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Intrapreneurship: A Beginners Guide

The perfect resource for beginner intrapreneurs to understand intrapreneurship and its relationship with innovation and entrepreneurship.

What is Intrapreneurship?

Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization. Steve Jobs described it in terms of the startups he worked with as a young man…  "a group of people going back to the garage, but in a large company."

The term intrapreneur was coined in the 1980s and is becoming increasingly popular as large companies aim to defend against digital disruption and strive to emulate the successes of Silicon Valley startups.

So, if intrapreneurship is behaving like an entrepreneur, to understand intrapreneurship better we need to dive into what it means to be an entrepreneur, and discover exactly is what a startup is.

Four key traits of entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs!)

Research at Harvard and MIT has begun to hone in on what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. It's not necessarily what you would think.

1. Passion & Vision

It all starts with having a passion for your venture, and a vision of what the world would look like in the future. Entrepreneurs cannot focus simply on chasing what they see as the most lucrative opportunity, because the reality is that without the passion, they will eventually lose the motivation to see the journey through.

2. Knowledge & Process

It's not enough to simply be passionate about your idea. Next you need to have the knowledge to execute on it, and a process within which you can work systematically towards your vision.

Like corporate managers, an entrepreneur builds a team, sets goals, motivates and rewards the team. Yes, entrepreneurship is management.

But the context of a startup requires a new kind of management approach geared to its context of extreme uncertainty. Some things cannot be learned simply by doing, and modern training programmes show how entrepreneurs (or intrapreneurs) can avoid mistakes, assess value and determine the next steps.

3. Pro-active

Entrepreneurs are doers. It's not enough to be able to conceive an idea and write a plan. Entrepreneurs know the importance of going out and speaking to customers… of developing the initial design… of pounding the streets to find the initial customers… and of pitching their business to potential funders and partners.

Entrepreneurs are determined, action-oriented and work to overcome obstacles.

4. Relationship Builders

The media often likes to portray successful entrepreneurs as solitary heroes… the lone visionaries that conquer the world. Branson. Zuckerberg. Gates. Jobs. Dyson.

But the reality is that entrepreneurs are experts at building relationships.  They create teams, foster advocates, and assemble tribes. The people they connect with take on many roles - from mentor to confounder, from peers to potential customers.

What is a Startup?

Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup, defines a startup as "a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty." 

What does Eric mean by extreme uncertainty? Well, in the business world, startups are unique in that they have an unvalidated (typically incomplete) business plan, untested market demand and inadequate funding.

For intrapreneurs, building an internal startup in a large organization, that same definition applies. 

Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur

In summary then, intrapreneurs like entrepreneurs create startups.

Also like entrepreneurs they lead teams, create products and services, test them, and then launch them to customers.

Intrapreneurs differ in that they are employed by large companies, have less freedom than entrepreneurs, but also take less personal risk.

Venn Diagram of Intrapreneurs vs Entrepreneurs

So What's Next?

Now you understand what intrapreneurship is, and perhaps you think that you too could use some of that Silicon Valley entrepreneurial zeal (and hopefully exponential growth) in your organization. Well the very next step is to get trained and certified as an intrapreneur with the Intrapreneurship Mastery programme.

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