Why intrapreneurs aren't like entrepreneurs

It’s an easy trap to fall into, thinking that intrapreneurs are simply internal entrepreneurs at businesses, but that’s not exactly the case. The two groups, while sharing similar characteristics are actually different in a number of ways. Here’s just a few of them…

Risk

Perhaps the biggest difference between an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur is who takes on the brunt of the risk. 

An entrepreneur takes on the sole responsibility for their project, including all financial risks related to it. They are the ones who have taken the loan, or raise the funds so they are the ones who will be affected if it doesn’t all work out.

“Entrepreneurs willingly sign up for unlimited risk, or boundless reward. Not so with intrapreneurs, who take a paycheque from an organisation largely to avoid financial risk, and therefore do not expect huge financial gains,” Forbes columnist Larry Myler told the Intrapreneur Conference“This is the main psychographic difference between the two, and the reason why motivations (both intrinsic and extrinsic) must be carefully aligned for intrapreneurs.”

Intrapreneurs aren’t afraid of risk, and are definitely more likely than an average employee to take risks in their work. But, their risks are significantly smaller than entrepreneurs’. They’re unlikely to find themselves out of a job simply because a risk they took in the office didn’t work, whereas entrepreneurs risk losing their businesses with a miscalculated move.

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Ownership

Another clear difference between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs is the matter of ownership. A 2000 study identifies that entrepreneurs have a clear ownership of their concept and business, whereas intrapreneurs’ ideas are generally owned by their company.

This can mean that intrapreneurs don’t receive the recognition that they deserve, or end up having little or no equity in the venture at all. However, some businesses are much better at this than others. As Elizabeth Gore, entrepreneur in residence at Dell highlights, one of the halls at the company’s Round Rock campus is covered with patents of products that its intrapreneurs have created. “Thousands of patents in frames created by employees so it's giving them the credit they deserve for that innovation and entrepreneurship,” she says. “It's a really cool hallway if you walk through it. And that really struck me when I first got there how much it's encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Read more: Are you a secret intrapreneur?

Culture

“Entrepreneurs have the luxury of building a company’s culture from scratch,” Myler notes. “While intrapreneurs fight against a long history of many deeply held and widely shared beliefs and assumptions - some of which run counter to intrapreneurship itself.”

However, many innovative companies these days are working to develop a culture that actively encourages intrapreneurship among its staff. Businesses are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of intrapreneurs and consequently, are working towards creating a workplace that actively encourages innovation.

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Motivation

Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are motivated to make an impact on businesses and organisations, Grant Tilus at Rasmussen College notes. However, motivation can look like many different things and come in many different forms.

“If you see yourself as someone who is motivated by things such as money, personal achievement or fulfilling a lifelong dream, you might be fit to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “But if your primary motivation is financial stability, love of what you are doing and putting others ahead of you, perhaps becoming an intrapreneur is a better fit.”

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