To the casual observer, the entrepreneur vs intrapreneur debate is an academic one. They are a pair of terms interchangeable at will with insufficient differentiation to be worth considering further. You say “pot-ay-to”, I say “po-tar-to” and so on.

To a certain extent, this is true. Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can be more notable for their similarities than their differences. They can even be the same. However, for the non-casual observer, for the business owner, director or investor, the differences can be significant.

I have read many articles discussing entrepreneur vs intrapreneur. Many of these excellent pieces more often than not look to compartmentalise the two. They place a boundary between where one starts and the other ends. The sentiments generally suggest that entrepreneurs are born not made, in a way that intrapreneurs are not. I interpret the entrepreneur vs intrapreneur relationship a little differently.

An entrepreneur defined

Let’s first look at typical definitions of entrepreneur and intrapreneur as a starting point to understanding how to relate to both. According to the Oxford Dictionary:

An Entrepreneur is “a person who organises and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”

Other definitions refer to someone who: has passion and financial backing to create wealth; takes full responsibility for the business’ success or failure; enjoys most of the rewards; is an innovator; anticipates needs; seeks new opportunities; creates and extracts value.

An intrapreneur defined

The Oxford Dictionary defines the intrapreneur thus:

“An Intrapreneur is “a manager within a company who promotes innovative product development and marketing.”

This definition seems a little restricting, but others refer to: an employee with significant freedom; one who creates new products, services, systems; one who behaves like an entrepreneur inside an organisation.

Gifford Pinchot, the American entrepreneur, credited with coining the term “intrapreneurship” in 1978, refers to intrapreneurs as “dreamers who do”. I’m not sure if this is so much a positive reflection of an intrapreneur rather than a gentle dig at the failures of certain entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”

As we dissect the definitions, differentiation becomes a little clearer. The entrepreneur looks outward. They are typically visionaries who spot an opportunity in the marketplace. They have the passion, guile and contact base to set the wheels in motion. The intrapreneur has passion and drive but also has the operational skills of running the ‘clockwork’ of the business. They enable a good idea to be turned into commercial reality. The intrapreneur looks inward. They are the “inside entrepreneur”.

entrepreneur intrapreneur

Similarities between entrepreneur and intrapreneur emerge. Both “preneurs” set themselves aside from employees in a number of ways. Perhaps the most significant is in their relationship with the business. It’s a question of commitment over involvement. Employees are involved, preneurs are committed. A little bit like the egg and bacon breakfast; the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

But these are mere definitions and don’t suggest that you have to choose between being one or other. I have met many entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs over the years. I have rarely viewed them as one or the other. To me, they have sat somewhere on a spectrum, somewhere between Pinchot’s “dreamers” at one end and operational gurus at the other.

Entrepreneurs-intrapreneurs : Extroverts-introverts

Consider the relationship between extroverts and introverts. We talk about people as if they are either one or other. However, someone who thrives from social interaction can also enjoy their own company. Another who does their best thinking alone might be a natural leader. The definitions of these apparent opposites are clear but, as individuals, we do not neatly box into one or other. We sit on a spectrum somewhere between completely extrovert and totally introvert.

I identify myself comfortably towards the introvert end of the scale. When this has come up in conversation, people will comment “you don’t seem like a shy person”. That’s because I’m not. You don’t have to be shy to be an introvert.

“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”
Scott Belsky, American entrepreneur and author of ‘Making Ideas Happen’, 2010.

It is the same situation for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. There is no dividing line, no right or wrong, no issue with having a foot in both camps. A highly effective entrepreneur/intrapreneur sits somewhere along the spectrum. This positioning will advantage or disadvantage a business depending on what kind of business it is, what stage of development it has reached and what steps it has taken to cover the other necessary elements of that spectrum.

Entrepreneur vs Intrapreneur – who cares?

If you are in the throes setting up a new business, you may be wondering “what has this got to do with me?” I would suggest contemplating just one reason why you should pause and consider the entrepreneur vs intrapreneur debate:

Not all businesses needs an entrepreneur, but EVERY business needs an intrapreneur.

In the same way that the seed of a business idea needs an entrepreneur to shape and cultivate it, so the entrepreneur needs the intrapreneur to pluck from his grasp those seeds of opportunity, convert them into a viable commercial plan and then manage that plan to a profitable reality.

The intrapreneur is easy to spot: They wholeheartedly embrace the entrepreneur’s vision for the company; They energise and excite everyone in the business; They don’t look to sell business ideas, they take action on them; They make sound business decisions and deflect praise onto their team. They seek never-ending improvements, no matter how small.  They work smarter, not harder.

Without the intrapreneur, ideas, entrepreneurs and small business are doomed to fail.

So before you go any further, ask yourself where you are on the entrepreneur vs intrapreneur scale and take action accordingly.

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