Intrapreneurs – The New Tribe

Entrepreneurs are like ants. You’ll find them everywhere from the house next door to the back of your cornflakes box. Buck the trend: become an intrapreneur instead.

It’s not wrong to say that entrepreneurialism is experiencing something of a Golden Age. Everyone from your colleague to your mother thinks they have the next “big idea”.

(Thanks Dragon’s Den. Now we’re stuck with a lifetime’s supply of the automatic lemon-zesters that Uncle Derek couldn’t quite bring to market.)

Facebook, Groupon, WordPress, Mashable, Box.net – these days it’s the programmers and internet technology gurus that occupy the lucrative end of the entrepreneurial spectrum.

But while this is obviously impressive, for every genius programmer in the world, there’s about a thousand or so of us plebs who barely know which end of a plug to try and cram in the socket.

Flying solo in the business world is a tricky, high-risk strategy. And as we’ve all seen on Dragon’s Den (or Shark’s Tank, the American equivalent), most of us couldn’t work out gross profit Vs net profit if our lives depended on it. Entrepreneurialism isn’t for everyone.

The important thing to remember, though, is that you aren’t the only one to have noticed the value of having an entrepreneurial streak. Most managers and CEOs in large companies will have twigged that with so many creative and increasingly successful entrepreneurs in the market, they’ve got some tough competition. So they’ll be looking for people within their company to help them innovate, in a bid to stay in the game.

This is where you come in. If you are one of those people who feels they are letting themselves down by plodding along in your dreary grey cubicle at some corporate powerhouse, but just don’t seem to have the impetus, know-how or capital to break free and start something of your own, there might be a third way.

 

The intrapreneur is someone who has all the essential qualities of an entrepreneur – an awareness of the market, a certain creativity, motivation and clout – but who innovates within an already established organisation.

 

There are some obvious benefits to becoming an intrapreneur. For a start, you don’t have to be so focused on seeing an immediate return (so you won’t be rationing that box of cornflakes), you’ll have a steady paycheck while your seed of an idea gestates and you’ll have the capital and reputation of an existing company to back you up.

 

Here are our key tips for joining the Tribe of the Intrapreneur:

Anyone’s Game

Obviously a lot of seed funds are geared towards funding prototypes of new products. However, “product” doesn’t have to just mean something physical. A package which provides more incentive for customers to use your company’s resources, for example, is also a type of product. Creating an eco-department which might garner respect from the increasing number of green-enthusiasts out there, is also a product in its own way, as it might become an important selling factor for your business. 

Research on the Sly

If you tell your bosses about your idea too early, you’ll have them breathing down your neck, pushing for quick and obvious results. It’s best to keep your ideas from the powers that be, until you are sure that your proposal will have legs. Conduct a few focus groups, do some market research, set up a few test-scenarios, so that you have all the groundwork done for a stellar presentation when the time comes.

 

The Power of Outsourcing

Apps and web services, as we’ve already discussed, are the way forward. Every good business will have one, or even a few. The best thing about having a bigger company’s resources behind you, is that you don’t need to be a tech guru yourself, you just need to be able to find a good one. If you can conceive of a clever, workable idea and you can find someone else who might be able to put your plan into action, then you’re good to go (and you can still claim credit for the idea).

 

Be a Bootstrapper

Although, yes, you will eventually want to use your company’s resources, you’ll gain even more respect if you’ve shown an initial willingness to put something of yours on the line for your idea. It will demonstrate, not just your determination to shine within the company, but also how much faith and investment you have in your idea.

 

No Place for Mavericks

Entrepreneurs have the freedom to be pretty much as wacky as they wish, because they only have themselves to blame if it all goes horribly wrong. Never forget that it isn’t just your reputation at stake, but that of an entire business. You can’t afford to be too off the wall, or make any unprecedented decisions.

 

Be Thorough

Your pitch to your management is basically the same as a trip to the Dragon’s Den, except with fewer wads of cash scattered around the room. You will only be impressive if you are totally prepared. You need to explain why your idea is good, why it is appropriate to instigate it right now and why your company should be the one to do it. And you need to have some solid facts and figures to hand.

 

It’s Not All-In

Remind your bosses that this is an idea or a test, not something that they should stake the future of their business on. Some bosses, especially those who feel they are stuck in a rut, will latch on to the glimmer of a new idea, hoping it will be the saviour of the brand. This means they also have you as a scapegoat if something goes wrong and it doesn’t turn into the equivalent of the second coming of Christ. Be prepared for this – tell them to bear in mind that your idea is just a pilot and that they should continue to look for other projects too.

 

Money from Above

Many governments have incentive schemes for innovation within business. Check it out.

 

Kamikaze Killer

Put measures in place to constantly re-evaluate your idea. It is not your money, so you need to be more careful with it. Or at least you need to be able to show that you have been. You need to be able to prove (in the vent of failure) that you didn’t cut corners, you weren’t reckless and you did everything you could to ensure success.

 

Your Own Glee Club

There will be naysayers – mainly among the people who didn’t come up with your idea first. They will blame you for wasting the company’s resources on things that are off-the-wall or unnecessary. Deal with this in two ways – be prepared to tell them exactly what resources you have used and in exactly what way and then you also have to be your own biggest cheerleader. Try to instil in them a sense of excitement for your idea – recruit them to help out if you can. They’ll like it a lot more when they feel they can make a part of it their own.

 

Words: Natasha Bird

Featured Image: ssoosay

 

 

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