Most people have some sense or idea of what an entrepreneur is and does – but what is an intrapreneur? How are the two terms related to or different from each other? In this article, we want to explore the question of entrepreneur vs intrapreneur and show you which career path might be more suitable for you.
What Is an Entrepreneur?
Before we can learn more about the specifics of an intrapreneur, we should first settle our understanding of the term entrepreneur. When you think about entrepreneurship, you associate it foremost with someone who is seeking to create something new. On a basic level, an entrepreneur takes a business idea and builds it into something more practical and financially workable.
Naturally, there are risks involved in putting time, energy, and resources into a brand-new business. As the founder and person responsible for the success or failure of this new endeavour, an entrepreneur is the person who bears all the potential risks. However, they also reap all the rewards for their business if it is successful. At its core, an entrepreneur is a creator of a business that generates goods or services and labour.
What Is an Intrapreneur?
Given that definition of an entrepreneur, what is an intrapreneur? As the prefix “intra” already hints at, an intrapreneur is someone who works on entrepreneurial endeavours as an employee from within an existing business. This intrapreneur has leadership skills and is highly motivated to contribute to their company meaningfully. Hence, their employers give them extra liberties and responsibilities to achieve these intrapreneurial projects.
Considering the power dynamics and hierarchies within a company, an intrapreneur has a certain level of financial security despite taking risks for the business. They do not bear the full scope of those risks and also do not get to reap all benefits and rewards from their efforts.
Entrepreneur vs Intrapreneur – What Are the Key Differences?
There are several differences between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur. We want to highlight three key factors that explain the distinction between the two terms.
As the basic definitions hinted towards already, an entrepreneur is the founder of a new enterprise. Unlike an intrapreneur, an entrepreneur shoulders the entire weight of this new business venture’s successes and failures. Therefore, the risks an entrepreneur takes upon themselves are much greater than an intrapreneur will face. The scale and responsibilities are simply different.
Another key difference between entrepreneur vs intrapreneur is the main objective. An entrepreneur seeks to introduce a new, innovative organisation that creates labour, goods, and, thus, capital. An intrapreneur works to improve and enhance the company they’re working for and their products. They do not build a business from the ground up, but increase their employer’s business and production value. An entrepreneur has to consider the new enterprise’s every detail to get it running smoothly and successfully, whereas an intrapreneur has a more limited focus on the specific projects they work on.
Last, the very nature of being a founder of a business means that an entrepreneur doesn’t have to answer to any superiors. Since they are responsible for the company, they make important decisions without depending on anyone else. Of course, there can be multiple founders of a company who then have to answer to each other and distribute responsibilities.
An entrepreneur has limitless liberties with how they want to run their business – at least in theory. Naturally, the input of investors and clients or other responsibilities can affect an entrepreneur’s business decisions. An intrapreneur has to answer to their superiors and depend on them for greenlighting important decisions. The extent of these limitations also depends on how much responsibility and trust their superiors put upon them.
What Do Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs Have in Common?
After discussing the core differences between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur, you might wonder what qualities are left that they have in common. These qualities mainly concern the mindset of these individuals.
Both an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur have to be driven and ambitious people. A non-motivated person will most likely not start their own business. The same applies to an intrapreneur who has to put in extra effort in order to enhance their company. Without a certain drive and above-average motivation, these projects are more likely to fail.
Another quality that they both share is courage and optimism. An entrepreneur and intrapreneur both need a positive outlook on their respective projects in order for them to be successful. An entrepreneur especially needs to be good at taking calculated risks that ideally pay off in the end. While it is on a different scale given its nature, an intrapreneur still faces that same obstacle. Without these two character traits, they will be less likely to succeed.
Lastly, both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have to be creative and quick thinkers. In both positions, the ability to solve problems as efficiently as possible is key to success. They both need this creativity in the very essence of their objectives. Without a creative mind, neither an entrepreneur nor an intrapreneur will innovatively use their resources to create the best possible products and generate the most capital.
Do You Need a Different Skill Set for Intrapreneurship?
There is one more key quality that a good entrepreneur and intrapreneur alike should have: leadership skills. They both operate as leaders in their respective projects. For an entrepreneur, the stakes are higher as they bear more responsibility, but an intrapreneur needs just the same ability to lead a project. After all, an intrapreneur is essentially an entrepreneur from within a company. Thus, while there are differences between the two, the most important skills required are quite similar.
Arguably, the different risk factors imply an intrapreneur may need slightly less courage and fewer problem-solving skills. Intrapreneurs are people who enjoy the safety net of the company they work for. Most qualities the two share in common simply operate at different levels of intensity. The skill set for intrapreneurship is not that different from those required for entrepreneurship.
Should You Be an Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur?
Considering that the skill set is not that different and the positions operate in similar ways, which career path should you consider? The answer to this question is very subjective. If you are more risk-averse and like financial safety, you might want to work towards becoming an intrapreneur. As someone who is creative and ambitious, you will fit in well with the company you want to get to the next level – from within. Despite shared responsibilities and answering to superiors, you want to thrive and execute ideas for the cause you believe in.
If you are a risk-taker and enjoy maximum control you fit the description of an entrepreneur. As the founder of a business, you create opportunities for yourself and others and reap most of the rewards yourself. Innovation and an intense level of ambition combined with excellent leadership skills will make for the perfect recipe for the success of your new business venture.
Can an Intrapreneur Become an Entrepreneur – and Vice Versa?
Let’s say you’ve chosen one of the two paths but you wonder if you could explore the other option as well. Is it really entrepreneur vs intrapreneur, one or the other? Or is it possible to be an entrepreneur first and then change into the career of an intrapreneur? The answer is yes. It is possible to be an entrepreneur first and then become an intrapreneur. The same also applies for the opposite route.
Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, is a good example of both options. Buchheit first developed Gmail while working for Google as an intrapreneur. He later left the company to found his own enterprise. After that, Buchheit sold his new business and returned to being an employee for a different company – Facebook. He is one example that shows the potential fluidity between being an intrapreneur and entrepreneur.
Despite entrepreneurs being more familiar, intrapreneurs share significant similarities with them. They are creative leaders who have to take risks in order for their projects to succeed. Which path you pursue depends entirely on the vision you have and the amount of control you want. You should consider risk factors and how much you value safety, especially financially.
There is no right or wrong way to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours. The question of entrepreneur vs intrapreneur depends on your personal goals. There is no better or worse option between the two forms of leadership and innovation. It simply depends on what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.