What’s an idea worth? To a corporate entity willing to embrace and support it, the right idea could bring millions. Lockheed Martin Information Technology, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin and the brainchild of its president, Linda Gooden, made more than $2 billion this year. Dafina Books, an imprint of Kensington Publishing conceived by Karen Thomas, has grossed more than $12 million a year. And when Microsoft dropped from $7.3 billion in 2001 to $5.4 billion in 2002 to a competitor offering a software system for free, Martin Taylor developed a strategic platform to recapture those dollars without discounting Microsoft’s offering.
Gooden, Thomas, and Taylor are among an elite grouping of enterprising and innovative corporate professionals called intrapreneurs. Coined by author and business educator Gifford Pinchot in 1978, intrapreneurship, also referred to as corporate entrepreneurship and corporate renewal, is a concept by which perspicacious corporate employees—at any level of the company—identify and construct a unique business model that offers significant growth opportunities for their company. “Intrapreneurship is creating some type of value inside of an existing entity by taking some kind of new product or business and looking for new ways to bring it into the market,” explains Joe Watson, CEO of Reston, Virginia-based StrategicHire, an executive search firm. “But in order for it to be truly an intrapreneurial opportunity, it has to be a product or service that’s different from the company’s traditional business.”
Many of the same precepts apply to entrepreneurship: developing a unique idea, constructing a market analysis, assessing the competition, creating a sales and marketing plan, determining risks and rewards, and executing a plan. For the intrapreneur, however, there is the security of knowing that the parent company will provide the necessary resources and still pay a salary even if the venture is not as successful as anticipated. But even with those benefits, there is still inherent risk. An unsuccessful venture could derail your career.
Both endeavors require a certain type of individual to be successful—a process-oriented, creative thinker. Coming up with a great idea is easy. The intrapreneur is someone who can develop an exciting concept into a profit-driven enterprise. Successful intrapreneurs are also unwavering in achieving their goals. Your level of resilience will be challenged against obstacles and roadblocks, says Watson. Failure to properly navigate problems that could arise is a sure way to hurt yourself and your reputation.
Gooden, Thomas, and Taylor exemplify the true spirit as well as the intricate components of intrapreneurship: discovering a concept, developing a plan, generating buy-in from senior management, executing the business model, and having the ability to adapt and overcome challenges.
At its very core, intrapreneurship is the innovation that corporations need to keep them competitive—particularly in today’s aggressive and rapidly changing business environment of globalization, emerging markets, and technology innovations. Pinchot, who is today chairman of Pinchot & Co., a consulting firm focusing on intrapreneurship and sustainability, says that the degree to which corporations encourage intrapreneurial activity can also be impacted by economic conditions. “Intrapreneurship changes as the nation goes