Contrasting Views: The Entrepreneur and the Intrapreneur

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There is a real need in America today for both intrepreneurs and entrepreneurs. How are they similar and how do they differ?

In the business world of today, it’s important for management in larger organizations to understand how to foster a culture of intrapreneurialism within their corporations to improve their position in the current economic climate.

Entrepreneurs operate within their own company, or in a small group within the company.

Intrapreneurs usually operate within a much larger organization, in essence a small company within a larger enterprise. Intrapreneurs, by definition, embody the same characteristics as the entrepreneur: conviction, passion, and drive, but there are significant differences as well.

What is an Entrepreneur?

Alan Hall at Forbes quotes Larry Levy, from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in an article covering the five important differentiators of entrepreneurs: “Learning from one’s mistakes and not repeating them, being prepared emotionally for the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, being willing to live with fear, risk and occasional failure, understanding, nurturing and refining one’s vision of the enterprise, and synchronizing one’s business with one’s passions.”

Business Mistakes: Obviously, one can’t typically repeat mistakes and expect to remain gainfully employed. Within your own company, however, a single mistake, particularly an expensive one, could mean the loss of your business.

Emotional Strength, Risk & Failure: When everything is on the line financially, a business owner has to be able to handle the pressure and take calculated risks. Again, the stakes are usually always higher than when you are working for a corporation.

Future Vision: Within a startup/small company, the owner has to have a vision of what that company will be in the future, but possess the agility to refine that vision as conditions within the market change.

Personal Passion: A small business is the founder’s baby. There typically is a strong emotional connection, which when the success of that company is personalized and passionately-embraced by its founder, will often lead to success.

What’s an Intrepreneur?

As a comparison, intrapreneurs are shielded, to an extent, by the corporate safety blanket of deeper pockets. If the intrapreneur fails, the worst thing that happens is loss of his job; not his life’s savings. A study by Ernest & Young tells us that intrapreneurs usually possess knowledge of the internal and external environment, a vision and willingness to challenge the status quo, organizational diplomacy and the ability to operate with and lead cross-departmental teams, ability to build a professional-support network, ability to persevere, even in the face of uncertainty.

Certainly, some of these characteristics may also be present among entrepreneurs, but a key difference is that there is a focus on collaboration (especially with the right people in an organization) and the ability to operate within a group and often as a team member.

Entrepreneurs are often depicted (and rightfully so) as more iconoclastic and willing to be the lone wolf, whereas intrapreneurs operate within an organization that has a culture and a specific way of doing things (sometimes referred to as “red tape”). However, the true intrapreneur leads the charge and has to put up with the various slings and arrows that will come his way when things don’t go according to plan.

Intrepreneurs and Entrepreneurs: Making Compromises to Move a Business Forward

It is clear that intrapreneurs are organization-bound… this is not a pejorative description. Large organizations can accomplish great things, because they have the people, financial resources and corporate inertia to see things through to the end. Inertia, in this sense is not a negative, either. The intrepreneur still has to step out in faith and sometimes into uncertain territory relying on intuition and his or her background, training and abilities.

Resources:

Hall, Alan. Top Characteristics Of Successful Entrepreneurs: Larry Levy, Kellogg School of Management, Weighs In. Forbes. Accessed October 2, 2013

Green, Lea. Top 10 Tips for Successful Intrapreneurship. PGi Blog, Accessed October 3, 2013

Quast, Lisa. The Skills Necessary To Be A Successful ‘Intrapreneur’ (Corporate Entrepreneur)Forbes. Accessed October 2, 2013

Financial Services. “Intrapreneurship” key to innovation, growth in recovery: Ernst & Young. (2010). CNW. Accessed October 2, 2013.

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