Most people are familiar with entrepreneurs – the risk-takers and innovators placing bets on the next big idea, the next million dollar startup. But what about the Intrapreneur? While the two words sound similar and even have overlapping definitions, an intrapreneur is a very distinct concept.
First, let’s start by defining an entrepreneur. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an entrepreneur is “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.”
The story of the successful “self-made” entrepreneur is a classic version of the great America Dream. From The Great Gatsby to Shark Tank, from Oprah to Steve Jobs, there’s something alluring about the individuals that build empires with nothing but a dollar and a dream.
Looking for some inspiration? Watch 50 entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs share their insights:
Similar to an entrepreneur, intrapreneurs are also known for taking risks and innovating. But the main difference is that intrapreneurs work within an existing larger company. While entrepreneurs have to rally people, resources, and markets to their cause, intrepreneurs do the same, but within the structures and cross-functional landscape of their institutions. Though they don’t usually go by the official title of “intrapreneur,” there are a host of people behind the long series of groundbreaking technologies and products from companies like Alphabet, Microsoft, Walmart, Samsung, Toyota, Apple, and others; these people are all intrapreneurs.
Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs take on risk, but in different ways. For entrepreneurs, it’s typically the risk of starting out with limited resources and uncertain outcomes. A startup for a ridesharing company may risk competing with several brands.
Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, face a different kind of risk- they must work within the confines and structure of their organization. For example, while pushing for a new product spinoff, intrapreneurs may have to take executive concerns and opinions into consideration, and they often have to fight for support and resources against other corporate initiatives.
If you want to be a successful intrapreneur or entrepreneur, you have to be ready to lead. By nature, leaders stand out in their ability to make difficult choices and ultimately empower others to do their best work. Whether it’s through their vision, strategy, charisma, or a combination of them, leaders know how to inspire and drive change through collaboration.
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. It just means taking a nonconventional approach to solving problems or creating value. That’s why so many entrepreneurs start businesses- to offer value or solutions that don’t already exist in the market.
Innovation is born in both large enterprises and small start-ups. While small companies disrupting entrenched industries are often media darlings, large corporations have historically been very consistent engines of innovation, given their ambitious agendas and resources behind driving growth. But no matter the size of the organization behind it, in every case, it took only one person to come up with an idea and start a domino effect of change.
When it comes to resources, intrapreneurs often have an advantage over entrepreneurs; they generally have existing infrastructure, resources, and processes to lean on for assistance. If an experiment – such as the launch of a new line of products – fails, the company typically has other bets in play to fall back on. Launching innovation is rarely a “bet the company” exercise.
Entrepreneurs on the other hand are often working to prove viability with less support and less of a safety net. As such, they usually take on much more risk. Classic entrepreneurial stories often start with two or three people in a garage, or an idea on the back of a napkin. They don’t usually have the luxury of calling up the product marketing team or the customer success department for support – a skeleton crew handles every aspect of development and proof of concept. If an idea fails, the future of the business (and its employees) could be thrown into question.
Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs may also differ greatly in the amount of time they devote to a given idea. Even a serial entrepreneur normally spends years – if not decades! – at a time on a given idea. While some intrapreneurs certainly spend multiple years on the development of new technologies, thinking back to Intel’s quest for ever faster microprocessor speeds or Frito Lay’s multi-year journey to cut salt crystals in new, flavor-enhancing ways, large organizations typically follow a very disciplined innovation schedule. Because they’re often being held to annual innovation objectives, intrepreneurs may crank out more innovations on a more consistent basis than those outside institutions designed specifically for this type of output.
Despite their differences, entrepreneurs and intrapraneurs together form the heart of the global economy’s evolution. Together, they stimulate innovation big and small in different ways that keep our businesses and our imaginations moving forward toward ever growing goals. Often, they work together as “big industry” and nascent organizations partner to drive faster development and commercialization of new ideas. Regardless of what we call them, we’d be at a loss without risk-taking, innovative leaders across the entire spectrum of organizations that make up our communities, be they for-profit, non-profit, or government-run, large or small.