Extrapreneurs: A More Sensible Form of Entrepreneurship?

By Maurits van Rooijen

Being an entrepreneur is exciting with greater control over one’s destiny and a more direct link between work and rewards. But with start-up failure rates of up to 90 percent, both the economic and personal price is high. The alternative is to become an “extrapreneur”, a blend of intrapreneur and entrepreneur. But how prepared are employers, educators, unions and others for that future?


People setting up or running their own business, the entrepreneurs, are the lifeblood of our economies. At least as important are intrapreneurs. Though intrapreneurs are less celebrated than entrepreneurs, they are a major factor in whether organisations fly or fail. And unlike entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs are essential not just for the private sector. Well-managed public and charitable organisations are equally indebted to intrapreneurs. Plus there is an important third category, the “extrapreneurs”. These are even less well known than intrapreneurs, but are likely set to become a prominent feature in our society.

Intrapreneurs are “inside” entrepreneurs who are employed by an organisation to use their talent for the good of the enterprise. In return, they get financial security in the form of  a salary and in most cases an incentive package. The commercial success of modern companies heavily depends on having enough talented intrapreneurs.

Interestingly, intrapreneurs can be much more successful in achieving commercial goals than entrepreneurs.

The easiest way to describe the difference between an entrepreneur and intrapreneur is that the first takes commercial risks by putting his or her own wallet on the table, whilst the second takes commercial risks with someone else’s wallet. That does not automatically mean less focus, less passion and hence less success. Interestingly, intrapreneurs can be much more successful in achieving commercial goals than entrepreneurs. The reason is that anxiety about risking one’s own money can be an inhibitor, blurring judgement about risks and opportunities. An intrapreneur tends to be much more confident in making commercial decisions precisely because there is a certain level of detachment. The drive to succeed is probably the same, but the intrapreneur typically approaches commercial decisions and opportunities with a higher level of rationality.

Though financial incentives can play a role, some intrapreneurs also appreciate non-tangible results when they operate in a public or charitable setting, ensuring that the financial health of their organisation and its laudable work is not entirely dependent on the often quite volatile or restricted donations from public authorities or individuals.

So from an economic point of view intrapreneurs are not a lesser form of entrepreneurship. This applies even more so to the third form, extrapreneurs. In simple words, the extrapreneur effectively combines the features and characteristics of the entrepreneur and the intrapreneur.

The extrapreneur effectively combines the features and characteristics of the entrepreneur and the intrapreneur.

Extrapreneurship is a new term and therefore googling it generates a wide range of definitions. I here reserve the term for a blend of both intrapreneur and entrepreneur. He or she is not employed, nor works purely for one’s own account. Instead, there is a contract with what might be called a mother organisation that gives mutual reassurances. Typically, this mother organisation has outsourced work to a preferred company, and both sides guarantee a minimum level of trade. But the extrapreneur is not just a mere supplier, he or she is more like a semi-detached intrapreneur. The extrapreneur offers services but does so in an entrepreneurial context, with the mother organisation as major client, at least initially.

Because the extrapreneur’s venture starts with a reasonably sound foundation already in place, the risk of failure is much lower compared with a regular start-up. The business might grow or shrink but at least one client is likely to be there for the long run. For companies, the big advantage is not having to employ someone but still guaranteeing delivery of specific services or products. The extrapreneur is an external partner who has good reason to treat the relationship with the mother organisation as core business.

Price-wise, these services or products represent normally a lower average price than in the free market, whilst on the other side of the equation the costs of the trade provider are a bit higher than when delivered in-house. The employer and extrapreneur split the difference in exchange for mutual guarantees and security, and both sides have the advantage of being much more flexible.


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About the Author

Professor Maurits van Rooijen has been Group Rector/CEO Academic of Global University Systems since 2012, which is the first truly global university system with universities and colleges located from Vancouver to Singapore, online and with a variety of university partnerships and institutional affiliations. Maurits was previously Rector/CEO magnificus of Nyenrode University in The Netherlands and before that was a successful intrapreneur at the University of Westminster London and ditto at Leiden University. He started his academic career at his alma mater Utrecht University.


1. Patel, N (2015) Forbes “90% Of Startups Fail: Here’s What You Need To Know About The 10%” Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2015/01/16/90-of-startups-will-fail-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-10/#6ac47cc555e1
2. Barclays Wealth Insights Volume 16 “Understanding Failure” Available at https://wealth.barclays.com/en_gb/home/research/research-centre/wealth-insights/volume-16/understanding-failure.html
3. Van Rooijen, Maurits (2016) The Huffington Post, The Blog “Extrapreneurship Is The Future Of Entrepreneurship” Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/professor-maurits-van-rooijen-/extrapreneurship-is-the-f_b_12554610.html



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