I think this is a very intriguing question you bring up, and I am finding it very hard to resist responding to it..
Considering Problem Solving (not risk) to be the Root of Entrepreneurship
The word "Entrepreneurship" actually comes from the French, "Entreprendre", which means "To Undertake", which itself means "to commit oneself to a responsibility". In other words, entrepreneurs connect themselves and take ownership of challenges. To do this, very often entails risk, but actually- if you can get a big financial backer (whether a VC or a large company), than that can quite conceivably (though not always) increase your chance of overcoming the challenge you have undertaken.
Great Entreprenuers Actively Reduce and Avoid Risk
Reducing risk(not seeking, as folklore would have us believe...)is key in addressing the challenge that is the reason the entrepreneur gets up in the morning. When you have to manage very limited resources, you are always trying to actually reduce risk, which is essentially the chance that one or more of those resources you need to solve your problem will no longer be available.
The Case for Intrapreneurship
If a company actually recognizes...
- Talent (which it seems to in the case of your friend)
- The need for innovation (which it seems to by allocating resources towards a staff devoted to innovating)
- The need to support experimentation (which it seems to by having that team be specifically devoted to trying out new ideas)
...then I think that is a great thing. In your friend's case, the issue seems to be the lack of an upside.
However, to me that seems mostly like a negotiation failure, and not decisive proof that intrapreneurship can't work / isn't a great idea. Your friend seems to have leverage, I think all he needs to do is be a bit more insistent and creative about sharing in the upside. It is in no way out of the question, to ask for something like X% of the additional revenue his ideas and execution bring to the company- especially if your friend's boss was forward thinking enough to basically create an intra-incubator on the spot.
His boss seems to really want to keep him so I think he would totally be open to it. If your friend isn't happy with the terms, he should still negotiate until he is happy with the terms of the deal...
Your friend just needs to himself, step out of the "company mindset" of just taking whatever offers / orders are given to him- and think like an entrepreneur ;) Make use of the existing resources in a way that solves the challenge in front of him...