Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur: Which Are You?

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Many of us have heard of the title, “Entrepreneur,” and know it describes one involved in the innovation of ideas and processes.

The title, “Intrapreneur,” however, may be an unfamiliar one, designating someone who starts a company within a company. 

These individuals are distinctive and possess different leadership qualities; however, they do share some commonalities, which confuses the rest of us. 

In this article, we’ll discuss some foundational identifiers of each role and offer some strategic tips and insight for working with both. 

Entrepreneur: Are you a business owner, innovator or visionary? 

An entrepreneur may be a business owner, an innovator or a visionary and an entrepreneur may also be the teenager next door, who has solved a tech issue on his smartphone (which probably happens every day).

Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur: Which Are You?

An entrepreneur may be the home cook who, tired of getting cut on a handheld can opener, creates a can opener with a safety guard.

And, an entrepreneur may be an individual who starts a company dedicated to making computer-driven laser solutions for the surgical equipment industry. 

You can see that a succinct definition of the word is slippery; the best we can do is offer examples. So, why identify an entrepreneur? Well, for one thing, they often become multi-millionaires, so there’s that.

Further, they are known as the catalysts for solutions to problems others have. You may want to engage an entrepreneur for that reason alone. Here are ways in which entrepreneurs serve industry: 

Entrepreneurs bring the “Big” in communication

An entrepreneur listens for 30 seconds to a problem and misses the rest of the conversation.

However, the entrepreneur will then offer a solution to the larger issue that is driving the smaller problem. In this way, the entrepreneur mentally hops over the minor problem to tackle the major issue

This is particularly useful in technologically-driven communication where the smaller problem is holding back a larger process. 

Entrepreneurs offer an unusual perspective 

Young entrepreneurs are often branded as “bored and uninterested” in grade school, which is because they are. An entrepreneurial mind may be on Mars while the school lesson is on multiplication.

In decades past, these students were disciplined; we now identify such students as creative thinkers and forgive multiplication errors

Entrepreneurs offer unusual perspectives to startup and mid-growth organizations; it is often highly useful to consider such perspectives. 

Entrepreneurs also frequently start their own organizations in ways that do not align with more typical organizational structures.

One entrepreneur recently built a company headquartered in an airplane hangar because that was the least expensive and largest location that could be found.

Another started a very well-known tech company from a remote cabin without power or running water in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Such locations do not shout “conformity,” and perhaps that is precisely why entrepreneurs are most comfortable in them. 

Entrepreneurs are determined. Sort of.

One of the best qualities of an entrepreneur is that of determination. It is also one of the most difficult for everyone else. Entrepreneurs like to lead and, with that, comes a hell-or-high-water attitude that is unstoppable

Entrepreneurs are determined. Sort of.

However, in the middle of a new project, an entrepreneur will often stop, reflect for a moment, and then move in an entirely different direction.

What this translates to for others is that success will be the outcome, although the road to get there could look more like the A3 traffic circle out of London, with multiple lanes circling around until a car is thrown out into a far lane.

All of this creates a positive ending, if one can simply hold on. 

Why are entrepreneurs valuable to an organization? 

There are obvious reasons why entrepreneurs are valuable to an organization, particularly because entrepreneurs are driven to see their ideas come to fruition, no matter what else they may do in the interim to get there.

They are the ones who start organizations and they are the  ones who take their organizations to amazing heights

However, in an interesting twist, entrepreneurs typically also have what has been termed “psychological flexibility.” (Journal of Business Venturing Insights, Vol.16, 2021, e00263). 

The term indicates that entrepreneurs have a high degree of satisfaction that is movable between the core areas of work-life balance and personal life to work and income. 

In short, entrepreneurs derive satisfaction from diverse areas of life

This may account for the fact that many entrepreneurs care deeply about the welfare of their employees and will walk the floor of a building, asking for personal and random opinions from anyone who they meet.

In this context, entrepreneurs do not focus solely on the next “invention,” but stop along the way long enough to focus on the next “innovators.” 

Let’s now take a look at intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneur: Are you a CEO, an improver or a strategist? 

An intrapreneur is someone who starts a company within a company, combining leadership abilities with off-the-charts collaborative skills.

Intrapreneur Are you a CEO, an improver or a strategist

Although this definition hits 99% of those who carry this title (made up in 1985 by Gifford Pinchot and Steve Jobs, by the way), the definition can also ooze into the same descriptions of entrepreneurs. It’s not all tidy and clean. 

For the same reasons that entrepreneurs bring insight and depth into problems that need solutions, intrapreneurs reason, validate and convert problems into solutions using a razor-sharp brain.

Consider Elon Musk, only one child of several raised by an entrepreneurial father. 

Musk took what was in place and made it remarkable. Case in point, Mr. Musk took the Boring Company, modeled a small drill to produce enormous drills, and used them to bore huge tunnels in a proprietary method that remains unique in its class.

Brad Smith, the CEO of Intuit, is also an intrapreneur: he built QuickBooks (probably during a 5th grade class on multiplication) and improved accounting processes for entrepreneurs worldwide. 

Intrapreneurs are collaborative

Outstanding leaders and mentors, intrapreneurs are also teachable and easily collaborate with others.

These strong qualities enable an intrapreneur to start a company within a company without divisiveness among the office personnel.

With this set of capabilities, an intrapreneur can introduce innovative ideas without bringing an organization to a halt in rebellion, adding to the growth and flexibility of the organization overall.

This creates relationships that serve both the intrapreneur and the organization.

Intrapreneurs are courageous

Intrapreneurs are the ones who find solutions or innovative adaptations in-house and act on them; however, because of the position they take in creating a new or changed direction, they are also susceptible to being asked to leave.

The intrapreneur very often takes this role, knowing there could be a sizable consequence if the new direction in the organization fails. This is a courageous position to take in a tenable place. 

Intrapreneurs are all about business

An intrapreneur is looking for a successful outcome and will stay the course until it arrives. An intrapreneur will create a business plan and stick to it until compelled to alter it.

The intrapreneur knows the company inside and out, so the solutions derived by the intrapreneur will be closely aligned to the organization, creating a winning outcome.

The intrapreneur is a strategist, going after the end game, using crafty team signals, and radiating purpose

Think of Tim Cook at Apple, a brilliant strategist, yet one who holds onto the people in his company with care and commitment. This is an intrapreneur. 

Intrapreneurs don’t carry much pride

Most of us haven’t seen an intrapreneur carry a lot of pride to date, although every entrepreneur seems to be full of it. It must be due to differing ways of seeing outcomes.

The intrapreneur is more often reflective of past mistakes, looking to create a win from the experience and that may mean a learning opportunity, rather than the “winning” results.

This reflective wisdom is what others can learn and then take from an intrapreneur.  

Why are intrapreneurs valuable to an organization? 

Anyone who can bring innovative ideas into an established organization, present them successfully, and then bring those ideas to reality with the cooperation of the organization is a captain of industry in the truest sense of the word.

Why are intrapreneurs valuable to an organization

While it can be fairly easy to introduce new ideas and new ways of forming them into reality, actual action steps are almost always met with resistance from those who are entrenched in positions, or don’t approve of the word, “change.” 

Intrapreneurs are diplomatic realists who manage to turn opinions and skeptics into believers without anyone understanding how they got there

With this aptitude, intrapreneurs can bring about change that benefits the entire organization, in addition to creating new possibilities throughout. 

Often taking one idea from the core of another, an intrapreneur simply sees how something could be made better and faster and higher or longer and brings others along with that idea.

For this reason, intrapreneurs are highly-valued and often tapped for executive positions in organizations that thrive on change. If it's a positive change you want; bring an intrapreneur onto the team.  

Are you an Entrepreneur or an Intrapreneur? The answer must lie in that multiplication class. You can figure it out from there.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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