Innovation, Technology, and Life in the Cloud

George Watt

What Motivates Successful Intrapreneurs

by George Watt

At a summit in Boulder, Colorado, I spoke with a group of founders about what motivated them to become an intrapreneur (an entrepreneur who creates a new business within an existing company,) and what they like most about intrapreneurial life. These five reasons came up most often. Understanding these can help you create an environment that encourages innovation and nurtures ingenuity within your own organization.

1. They are passionate about making a difference and building things that matter.

Like Steve Jobs, the intrapreneurs want to “put a dent in the universe.” As one founder put it, they want to “make a (positive) difference in somebody’s life.” The founders reported that being an intrapreneur gave them the ability to “really listen” to their customers and address the true needs of the market. That meant setting their own priorities based upon a virtuous cycle of listening to customers, learning, inspecting, and adapting.

2. They love to “pull all of the levers.”

This was extremely important to the intrapreneurs and came up almost as often as the first one. They were excited about having the ability to make changes to all aspects of their business as they learned from their customers. They believe this ensures they are truly empowered to build things that matter.

In their previous roles they were normally able to influence only one aspect of a business (e.g.: engineering or product management or marketing, etc.) As a result, they were often frustrated and unable to adequately meet newly discovered needs or take advantage of new opportunities. They reported that as founders they are able to “touch every aspect of the business” and make a visible, measurable, meaningful difference as they learn about customers’ needs.

3. They need a creative outlet.

“Creative people need to create” was hardly a revelation. Though there was more to it. They shared a core belief that they needed to create things that made someone’s life better. During the session there was much more discussion of their customer than themselves. They also emphasized the importance of collaboration – with their customers and within their teams – as part of the creative process. As one founder put it, “To me it’s about creating stuff… and what comes out is more than I put in”.

4. They live for mastery.

The intrapreneurs were naturally curious and had a boundless passion for mastery. They wanted to learn about everything that stood between their current state and solving that important problem for their customer. In our accelerator this often began with a passion for technology. Though it quickly became a passion for mastering all aspects of their business and the problem they were solving, and resulted in a voracious appetite for customer feedback.

5. They believe.

The founders believed deeply in the value of their idea, were confident they would succeed. The best among them also realized that there would be a lot of hard work along the way. One founder shared that as an intrapreneur his “best day was often also his worst day”. Those who did not realize this often required much more support and coaching. Normally high performers in their current field, these founders were ready to put their career on pause to commit to their beliefs, to “bet on (themselves).” Many had families and children to support, so the stability of intrapreneurially life and a guaranteed base income was much more attractive to them – and their spouses or partners – than risking everything they own.

Driving Innovation by Nurturing Ingenuity

In order to create an environment that will enable high-quality intrapreneurs to thrive, ensure your incubation program:

  • Offers autonomy to ensure new businesses are unencumbered by mature ones
  • Enables founders to respond rapidly to learning in all aspects of their business
  • Provides mentoring to ensure new teams had all of the skills they need
  • Supplies training to help teams grow and fill mid and long-term skill gaps
  • Ensures ideas survive based solely on their own merit and performance

George Watt is the author of Lean Entrepreneurship.

This article was originally posted on the Apress Blog.

Image Source: Carl Dwyer,

One comment on “What Motivates Successful Intrapreneurs

  1. Pingback: 5 Characteristics of Good Intrapreneurs | Innovation, Technology, and Life in the Cloud

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This site contains articles regarding entrepreneurship, innovation, and the practical aspects of deploying, providing, managing, and using cloud computing, and other technologies. I also share my thoughts and experiences related to consumer driven IT, social media, management issues, and about what some refer to as “soft skills”.

All works copyright 2009 – 2019 George Watt – All rights reserved.

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