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Is there a recipe for nurturing intrapreneurship and fuelling growth in today’s world of complex business?

By Kathrina FitzGerald. Published on 24 March 2017

Kathrina FitzGerald has worked in the media and technology space for 18 years. Starting her career in the Technology, Media & Telecoms department of JP Morgan’s investment bank, she then spent 10 years heading strategy and M&A at media organisation DMGT, with responsibility for investing and driving new growth activities.

In 2015, Kathrina completed an Executive Master at graduate business school INSEAD, where she wrote the thesis ‘Nurturing Intrapreneurship – Identifying Intrapreneurs and Creating an Environment for them to Flourish’.

Kathrina defines intrapreneurs as those who can take an idea from development to profitable reality within a corporate environment.

Eton Bridge Partners’ Board Practice recently hosted a dinner for fellow business leaders and professionals, where Kathrina was our guest speaker. She shared three key learnings from her thesis which, she believes, can provide competitive advantage when applied to the corporate world.


Kathrina FitzGerald

In the age of discontinuity it’s clear that, to survive the coming decades, companies must respond effectively to the changing demands of their environment. However, when it comes to organisational change, failure continues to be more common than success.

One area of fascination for Kathrina is entrepreneurship. Given entrepreneurs’ contributions to innovation, new business creation and the economy, it’s important to examine the environment in which entrepreneurs flourish – and question how it differs from conventional corporate settings. Indeed, can entrepreneurially-minded people thrive in a corporate? And can an organisation develop intrapreneurial capabilities to cultivate start-up ventures and businesses?

When seeking to pinpoint and develop an environment for intrapreneurs, Kathrina emphasises three key areas of consideration:

1 – Identifying the profile of an intrapreneur

  • Intrapreneurs question the status quo – they constantly question: Why aren’t we doing things differently? How can we do things better?
  • Single-mindedness – intrapreneurs have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and a road map to get there.
  • Risk-taking – Kathrina’s research suggests intrapreneurs have a greater-than-average risk tolerance. They are often willing to take more risks than executives, but less risk than a serial entrepreneur.
  • Importance of recognition – research identifies intrapreneurs’ desire to be recognised for making something happen. They want to do something bigger and bolder than “just coming to work”.
  • Ability to manage upwards and downwards effectively within a corporate – a skill specific to intrapreneurs, this differs to entrepreneurs who may find it difficult to operate within the boundaries of an organisation. Intrapreneurs are good at working collaboratively and navigating processes effectively, “challenging the boundaries of how we operate”.
  • Need for autonomy – intrapreneurs have a desire to possess “more control about one’s own destiny”.

2 – Remembering the paradox of change

There is a paradox of change at play when it comes to fostering intrapreneurship. On the one hand, innovation requires an organisation to capture, nurture and harness a degree of entrepreneurial spirit. But on the other hand, primitive anxieties and fears unconsciously embedded within an organisation can crush the space that innovation needs.

Organisational structures, such as reporting, rules, regulations, procedures, organisation charts and job descriptions, typically contain anxieties. When the level of anxiety rises, for example in times of change, and existing structures or leaderships are unable to provide a sufficiently secure holding environment, people may engage in regressive social defences. These can include splitting (seeing the world as black or white; you are either with me or against me), projection (seeing one’s own shortcomings in others; cultivating a blame culture), displacement (expressing negative emotions by targeting a less threatening force – bullying), and denial (simply not accepting facts). This behaviour may produce obstacles to or prevent innovation or intrapreneurship. Leadership needs to be alive to this undercurrent.

3 – How to develop an environment in which intrapreneurs can flourish

  • Trust – an organisation needs to provide intrapreneurs with opportunities and responsibilities that enable intrapreneurs to prove themselves. In turn, this encourages a relationship of trust, which allows people to challenge the status quo, be more creative and take more risks.
  • Light-touch management – often, the activities an intrapreneur is managing or the business s/he is starting cannot be treated in the same manner as more established businesses. To do so may strangle fledgling activities before they get started. These activities require oxygen; this means a light touch, not “no-touch oversight”.
  • Championship from the top and a culture that actively supports intrapreneurship – those at the top must not only state their desire for intrapreneurship and innovation, but actively encourage and support it – almost putting in place “an extra chromosome in the DNA of the organisation to allow for intrapreneurship”.
  • Have people the right to fail here? – organisations need to acknowledge the probability of failure – this is the nature of start-ups. Others employees will watch the organisation’s attitude towards failure closely; it sends a powerful signal.
  • Appropriate resources and incentives – remuneration packages are powerful tools to perpetuate the behaviour you want. An intrapreneur often needs to feel financial ownership, so consider structures such as shadow equity.
  • Applying fair processes – allow the right types of people to bubble up with their creative ideas, not just those with the right connections.

Organisations should be positive and bold in their pursuit of innovation and intrapreneurship, but not blind to the powerful goings-on beneath the surface. Intrapreneurship is not going to solve every growth problem or ‘fix’ corporates’ need to be more innovative; it is just one thread.

However, Kathrina argues that being able to identify these unique individuals and tap into them by creating a structure that enables them to flourish, can create a competitive advantage for corporate organisations.


To have a confidential discussion about identifying permanent or interim Board and Senior Leadership Team members, immediately available expertise and Chairman/NED introductions, we’d be delighted to help.  Please don’t hesitate to contact Louise Chaplin or Ed Fanshawe at any time.

Louise Chaplin
Partner & Head of Board Practice 
T: 01753 303 600
M: 07769 186 588
E: Louise.Chaplin@etonbridgepartners.com


Edward Fanshawe
Associate Partner – Board Practice 
T: 01753 303 600
M: 07769 186 588
E: Edward.Fanshawe@etonbridgepartners.com