The financial crisis proved that even the biggest companies are not immune to failure, while the recent success of start-ups like Uber, Airbnb, and Snapchat has demonstrated the value of entrepreneurship and the creation of what is becoming known as the “shared economy”.
You might think that having an entrepreneurial outlook could preclude you from working with a big, established business, but is no longer the case.
Companies of all sizes are recognizing the value of ‘intrapreneurs’ – people with an appetite to do things differently and a talent for coming up with fresh ideas, who can put their innovations to use within a business.
Joanne Lawrence, Professor of Global Business and Society at Hult, says: “Many of today’s multinationals began in garages, but sustaining that entrepreneurial spirit often gets lost along the way the larger the companies become. The more astute organizations seek individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset who challenge the company’s status quo way of thinking.”
The business case for intrapreneurship
Provided they are given the right environment in which to flourish, intrapreneurs can be extremely valuable to a company, regardless of its size or the industry in which it operates.
Stagnation is one of the biggest threats to any ambitious firm. It is a risk that can be addressed by creating a culture that encourages workers to be bold, taking inventive approaches to problems and constantly questioning the status quo.
This is where intrapreneurs come in. An employee with the right outlook can help an organization derive greater value from its resources by using them in new, imaginative ways. Not every idea will be a success, but those that do work can help a business progress to the next level.
If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, you could find a niche in the world of big business through an ability to see opportunity where others see adversity. Being able to turn challenges into promising prospects is a rare and valuable skill, one that forward-thinking firms will be willing to pay for.
An increasing number of senior figures and decision makers within businesses are recognizing the benefits of nurturing rather than inhibiting entrepreneurship.
Over half (58 percent) of managers are very or extremely willing to support Generation Y employees (those born since the early 1980s) who have aspirations to pursue business opportunities, according to a 2013 study by Millennial Branding and American Express. 40 percent of workers in this age group said they would be very or extremely interested in setting up new ventures.
This suggests that there is currently an interest – from both sides of the equation – in ambitious young business professionals exercising their entrepreneurial muscles within existing companies.
A recent panel event at Hult’s London campus with two very different types of business leaders demonstrated the value of collaboration between those with an entrepreneurial mindset and those with corporate expertise. As Rene Carayol of the Inspired Leaders Network, writing about the event in Business Reporter: “Growing economies, industries, and expanding businesses require both.”
The socially-driven intrapreneur
Professor Joanne Lawrence points to the shift in focus for growth opportunities from the developed world to emerging markets and highlights the important role socially-driven intraprenuers are playing in this:
“As the developed world grows older and its markets saturated, companies are looking increasingly to the developing world for new business opportunities and talent. There are three models emerging: the social entrepreneur, public-private partnerships, and increasingly, the socially-driven ‘intrapreneur’.
“These in-house corporate pathfinders seek innovative solutions that meet the very specific needs of the billions of people at the base of pyramid, such as unstable income, intermittent energy sources, and minimal to non-existent infrastructure.”
Benefits for the intrapreneur
Developing new ideas, ventures, and projects within a business can be as exciting as the more conventional form of autonomous entrepreneurship, and it offers some significant benefits for the individual.
Firstly, it’s a much safer option. Traditional entrepreneurship inevitably brings a degree of risk, particularly if you are investing your own financial resources (not to mention time, emotion, and hard work) into the venture.
Intrapreneurship combines the security and financial stability of regular employment, with the freedom and sense of creating something new that comes with starting your own business. It can also provide extremely useful experience if you want to launch an enterprise of your own in future.
This can be a particularly fulfilling option when there is full support for the concept from the highest levels of the business. In order to get the most value from intrapreneurship, companies need to give their people the time and resources to develop ideas, and be open to change. And with the backing of a multinational behind your idea, you can see your initiatives have a big impact, as Professor Lawrence puts it:
“For the intrapreneur, working for a multinational enables them to leverage the resources, skills, and reach of the corporation to scale their ideas, enabling them to have a major impact quickly.”
Another potential benefit of being an intrapreneur is workplace culture. A dynamic and collaborative workplace can provide the sort of inspiration that can sometimes be difficult to muster if you are mainly working alone, with all the responsibility resting on your shoulders.
Career development that makes a difference
Leading initiatives from within a company can also help you steadily improve your skills in different areas of business. Rather than taking on challenges like marketing, product development, and social media strategies all at once, you can focus on specialized projects and expand your skill set gradually.
Intrapreneurship can prove hugely advantageous, for the business, the individual, and society as a whole. Professor Lawrence summarizes the huge impact entrepreneurs are already having on developing markets:
“The ‘out-of-the box’ results have been revolutionary: from providing access to clean water, affordable energy and nutritious food to designing health saving devices that operate in hostile environments to training new workers and creating jobs, these efforts create value for both business and society, and resonate increasingly with a new generation of business managers who believes in the power of business to change lives by creating a more inclusive economy,”