May 1

Innovation vs. Intrapreneurship: Unravelling the Differences

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When most people think about the difference between innovation and intrapreneurship, they are hard-pressed to nail the distinction between each process. While innovators and intrapreneurs share common goals, they support the growth of businesses in different ways.

In essence, innovation tends to have a product focus. It involves the creation and implementation of new ideas into products, services or processes. Intrapreneurship on the other hand, has a business focus. Intrapreneurship is the practice of developing new business models within an existing organization to generate profitable new lines of business.

Both innovation and intrapreneurship play crucial roles in ensuring business success and adaptability.

In this article we’ll explain the functional differences between the processes of innovation and intrapreneurship, as well as the roles of innovators and intrapreneurs.

The Process of Innovation

Innovation is the act of developing and implementing novel ideas, products, or processes that add value and enhance an organization’s competitive advantage.

We can use an analogy to understand innovation and intrapreneurship better: Imagine innovation as a plant, sprouting from a seed of an idea and growing into a full-fledged product or service.

The process of innovation begins with idea generation, where individuals or teams brainstorm creative concepts. These ideas are then filtered, evaluated, and refined. The most promising concepts move on to the development phase, during which prototypes are built and tested. Finally, successful innovations are implemented and integrated into the organization, like a plant taking root and blossoming.

Illustration of the data driven innovation cycle: Understand Ideate Test Learn Grow copy

Innovation is comprised of:

  • Research and analysis
    Gathering information and data to understand the problem to solve.
  • Idea generation
    Brainstorming creative concepts and identifying areas where innovation is needed.
  • Idea evaluation
    Assessing the feasibility and potential impact of each idea, and selecting the most promising ones to pursue.
  • Prototyping
    Creating and refining a tangible representation of the idea, such as a product or process model.
  • Test and learn
    Assessing the functionality and effectiveness of the prototype, and making necessary adjustments.
  • Implementation and growth
    Bringing the final product or process to life within the organization, and monitoring its performance to ensure continued success.

The Process of Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship is the act of nurturing and managing innovation within an existing organization, using internal resources and expertise to create profitable new lines of business.

Intrapreneurship is akin to tending a garden within an organization, nurturing innovation from within. Intrapreneurs identify opportunities for improvement or growth and champion new ideas, acting as catalysts for change. They work within the existing structures of an organization, collaborating with different departments, securing resources, and navigating the internal politics to bring innovative projects to life.

Corporate Entrepreneurship Roadmap

Intrapreneurs are typically skilled at all six components of innovation that we listed in the previous section, plus the following:

  • Opportunity identification
    Understanding customers’ goals and pains to identify opportunities for growth, and pinpointing how to frame innovative solutions to get buy-in.
  • Collaboration and Promotion
    Advocating for the adoption of new ideas or projects, and presenting a persuasive case to secure buy-in from stakeholders, customers and internal gatekeepers.
  • Pitching for resources
    Gathering the necessary financial, human, and technology resources required to execute the innovation project.
  • Business model design
    Developing and evaluating candidate business models based on the target customer, problem and opportunity.
  • Lean Project management
    Overseeing collaborative, iterative delivery of the innovation project, based on customer feedback and real-world data.
  • Growth Experiments
    Identifying potential risk to the business model and prioritizing experiments that systematically identify the best path to profitability.
  • Innovation Accounting
    Tracking and evaluating the success of the innovation project, and using data to adapt the business model and determine the next step to take.

The Roles: Innovator vs Intrapreneur

Innovators are the idea-generators, the creative minds that envision new possibilities. They are akin to explorers, venturing into uncharted territory to discover new solutions. Innovators may come from any background and may work independently or as part of a team. Their fresh perspectives and novel concepts drive the creation of ground-breaking products or processes, making them indispensable assets to any organization.

Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, are the gardeners, cultivating and supporting innovation within an organization. They possess strong leadership and project management skills, as well as the ability to navigate the complexities of a company’s hierarchy. Intrapreneurs are often well-versed in the organization’s culture and operations, enabling them to successfully advocate for and implement change.

These two roles complement each other in a number of ways:

  1. Idea generation and evaluation
    Innovators bring a wealth of new ideas to the table, while intrapreneurs adapt these ideas to align with the organization’s goals and the market opportunity.
  2. Collaboration and communication
    Innovators contribute their creativity and technical knowledge, while intrapreneurs bridge the gap between different departments and stakeholders, ensuring a smooth flow of information and cooperation.
  3. Risk-taking and risk management
    Innovators are often more willing to take risks in pursuit of novel solutions, while intrapreneurs balance this risk-taking with a practical understanding of the organization’s constraints, resources and goals.

As a crucial member of the intrapreneurial team, the innovator works closely with the intrapreneur to bring innovative ideas to life. While the innovator focuses on developing and refining new concepts, the intrapreneur creates the environment and support system necessary for these ideas to thrive.

Innovator Credentials vs Intrapreneur Credentials

Innovators often possess strong creative and problem-solving skills. They may have backgrounds in design, engineering, or other fields that foster creativity and technical prowess. Innovators should be open-minded, adaptable, and willing to take risks in order to explore new ideas.

Intrapreneurs typically possess strong leadership and organizational skills. They may have backgrounds in business or management, as well as experience navigating corporate structures. Intrapreneurs should be persuasive, diplomatic, and tenacious in order to drive change from within.

How Intrapreneur Nation Can Help

Intrapreneur Nation is a boutique training agency for businesses that want to grow through innovation. Our team of experts provides in-depth intrapreneurship training to help you go beyond simple innovation and achieve what any business truly wants from its innovation efforts: profitable new products and services.

Our goal is to help you do this in a low-risk, cost-effective way and easy-to-understand way.

We’re similar to an innovation training agency, but more focussed on the overall impact of the innovation on your business’s bottom line, rather than the nature of the innovation itself. Learn more about our services.

Innovation vs Intrapreneurship Summary

Problem research and analysisAll Innovation tasks, plus…
Generating new ideasAssessing the market and identifying opportunities
Evaluating and refining ideasSecuring resources and support
Building and testing prototypesCollaborating and promotion of ideas
Implementing successful innovationsManaging and driving innovation projects
 Developing and testing the business model

The Bottom Line

New ideas and innovative solutions produced by the innovator, coupled with smart business strategy and management by the intrapreneur, contribute directly to the long-term success of every business.

Some innovators opt to specialize solely in developing new innovations while others choose to expand their influence and develop their skills as an intrapreneur. Whichever option you choose, investing time and money into effectively solving customer problems will only help your business grow.

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