“Intrapreneur” is one of the hot buzz words in business today. We know what entrepreneurs are, but what exactly is an intrapreneur? And what’s the difference?
What Is An Intrapreneur?
The term “intra” means “on the inside” or “within.” By definition, an intrapreneur is a company insider that applies entrepreneurial vision, forward thinking, and unique skills to their position within the company they work for.
In a nutshell, an intrapreneur is an “insider entrepreneur” for an established company. We refer to these employees as “intrapreneurs” because they’re not heading up their own company but they are working within an existing business.
Intrapreneurs are highly valuable employees who think like visionary business owners and use their role to elevate the company they work for. Regardless of whether an intrapreneur’s role within their company is that of Vice-President or Intern, they apply the key principles of successful entrepreneurial thinking to their daily work life.
What Are the Differences Between Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs?
Intrapreneurship differs from entrepreneurship in two key ways – financial risk and ownership.
1) Financial Risk
The biggest difference between intrapreneurs versus entrepreneurs comes down to financial and professional risk. An entrepreneur uses their business acumen, ideas, and capital to start their own business with their own resources. Contrast that experience with an intrapreneur who uses their existing company resources, capital, and human resource power to better the company where they work.
An entrepreneur is responsible for the start-up and growth of their own business. They have fronted the money, or taken out loans, to make their business dreams a reality. If the business dies, then the entrepreneur bears the brunt of the financial fallout.
According to Forbes columnist Larry Myler, “Entrepreneurs willingly sign up for unlimited risk, or boundless reward. Not so with intrapreneurs, who take a paycheck from an organization largely to avoid financial risk, and therefore do not expect huge financial gains … This is the main psychographic difference between the two, and the reason why motivations (both intrinsic and extrinsic) must be carefully aligned for intrapreneurs.”
On the flip side, entrepreneurs also get the benefits when their companies succeed. Intrapreneurs don’t necessarily get to share in the profits they help generate (although they may earn a raise).
2) Business Ownership
The second biggest difference between intra and entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs own the companies they work for. That’s the source of the financial risks and rewards we just mentioned, but it also means playing very different roles. Entrepreneurs have the flexibility to make decisions about every aspect of their business while intrapreneurs need to work with management and team members to get their ideas approved and carried out. Entrepreneurs are the face of their organizations and get the recognition, while intrapreneurs are less likely to be recognized by those outside their company.
That means entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are likely to feel differently about their roles. Entrepreneurs have a lot on the line and no safety net. That makes for a certain level of stress and a certain conservative way of approaching the job. Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, don’t have to worry as much about the risk. They also have the support of a larger organization behind them – that may give them more options for carrying out ideas and more flexibility to be aggressive and risk failing.
It’s Not All Apples To Oranges
The roles and risks of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can be quite different, but they also have a lot in common. Any kind of “preneur” thinks a little bit differently than your average employee. These are just a few of the things that set “preneurs” apart:
1) Innovative Thinking
Innovative thinking is key, since both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs aim to make their companies the best they can be. That means constantly adjusting and taking advantage of new opportunities, technologies, and methods. They’re always on the lookout for ways to grow and stay ahead of new trends (and the competition).
2) Thinkers and Doers
Looking for those opportunities to innovate is one thing. Actually seizing the day is another. That takes a certain kind of confidence and willingness to fail – and both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have that kind of confidence. They know that a good idea isn’t worth much while it’s still in your head, so they take the leap and act on those ideas.
3) Always Learning
There’s always something new to learn, and learning just expands your skillset and opportunities. Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs take any chance they can get to pick up new information and new skills. Those skills may be directly business-related, but they may also involve indirect skills like creative thinking or productivity workshops.
Some careers encourage or even require continued learning, but intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs go above and beyond. They know the importance of continuing to expand their toolkits.
The best laid plans of mice and men, as they say, often go awry. No matter how good your idea and how detailed your planning, things just don’t always go the way you expect. If you’re not flexible, that kind of surprise can paralyze you.
Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are good at thinking on their feet and going with the flow. They’re comfortable taking on new circumstances and going outside their comfort zones to deal with what needs to get done.
Going out and starting a new business or initiating change in your organization isn’t easy, and you’re going to make mistakes. That’s just par for the course. More conservative folks may not want to take those kinds of risks – failure hurts. And many people that fail decide not to continue – again, failure hurts.
But entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs get back up on the horse and try again. They learn from their mistakes without giving up.
Should I Be an Intrapreneur or an Entrepreneur?
The roles of intrapreneur and entrepreneur come with different risks, mindsets, and opportunities. If you’re motivated, passionate, and not afraid to take on risks and challenges, then either one may be a good fit for you.
In most cases, it’s easier to become an intrapreneur than an entrepreneur. Have an idea about how your company can run better or about an opportunity you believe it should take? Try to make it happen! Put together some data and take it to your boss or the rest of your team and advocate for trying your ideas out.
Of course, you may not always get full credit for your ideas and you won’t necessarily get any financial benefit, either. It can be really frustrating to have someone else take credit, watch your idea get churned up in corporate bureaucracy, or have your plans turned down from the start.
Entrepreneurs don’t have those limitations – they can enact whatever plans they want. But then you run the financial risk. Your options will probably be more limited, too, without the backing of an established company.
So what’s right for you? If you feel like you want to start driving change and progress rather than just handling the basics of your job, then take stock of your circumstances. How’s your financial situation? What kind of risks can you take on? How is your current job – is there room for suggestions or is creative thinking discouraged? And think about your personality, too. Are you comfortable with shouldering the whole financial risk and taking on the responsibility of ownership or do you prefer to work within an organization with their backing?
It’s all up to you! The good news is that if you’re motivated and ready to go, there are plenty of opportunities in both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship. All you have to do is take the leap!
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