Faculty and staff members, particularly but not only in research centers, of higher education institutions can be the quintessential intrapreneurs. They focus on opportunities to garner funding from outside sources (typically foundations, government agencies, or corporate sponsors), to support their work in creating new knowledge, activities, or products, by supporting themselves, their labs, staff, and research. They have the intrapreneur’s advantage of infrastructure to support their work, including in sponsored research, accounting and finance, payroll, and HR, resources which are outside their core competencies, and which they pay for only in success as part of F&A rates. They also have the ability to tap into other academic colleagues across the university, perhaps in other universities, as well as through business and industry partnerships, and collaborating with government, perhaps particularly economic development agencies.
Unlike typical entrepreneurs, they don’t have the upside of ownership (nor the downside of not being paid in many cases), and unlike many corporate intrapreneurs, they often don’t have the salary flexibility to be rewarded by pay raises commensurate with the value they bring to academia or their customers. Certainly there are opportunities to create spinoff companies in some areas, but not in others, and most academicians aren’t interested in leaving their academic pursuits to pursue spinout ventures though they may be able to participate in some. Because they don’t have ownership interests (save for occasional IP interests) they also don’t typically engage in the founder’s dilemma decision making – do they maintain control or spin out for growth.
This last, the lack of decision making power about growth, control, wealth, and related factors, is probably the greatest weakness of academic intrapreneurship. While entrepreneurs are driven by opportunity recognition, growth, income potential, ownership, control, and more, academic intrapreneurs are driven by discovery, potential for social impact, opportunities to educate students, for recognition for peers, and related motivations. In many research centers funded by “soft money” they are also motivated by the ability to continue funding their employment and employment of their team. Adding the opportunity for true ownership, in addition to traditional academic motivations, might increase innovation in academic institutions in some circumstances.