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What is an Intrapreneur?

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Do you fantasize about becoming an entrepreneur but love the company you’re working for and would hate to leave it? You don’t have to start your own business to have an entrepreneurial career. Instead, become an intrapreneur.

The term “intrapreneurship” was first coined by the business authors Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot in the late 1970s to describe employees in large, highly structured corporations who defied the norm by acting creatively and autonomously despite the hierarchical environments they existed within.

Intrapreneurs are individuals who are dedicated to their companies but also have the fiery passion and creativity of  entrepreneurs. They desire to bring revolutionary ideas to life and yield higher returns for their companies, but want and usually obtain, the freedom to do so without passing through all of the processes that exist within large companies.

If this sounds you, you may be the perfect fit to become an intrapreneur.

How to Become an Intrapreneur

If you’re interested in becoming an intrapreneur, the first step is to look into your company’s policies regarding working on personal projects during work hours. Many innovation-driven companies allow their employees to spend a certain percentage of their time on projects of their choosing and if that’s the case for you, you know that you have time available at work to come up with your intrapreneurship idea. Managers at companies with a personal project policy also tend to like to hear about how you’re spending that time, so it’s easy to start a conversation about your intrapreneurial ideas.

Companies like Shutterstock hold annual hackathons where, for a short period of time, they give their employees unlimited freedom to experiment with any ideas they are interested in and pitch them to management. If company leaders like the idea, they will officially pursue the project and give the intrapreneur the freedom and resources to bring their idea to life.

While becoming an intrapreneur is easiest in companies that have policies in place that support intrapreneurship, you can still become an intrapreneur if it is something the company you work for is not accustomed to allowing. The key is to identify a problem or potential area of improvement within your company and create an innovative solution for it. You may only have one chance to convince your superiors to adopt it so, like an entrepreneur pitching to a venture capitalist, you need to thoroughly do your research and be prepared to prove your idea will yield a return on your company’s investment before you pitch it to decision-makers.

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Once you know what your capabilities are, you can brainstorm what type of intrapreneur you want to become. Ask yourself these questions to get started:

  • Is there a new product idea that you think would be a great addition to your company’s offerings?
  • Do you know how to make a current product or initiative like an email marketing campaign more successful?
  • Does your company have a long-standing problem or inefficiency that you can develop a solution for?

The question(s) you said yes to will help you narrow down the scope of your intrapreneurial endeavors so you have a clear idea of your purpose and can convey that to others.

How to Pitch Your Intrapreneurship Idea

If you work for a company that embraces intrapreneurship, speak to your supervisor and colleagues to learn how your company decides what intrapreneurship projects get approved and follow the existing process.

However, if your company does not regularly support intrapreneurship ventures, you need to convince your superiors why your project idea should be approved. Here’s how:

Define why your project matters

How does your idea contribute to your company’s overall mission? Strive to create a personal connection between the company and your project. It is impossible for us to make decisions without using the part of our brain that controls emotions, so to be persuasive and influential you must first explain why your idea matters before jumping into its specifications.

Watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk to learn the power of starting with why.

Gather data and prove that your idea supports your company’s bottom-line

If you’re working for a company who does not regularly support creative, employee-pitched projects, you need to show them that the risk they take on you being allowed to pursue your project with a lot of autonomy will yield a positive return for the company.

If you don’t already have them, making friends with people in your company’s finance department is a great way to learn the style and structure of your company’s financial report so you know how to present your evidence to them in a compelling way.

Explain the plan

When your superiors first hear your idea, they may be skeptical about its viability and whether or not you are capable of delivering on your promises. Have a detailed implementation plan that includes estimated dates for milestone completions and benchmarks.

This will help relieve their concerns about how it is going to be done and will reassure decision-makers that they are going to invest in an idea that has a structure, timeline and method for measuring growth and success.

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