"Intrapreneur" is Not a Spelling Mistake - Proof that creative freedom has many paths

If someone says the word “entrepreneur”, which charismatic personalities spring to mind? Coco Chanel, founder of the iconic brand, fashion designer and businesswoman, perhaps? Or Madam C. J. Walker, the creator of haircare products for African American women and the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire? What about Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire in America?

If you’re like me, then you’re in awe of these people. They, who sidled up to the edge of the precipice, looked down into the uncertainty and risk-filled void, and stepped off anyway. The risk, for them and countless other trailblazers, paid off. But what about the rest of us, who may have also looked into that void and thought: “Nuh-uh. Not today.”

Just because you might prefer the stability of having a full-time job and a steady income, doesn’t make you any less passionate or entrepreneurial. If you find yourself doing work that feeds your soul, that really gets you fired up and where, when asked, you can rattle off a list of innovative solutions you’ve come up with, you might be what is called an “intrapreneur”.

Investopedia defines an intrapreneur as “an inside entrepreneur… within a large firm, who uses entrepreneurial skills without incurring the risks associated with those activities…Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal.” This sounds pretty cushy, right? You get to be the innovator without having to take on any financial or logistical uncertainty should it fail.

But why intrapreneurship?

In today’s start-up age, there are many young organizations that are at the cutting edge of business, small enough to be agile and respond quickly to the marketplace. As these ventures grow into bigger, more diverse businesses they may lose some of that start-up “vibe” that was so key to their mission in the first place. And as they settle into their pace, they run the risk of losing their creative edge, caught up in the daily processes and complexities of any large business.

Good leaders understand that innovation is key and know that embracing a start-up culture in a mature organization can really pay off. In the article, “Intrapreneurs – Why big businesses value the entrepreneurial mindset”, Joanne Lawrence, Professor of Global Business and Society at Hult, says: “Many of today’s multinationals began in garages, but sustaining that entrepreneurial spirit often gets lost along the way the larger the companies become. The more astute organizations seek individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset who challenge the company’s status quo way of thinking.” As more and more organizations realize that there is survival in innovation, there will be growing opportunities for intrapreneurship and a seat on the bandwagon for anyone willing to take on the challenge.

If I’m going to come up with big ideas, why do it for someone else and not myself?

To answer this question, I think, clearly highlights the key difference between the entrepreneur and the intrapreneur; Entres not only have to come up with the market-leading concept, but they must also run the business, take on any worries and risks that all new enterprises encounter and possibly not draw a salary for a period of time. In “The Average Time to Reach Profitability in a Start Up Company”, it is stated that “In conventional terms it can take two to three years…” for a start-up to become profitable. It goes on to say that, “A rule of thumb for an entrepreneur says that in the first year of running your own business successfully you'll take less than your prior salary, and re-invest most of your net revenue in the business.” Intras are reaping a lot of the same rewards as entras, but without the gut-wrenching anxiety of being a business owner and getting paid to boot. That’s not to say that one is better than the other; it’s simply a matter of perspective.

Leading a project within an organization that is going to earn you the accolade of intrapreneur extraordinaire is a career-defining moment. With the company providing the backing in terms of research, funding and resources, the intra can focus on inspiration and collaboration. You have the opportunity to flex your creative muscles in a safe space, providing you with growth and skills that will land you your next great role. You might even decide to take this bold new you and (dare I say it?), go it alone after all! And intrapreneurs do often go on to become extremely successful entrepreneurs –think Oprah Winfrey, who worked her way up the ranks in broadcast media, to hosting her own talk show, co-founding a media company, and more recently launching the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

There are some potential downsides associated with intrapreneurship. For instance, you would hope that the intrapreneur would get the credit they deserve, but this might not always be the case. The great idea would fall under the ownership of the company so there might not be much visibility to the wider world of who exactly was responsible for it. As an entrepreneur, reaping the financial rewards of the great idea can potentially be big (eventually). Working within the confines of an organization though, you are bound by your contract of employment; but again, you’d hope that there would be some kind of monetary incentive. And then there’s the innovation. Just how innovative will an organization let an intrapreneur be? They might well say the sky’s the limit, but there will probably still be constraints, and everything will need to be signed off by the established order. Entrepreneurs can go as big as they want.

Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone though, and people who embrace the entrepreneurial spirit can still dream big and innovate bigger working for the right organization. Entre, intra, potato, potahto!

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Shelley McKay is a communications professional with over fifteen years of corporate and technical writing experience. Currently freelancing, Shelley is working in the nonprofit space supporting organizations by sharing their stories and engaging with their communities through fundraising and marketing campaigns.


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