What’s the difference between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship?

Alexandra

Program manager at MovingWorlds.org

No, it’s not a typo! Entrepreneurship and INTRApreneurship are related – but distinct – concepts. Before we dive into the differences, let’s start by establishing what the two concepts have in common: namely, some form of entrepreneurial thinking. According to Knowledge@Wharton, “being entrepreneurial is taking risks and initiative to do something innovative, and hopefully valuable.” Within the social space, that value is measured not simply in financial terms, but rather in terms of the social and environmental impact that the innovation has on society as a whole. 

The difference between the two concepts lies in how this common intention of leveraging innovation for social good is executed: while social entrepreneurs establish separate enterprises to create social good, social intrapreneurs create that social good from inside an existing entity.

Social entrepreneurs start their own separate companies to create social good. These social enterprises can have a variety of business structures, including as a Benefit Corporation, Nonprofit, For-Profit with a Social Purpose (Social Purpose Company), or Cooperative. 

Regardless of which business structure is chosen, the social entrepreneur who founds the company retains a tremendous degree of autonomy and decision-making power about its operations and strategy. But with this autonomy comes an equally high degree of risk that the social entrepreneur must bear: oftentimes, entrepreneurs use their own resources to get their ideas off the ground, and if the company fails, the entrepreneur is on the hook alone. However, the reverse is also true: if the company succeeds, the social entrepreneur gets to reap all of the rewards.

Rather than setting out on their own, social intrapreneurs start their own initiatives within existing organizations. This can range from piloting a new Corporate Social Responsibility initiative to launching a completely new business unit. Intrapreneurs inherently have less autonomy than entrepreneurs because they are working within the constraints of their organization’s existing systems and processes, rather than developing them from scratch. However, that also means that intrapreneurs have access to the resources of the organization they are operating within, financial and otherwise. It is ultimately the organization that bears the financial risk of the initiative’s failure rather than the intrapreneur themselves, meaning intrapreneurship is also less risky. Of course, that also means that it’s the organization that reaps the financial rewards if the initiative succeeds, while the intrapreneur themselves will see career rewards. 

For a visual representation of the differences between social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, check out the infographic below: 

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Both social entrepreneurs and social intrapreneurs have a valuable role to play in creating a future that is sustainable and equitable for everyone. Whether you’re driving innovation from the outside or from within an existing organization, check out our resources & guides for more information to empower you to lead positive change! 

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