So You Want to be An Intrapreneur…What Do You Bring to the Table?

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Self examination for the Intrapreneur. Image by Nick Schklair

The ‘intrapreneur’ (internal corporate entrepreneur) is an expression that has grown into more common usage within the business vernacular over the last 15 years. With a stagnant economy, and little underlying hope of a robust recovery (at least for the next 3 to 4 years), there is an obvious need for new products/new industrial developments to compete against foreign corporate incursions.

If an enterprising employee, especially a middle manager, embraces the concept, it becomes a real opportunity for the right individual. The question is though, do you have what it takes to be intrapreneurial?

It’s not just a matter of attitude, although, certainly attitude is important. Intrapreneurialism has more to do with interest, ability, inclination and internal self-reliance. At the same time, most of those who are aspiring intrapreneurs realize that this position shields you from the slings and arrows endured by the self-employed entrepreneur.

New Products, New Challenges and the Intrapreneur

The intrapreneurial role can be more risky than other corporate roles. As a case in point: When I was in the corporate world, my role was defined as trying to bring new technological products into the company which were all outside of the traditional marketplace. The success rate was only about 1 in 4. I understood that some ideas might not play out into a suitable profit model, and fortunately, management understood and accepted some of those risks but that’s not always the case.

Developing Your Own Way

What follows are a set of questions that might define the characteristics of the intrapreneur and your suitability for that role. We pose these questions as a guide to help you determine whether you have the interests and abilities required for this role. These questions cover four major areas: products, people, practices and the public.

  1. Do you work well with several different departments, people and personalities to achieve your goal of new products and/or market entry?  Certainly the intrapreneur has to rely upon his resources of “moral suasion” in order to work with disparate corporate groups: sales, finance, engineering, etc. This skill certainly comes in handy throughout any organization, but especially for you as an intrapreneur.
  2. Do you have a real understanding of markets that may be related to the existing product line of your company, but lie outside the company’s current market place? This almost would seem to point to individuals that have outside industry experience, yet they still must understand the corporation’s marketing presence and market/technical capabilities.

    The Intrapreneur must work with all stakeholders. Image courtesy of Victor1558.

  3. Can you assume a leadership role while guiding development in a new market? This is a typical product-management conundrum. I, while working in a product-planning capacity during the development of a new marketing initiative, had numerous strong-willed and difficult personalities to contend with. It was always a careful balancing act to assert leadership, with no real organizational authority and to accomplish that in a “politic” way.
  4. Are you a moderate risk taker, with “fire in the belly?” In examining, and eventually entering, into new markets, you must be willing to take certain career risks. The driving force for this is based both in knowledge and confidence in your abilities.  Again, you must carefully weigh this in terms of risk…moderated by caution. Unrestrained exuberance can lead to devastating financial results for the corporation, which may ultimately be career-limiting, if you’re not careful.
  5. Is your company open and “friendly” to intrapreneurs? Often companies pay lip service to the “value” of ideas generated by their employee base, but operate as if the only ideas that are generated from the top have any real value. A good example of this may be large, multi-branch, family-run retail companies that traditionally only operate with a senior management that is family-based. If this turns out to be your environment, you may always be frustrated in trying to accomplish anything outside the filter and norm for your employer.
  6. Can you look at an internal process at your company and see how you might improve it?  Many times it’s small things that can make a big difference. As an employee in an operational mode, you may see things that could be improved. Under the right circumstances this may be your intrapreneurial springboard, particularly if it becomes your pattern and senior management notices.
  7. If you come up with a marketable idea, can you sell it and obtain the necessary funding for success? Often risk averse managers will only humor you by suggesting, “Why don’t you run with the idea...”, without any real intention of taking it up the line to senior management. The problem could be twofold: You may not have the confidence of senior management and that of your direct superior – and making something happen under these circumstances may be a task beyond your capabilities. It could be a matter of more experience or perhaps you aren’t a good match for your employer. In any event, success here without funding may be a difficult, if not impossible task.

Internal Innovation at Work

There are always other factors to consider when doing an assessment of your employer and your potential career as an innovator within the company, however, a dollop of common sense goes a long way. Don’t overlook the importance of an internal support network of friends and others who would like to see you and your company succeed. Intrapreneurship may be a bit more risky, but continuing frustration and a lack of fulfillment at work ultimately pose a greater career risk.

Resources: Panter, Vanessa. 5 characteristics of the successful intrapreneur. Thinklearn.com. Accessed October 23, 2013.

Pinchot & Company. The Intrapreneur Evaluation Checklist. (1999). Pinchot.com. Accessed October 23, 2013.

Edcentre.ca. Intrapreneur Checklist. Accessed October 23, 2013.

Beames, Emma. Is Your Company Intrapreneur-friendly? (2013). EmmaBeames.com Accessed October 23, 2013.

Davis, Jerry and White, Christopher J. Are you an Intrapreneur?  (2013). Nextbillion.net. Accessed October 23, 2013.

Gang, VivianHow To Create An Office Environment That Nurtures Intrapreneurship. (2013). Business Insider. Accessed October 23, 2013.

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