is no single entrepreneurial “type“, successful founders tend to share certain key traits. A clear vision combined with the ability to identify promising market opportunities is paramount.

Just as important is the willingness to take calculated risks and embrace an uncertain path.

Adaptability and resilience are critical, as the road is rarely smooth. The ability to pivot strategies and push through obstacles is a must.

Finally, entrepreneurs need strong leadership skills to effectively execute on their ideas, inspire teams, and cultivate relationships with investors, partners and customers.

Advantages of Starting Your Own Business

A major draw of entrepreneurship is the autonomy of being your boss and complete control over your venture’s decision-making and direction.

The potential for massive financial upside if successful is another driving motivator for entrepreneurs who take on substantial risk.  

Beyond economic rewards, many entrepreneurs are driven by the opportunity to fully apply their personal values, lifestyle preferences, and sense of purpose. They can shape company culture, be an engine for change, and leave a legacy.

And of course, entrepreneurs get to be at the forefront of disruptive, game-changing innovations that can forever alter industries and society. True entrepreneurs live to challenge convention.

Risks and Obstacles

The entrepreneurial path is famously challenging. Dealing with financial volatility, lack of steady income, and potential for complete failure is a reality – over 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years.

Intense competition makes it an uphill battle to achieve product/market fit and build a sustainable advantage over time. Securing funding is critical but notoriously difficult.

Stress, burnout, and work/life balance issues are common prices many entrepreneurs must pay, at least in the crucial early phases of getting their business off the ground.

Impact on Business Innovation

Large, established organizations are experts at efficiency and optimizing for the present. However, they can struggle with continually generating new value through innovation over time. That’s where intrapreneurs play a vital role.

Intrapreneurship programs create formalized paths for employees’ entrepreneurial ideas to gain traction within the company. Corporate leaders allocate time and resources to let these concepts breathe.

The benefits are felt through new revenue streams, improved processes, retention of top talent, and an overall innovation-driven culture.

By tapping into its employees’ entrepreneurial capabilities, companies gain insights from diverse perspectives, sparking new thinking throughout the ranks.

The intrapreneurial mindset keeps companies nimble and their offerings fresh amidst rapidly evolving customer needs and market forces.

Entrepreneurship’s Industry Disruption

While intrapreneurship drives incremental innovation from within, entrepreneurs are the leading catalysts for full-fledged industry disruption from the outside.

They have the freedom to completely reimagine solutions, unencumbered by existing structures or assumptions.

Both Intrapreneurship and Entrepreneurship Are Vital

Continuous breakthroughs require fostering both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship approaches in a multi-pronged innovation ecosystem.

Entrepreneurs kick-start revolutions that create new frontiers, while intrapreneurs help companies stay ahead of the curve through iterative steps. True transformative progress happens through this symbiotic cycle of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

Choosing Between Intrapreneurship vs Entrepreneurship

Deciding whether to pursue the intrapreneurship vs entrepreneurship path depends on several key factors:

Risk tolerance: How much volatility, uncertainty, and potential for failure can you withstand? Entrepreneurs take on significantly more personal risk.

Access to capital: Do you have savings or investors lined up to fund your venture’s early stages? Intrapreneurs can typically access established financial and operational resources.  

Autonomy vs. stability: How much do you value the freedom of being your boss vs. the stability and benefits of a corporate career path?

Expertise and network: How easily could you build a viable business from the ground up in your target industry versus innovating within one where you already have inside knowledge and connections?

Skills and Mindset of Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs

Beyond circumstantial factors, assess whether your skills and mentality suit the role of an intrapreneur or entrepreneur.

Intrapreneurs thrive with corporate diplomacy, teamwork, and the ability to navigate bureaucratic structures. An influential communication style is key.

Entrepreneurs must be intensely self-motivated, comfortable with uncertainty and chaos, and able to pivot and persevere. Multi-tasking across all functions of a new business is par for the course.

Career Trajectories of Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs

For intrapreneurs, pathways often lead to rising through leadership ranks, potentially running entire innovation/R&D departments, or becoming a chief strategy officer.

Top intrapreneurs are highly valued.  

Common entrepreneurial trajectories include becoming a serial entrepreneur, joining the venture capital/investment world, or pivoting into an advisory role to fuel other entrepreneurs’ growth.


The ability to innovatively craft new ideas remains more vital than ever. As explored, intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship both serve as potent conduits for unleashing innovation.

Intrapreneurship lets companies leverage existing resources and talent for nimble navigation amid change. For employees, it provides an outlet for entrepreneurial energy with less personal risk.

While entrepreneurship demands far greater financial peril, it offers autonomy and prospects for industry-shaking discoveries.

Though environments differ, both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship embody the same daring spirit – the courage to challenge traditions and introduce novel solutions to bettering the world through passion and perseverance.

The most forward-thinking innovators of tomorrow will find ways to blend intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship aspects, cultivating immense force for commercial growth and positive global impacts. Whichever avenue is chosen, embrace entrepreneurial spirit for the possibilities ahead.

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