Move Over Entrepreneurs, Here Come The Intrapreneurs

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Originally posted on Forbes

In the wake of Facebook‘s IPO, and despite where the stock goes from here, one thing is clear: Entrepreneurs–especially successful ones–arethe new rock stars of business culture. Despite this trend, the reality remains that for every successful entrepreneur who builds even a modestly successful business, there are thousands who struggle and toil endlessly and may never see the fruits of their labor come anywhere close to commercial success. Add that to the fact that while entrepreneurialism seems to be enjoying a golden age of sorts, it isn’t for everyone.

Some individuals don’t want to go off on their own and build something from scratch wearing every hat (or hoodie) under the sun in order to find professional fulfillment.  There’s no shortage of books and media messages that paint the world in black and white in this regard. You are either a faceless corporate cog in the machine of a large, soulless organization, or you are fighting the good fight as a free and independent entrepreneur in charge of his own destiny. But I’m here to tell you from experience that there is a third way, and it’s called being an intrapreneur.

What does that mean exactly?

An intrapreneur is someone who has an entrepreneurial streak in his or her DNA, but chooses to align his or her talents with a large organization in place of creating his or her own. To the classic entrepreneur this may be puzzling, but to what I think is a growing class of 21st Century “employees,” it may sound like the best of both worlds. I didn’t come up with the word “intrapreneur,” but several years ago when I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman at a train station and I described what I did for a living, he said something I’ll never forget: “Oh, you’re an intrapreneur–so was I.”

And I’m not alone. Some of my peers who are doing work in the social business industry also are intrapreneurs whether they suspect it or not. Scott Monty of Ford, Ekaterina Walter of Intel, Richard Binhammer of Dell, Pete Blackshaw of Nestlé, Bonin Bough of Kraft and Frank Eliason of Citi, to name a few–and I could go on and on here. The start-up community has successfully demonstrated that the modern world needs entrepreneurs. For every app, social network, or new Web service you discover with delight–there are entrepreneurs behind them. But this only makes intrapreneurs more critical, because in a world filled with fast-moving change, a large organization that becomes complacent and loses sight of the benefits of having an entrepreneurial streak built into their massive global systems can find themselves disrupted in short order.

This is where intrapreneurs come in handy. Smart organizations will seek out individuals who like to invent, innovate and want to be on the front lines of change. These individuals can work independently but even more important can work seamlessly as part of an integrated team structure and also effectively embrace and embody the culture of the intrapreneur’s host organization. Intrapreneurs are most successful when management/leadership empowers and supports them and in turn the intrapreneurs represent the best interests of their organizations while earning the respect of corporate peers. So here’s to intrapreneurs everywhere: The corporate world needs us now more than ever, and you might just be one without knowing it.

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