Entrepreneurship is the cool and in-thing of the lightspeed 21st century, right? You don a smart-looking checked shirt with faded jeans, carry a coffee in one hand and a laptop sleeve bag on the other, step into big meeting and come out punching your hands in the air. But did you notice the girl just like you in the other meeting room? She’s about the same age, in neat-cut formal clothing, bespectacled and was heading the meeting. That...is an intrapreneur.
Think about entrepreneurship within an established organization that wants to experiment, innovate and grow. Intrapreneurs are a competitive group of individuals who can hit the ground running as soon as they take up a project and produce higher-than-normal value for their employers. They start and run a small business within a bigger company. Intrapreneurs sport all the characteristics of an entrepreneur: self-starter, proactive, risk-loving and a passion for problem-solving. They obviously have full backing of the company to whip up new products, processes and businesses. Organizations with intrapreneurs not only give them time and resources to create and implement original ideas, but also take them through the prototyping/launch phases.
Differences Against Entrepreneurship
Spawned out of the same concept, intrapreneurship varies from entrepreneurship in three primary areas. Typically, intrapreneurs are born when a company needs to react properly to stagnation or retarded growth, while entrepreneurs develop products/services from scratch. Pesky challenges for the former are internal mindset and culture. Intrapreneurs have to wage corporate wars to get approvals, to be able to implement their ideas. But entrepreneurs face a much bigger challenge - the market. They have to navigate through patience-testing market conditions to open shop and launch their products. The third difference is in funding - while intrapreneurs have easy funding through the company’s cash-rich resources, entrepreneurs have to knock on investors’ (Venture Capitalists) doors to seek the necessary funds to build and run their business.
Intrapreneurs can wear two hats in a company - direct and branch-out. Those whose idea bulbs light up with solutions for issues directly related to the company’s primary industry fall under the direct segment. Classic example? Gmail. What started off as a personal project by Paul Buchheit of Google is now one of the most used email servers in existence. Branch-out intrapreneurs create an entirely new business entity that pours all of its resources towards one goal - to innovate. Sony, an electronics and media company diversified its interests into gaming, with the invention of the Playstation.
Innovation has become a mantra for survival in today’s corporate world, particularly in the tech industry. If a company doesn’t reserve enough funds and resources to foster innovation, they might hit a roadblock on growth and could fall behind their competition. Differentiators are what customers hawk for when they shop - so a single new product or service that a company offers could take it a whole new level of market penetration.
Some clean steps that organizations can take to foster and nurture intrapreneurship are:
- This is a powerful motivator for employees to step up their innovation game and come up with solutions and strategies. Reward programs, prizes for idea-pitching campaigns work well.
- Due to the risk factor involved in treading unwalked roads, intrapreneurship can also lead to failure sometimes. These pitfalls must be accepted by the company if it needs consistent growth
- The management team of a firm that promotes intrapreneurship has to be accessible to the intrapreneur. Keeping their doors open for these individuals to come, share their ideas and ask for criticism will only synergize the two parties’ goals
- Acceptance of Failure:
Just like the way venture capitalists identify and fund entrepreneurs, companies must also place trust internally to capture new markets, create novel products and cater to wider customer bases.
It’s true that entrepreneurs have both financial and non-financial metrics to gauge their success. What success means is extensively subjective – a clandestine concept in every entrepreneur’s mind that wants to make a difference in their own and other’s lives.