Why South Africa needs ‘intrapreneurs’

Updated on 24 March 2014

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Intrapreneurship‘ is a concept of employees thinking and acting as entrepreneurs, but within the company they work for. They act independently, are proactive, and bring new ideas and innovations to the company.

‘Intrapreneurs’ share similar characteristics to entrepreneurs, such as the ability to take risks, sell their ideas and see opportunities where others don’t. They choose to work within a company to test ideas, learn from mistakes and prepare themselves to eventually have their businesses. The main difference is with ‘intrapreneurship’, employees usually do not have the rights to the product they create.

Increasing company innovation
The ‘intrapreneurship’ concept can be credited with many product innovations around the world today with many global companies implementing the idea. For example, Google employees are responsible for coming up with Google News, Google AdSense and Gmail. Facebook’s famous “like” button was realised by one of their own.

American animation studio, DreamWorks gives employees free classes to learn how to present their ideas which they are then able to pitch directly to executives. At LinkedIn, employees can come up with a new idea once each quarter, put a team together and take their idea to the executive team. If their idea is approved, they are then able to spend up to three months turning their idea into something that benefits the company.

Encouraging ‘intrapreneurship’ can fuel the company’s growth
In South Africa, First National Bank (FNB) has stayed ahead of the curve of its competitors with its innovative banking products. Some of the products are a result of their internal ‘intrapreneurship’ programmes like their Innovators Initiative.

The team that comes up with an idea that is implemented, receives a monetary reward.  It’s not surprising that FNB was named the world’s most innovative bank in 2012 amongst 150 entries from over 30 countries at the BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Awards.

‘Intrapreneurship’ pros and cons for employees and employers
Employees: Get rewarded for their innovation, prepare themselves to become entrepreneurs, and also don’t have to worry about income.
Employers: Staff members show more initiative and fresh ideas which make them more competitive in their industry, staff morale may increase as staff see more of their ideas being implemented.

Employees: Don’t have ownership of their ideas, their workload may increase measurably and there’s the sensitive issue of possibly overstepping boundaries with senior management.
Employers: None.

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