So you think you can be an intrapreneur

Everywhere you look you see entrepreneurs: your neighbor who’s the CEO of a tech start-up, the woman who owns the small store down the street, etc. But what about the intrapreneur, an entrepreneur’s oft-overlooked cousin?  Guest blogger Katharine Bierce tells us what they’re all about- and lets us in on the secret of becoming one.

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Photo via [ rachael ] on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Sometimes, the hardest part about becoming an intrapreneur is just getting started.

Intrapreneurs improve existing systems by advocating for CSR, sustainability, shared value, or engaging with the community. They are internal innovators who innovate within a larger company or organization, as opposed to within startups – which are generally expected to be more innovative.

I’m one. I’m a full-time Operations Associate for a 700-person data analytics firm. On evenings and weekends, I coordinate volunteering events where employees participate in fundraiser walks and park cleanups, as well as advise low-income and student entrepreneurs on their business strategy.

From my experience, the main characteristics of intrapreneurs are passion, persistence, patience, and resilience. You have to care about making a difference to be an intrapreneur. You have to be persistent in following up with busy executives who could be sponsors of innovative projects. You must be patient with the pace of progress in a larger organization, and remain resilient in the face of setbacks.

It can be challenging.  There are not many places where it’s your full-time job to come up with innovative ideas for multi-stakeholder issues. So a large part of intrapreneurship is understanding your organization, its values, and the people, as well as the larger intrapreneurial landscape.

Do you want to become an intrapreneur?

Here are my tips:

  • Set your intention. Start by identifying your values. What principles do you want to live your life by? Then, define your skills, and brainstorm ideas about the kinds of challenges you might want to work on that align to your combination of strengths. Where do your values, skills, and market needs intersect?
  • Build your network at your organization. Learn as many of your colleagues’ names as you can and build your personal brand. The more people with whom you discuss your idea, the larger your support base will be. When the conversation over lunch,  conference call, or email turns to “What do you do outside of work?” discuss your intrapreneurial ideas. In this way, I eventually found several dozen like-minded people who also lead volunteering projects in offices around the world.
  • Expand your network outside your organization. A few months into my first full-time job, I attended the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation. StartingBloc provided inspiration that I could make a difference in the world (no matter my job title), and connected me to a network of like-minded changemakers.
  • Iterate. If one particular approach doesn’t work for you, try another. Maybe you don’t actually need a budget to get an intrapreneurial project started. Maybe you can use a budget from an existing project or business line to start a pilot project. Be open to experimenting with different ways of meeting or engaging supporters. If you get told “No,” re-phrase that in your mind as “Not yet.”

Next steps

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KatharineBierce_11-2012Katharine graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago with a degree in Psychology. Over the last few years, she’s been thinking about what makes organizations tick and how to connect people to career development opportunities.  In 2012, she was a finalist for the Net Impact “Impact at Work” award for intrapreneurship. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, reading, cooking, and meditation. Follow Katharine on Twitter @kbierce or send her a message through Idealist.

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