An intrapreneur, or corporate entrepreneur, is by definition a entrepreneur who works within a major corporation. Many forward-thinking corporations allow employees to think outside their roles to develop new products. Some major companies, such as Google, who allows employees to spend 20% of their time working on personal project, have entrepreneurship built into their structure.
An increasing number of companies are understanding the value of allowing the entrepreneurial spirit into their corporate culture as a way of staying on the leading edge. With the institutional support of intrapreneurship, the next big idea could come from within a major corporation.
The Pros & Cons of Being an Intrapreneur:
As with any vocation, intrapreneurship has its plusses and minuses. We've weighed out the pros and cons of entre- and intrapreneurship.
Pro - Security.
Intrapreneurs, unlike many entrepreneurs, have steady jobs that support their entrepreneurial efforts. They're working within a corporation, with all the benefits that go along with a corporate position: a steady paycheck, health care, etc. This affords the intrapreneur a level of comfort that many entrepreneurs lack.
Con - Security.
Entrepreneurship is often fueled by a fire in the belly, and in many cases that fire is stoked by necessity. The entrepreneur is driven to succeed by their belief in themselves and their idea, but also because they've no safety net. The lack of economic hardship enjoyed by the corporate entrepreneur can limit the commitment to push forward in the face of adversity simply because there's not that much adversity.
Pro - Support.
Intrapreneurs and their ideas are supported by the corporation in which they work. Build a prototype? No problem! Field testing? Not an issue! Corporate entrepreneurs have to promote and defend their ideas, but they don't have to pay for them. In addition, corporations provide built-in mentorship and advocacy in the form of stakeholders and senior employees.
Con - Support.
If you're an entrepreneur and your product fails, it sucks - there's no sugarcoating that. But you can learn from that failure and pivot or move forward. Sure, you've taken a hit, maybe a major one, but you're that much wiser. You've also likely made connections with other entrepreneurs, a support system that will help you push forward with a new plan. If an intrapreneur's idea fails it can be a stain on their employment that can lead to a dismissal of future ideas.
As many successful entrepreneurs attest, they wouldn't enjoy their current success without having previously failed.
Pro - The Benefits of Intellectual Property.
If you've been hired or positioned as a corporate entrepreneur, it's likely that your career, at least in part, depends on the veracity of your ideas. If they have merit and result in successful and profitable products or services, you could be in line for raises, promotions, or at the very least job security. You'll enjoy an increased level of support for and possibly more freedom to pursue future ideas.
Con - The Benefits of Intellectual Property.
Entrepreneurs own their ideas. Intrapreneurs don't - their employers own the intellectual property created under their auspices. If your billion-dollar idea is actually a billion-dollar idea, you don't make a billion dollars. Stakeholders will be happy, and your position within the organization will likely be solidified, but you're still making your salary. The patent or copyright is in your employer's name, not yours.
It's also likely that part of being brought in as an intrapreneur involved signing an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) and a Non-Compete, which means that you may not even be able to legally state that your invention is actually your own. And if you leave the company, you may not be able to develop a new product for a period of years following your termination date.
Products Developed by Intrapreneurs:
- Facebook "Likes".
- Sony Playstation.
- Post-It Notes (3M).
- Java (Sun Microsystems).
Intrapreneur / Corporate Entrepreneur FAQs:
How do you become an intrapreneur?
It's entirely up to the corporation you work for. Many major corporations have seen the value of corporate entrepreneurship, and actively hire prospective intrapreneurs. Read up on company culture prior to seeking employment. You can also just seek out jobs with "entrepreneur" as part of the title or description.
You still need to have the entrepreneurial mindset, and corporations looking for intrapreneurs are likely to include questions toward that end in the interview and onboarding process.
Why do corporations support intrapreneurship?
Historically, corporations have grown by a combination of developing and building successful products or services and buying other companies. In many cases entrepreneurs have profited and paid back investors by selling their businesses to larger corporations. Corporations who provide avenues for internal entrepreneurship can, if successful, remain on the forefront of their industries while saving money, which makes stakeholders happy.
In addition, for many creative people the idea of the typical 9 to 5 corporate job is not at all attractive; however, a position that combines the security and benefits of working for a large corporation with the ability to explore their ideas could be extremely compelling.
Do corporations benefit from intrapreneurship?
Some definitely have. Google, for example, has since its inception provided avenues for employees to follow their entrepreneurial spirit, allowing them to spend 20% of their work hours on personal projects. A number of popular products and services have been developed in this intrapreneurial atmosphere, including Gmail.
Corporations that Support Intrapreneurship:
- Ernst & Young.
- General Motors.
Final Thoughts: Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur:
Entrepreneurship is scary. Your time and money are completely invested in your startup, and you may have nothing to fall back on. The rewards, however, can be huge - if your company is successful, you (after paying back investors) reap all the benefits and the success is especially poignant because of the stress and hard work. You've accomplished something huge, despite the odds, despite the insecurity. The emotional payoff is arguably as rewarding as the financial
Intrapreneurship can provide far more security: you have a position within a corporation and all the benefits that go with it. You're also able to explore your entrepreneurial spirit and creativity within that structure. That said, your ideas are not entirely your own, and while you can enjoy the internal accolades of a successful product launch that product is the property of your employer, which is the price you pay for your job security.
There are distinct benefits and drawbacks to both entre- and intrapreneurship, and in either case it's essential to be aware of what you're signing up for and carefully weigh the pros and cons prior to commitment.