6 Famous Examples of Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship is when innovation occurs within an organization. Read on for six famous examples.

By Kim Kelly, CAE

Businesspeople in Conference Room and Colleagues Walking By. Blurred motion of colleagues walking briskly down office hallway as colleagues sit in conference room discussing ideas. Busy modern workplace. Working process in the office, business people working, walking and talking, blurred motion

Intrapreneurship is one of Association Forum’s key themes because innovating from within strengthens both individual contributors and the organization as a whole.

We have written about the meaning of intrapreneur, how to promote an intrapreneurial culture, how to become an intrapreneurship, and examples of intrapreneurship in our industry. Yet, you may not realize that some things you interact with every day are the result of intrapreneurship.

Following are 6 famous examples of intrapreneurship.


Alphabet, parent company to Google, is famous for offering its developers what’s called “20 percent time.” The company allows employees to spend 20 percent of their time on “what they think will most benefit Google” according to founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The open-ended nature of 20 percent time allows employees to be innovative and creative, tinkering rather than checking off a task list. Many of the company’s chief advances have sprung up from this rule, including Gmail. The popular email system was created by developer Paul Buchheit during his 20 percent time. As of 2023, Gmail has more than 1.8 billion active users.

Post-It Notes

Spencer Silver was a 3M scientist researching adhesives in a company laboratory when he discovered a light adhesive that would stick, but not bond to surfaces. The goal of Silver’s research was to develop tougher adhesives, but he still couldn’t shake this discovery. It wasn’t until Art Fry, another 3M scientist was frustrated with paper bookmarks falling out of his choir hymnal that the two happened upon what is now known as the Post-It Note.

The pair initially thought they would create a sticky bookmark, but realized their creation could be far more once they started leaving notes to each other around the office. All the development happened within 3M and the Post-It Note is still an office staple today.


Ken Kutaragi, an engineer at Sony Computer Entertainment, initially met resistance for his idea to create a gaming console to rival Nintendo and Sega. He eventually convinced Sony to fund the project and Sony PlayStation saw instant success when it was launched in 1994. In fact, the system’s 3D graphics and immersive gameplay revolutionized the gaming industry. Today, PlayStation is still a main player in the gaming industry and PlayStation 2 is the best-selling gaming console ever.

Amazon Prime

Jeff Bezos was looking for a way to speed up shipping and make Amazon’s service so fast that customers didn’t think twice about ordering. Former principal engineer Charlie Ward was irritated at the number of clicks the retailer’s Super Saver Free Shipping required. Ward planted an idea and Bezos took hold and created a secret team to fast track the project. Prime initially went by the code name “Futurama” and was built by Amazon’s best engineers (working around the clock) in just six weeks. Many within the company worried that the logistics of two-day free shipping would not work. Others worried that too many customers would take advantage of the program and the shipping costs would sink the company’s profits. Yet Bezos pushed hard for the program, which has not only revolutionized Amazon’s business, but has also led many other retailers to follow suit.

McDonald’s Happy Meal

In the 1970s, McDonald’s marketing executive Bob Bernstein was looking for a way to make the fast-food chain more appealing to families. At the time, McDonald’s lacked a children’s menu, which led Bernstein to create the Happy Meal. Introduced in 1979, the happy meal included a burger or chicken nuggets, fries, and a toy. The toy was (and still is) a huge draw for children. Today, McDonalds sells about 1 billion Happy Meals each year.

Skunk Works

Kelly Johnson was an aeronautical engineer who worked for Lockheed Martin during the Cold War. In 1943, Johnson established the Advanced Development Programs (ADP) which went by the official pseudonym “Skunk Works.” A small, secret team, “Skunk Works “is responsible for a number of aircraft designs and highly classified research and development programs. The planes developed under Johnson’s leadership included the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird. Johnson worked by what he called “Kelly’s 14 Rules,” which read like a playbook for intrapreneurship and secrecy. Today, “Skunk Works” has become synonymous with innovative and secret projects.

About the Author

Kim Kelly is Association Forum's Editor-in-Chief. She has nearly 15 year's experience in association management and owns <a href="https://kimkellyconsulting.com/">Kim Kelly Consulting</a>.

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