What is the difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur, especially when it comes to small business – and which one are you at heart?
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I’m going to go through the definitions of each (entrepreneur vs. intrapreneur), the common characteristics I’ve seen over multiple decades working as or with entrepreneurs, the responsibilities of each, how to know which is right for you, that’s the most important plus a really important smack-down at the end for anyone tempted to think they know which one is superior.
Definition of entrepreneur
So, what is an entrepreneur?
Let’s go through the traditional definition which is: a person who starts, organizes, or operates a business, taking on the risk. This came into usage in the 1800s originating from the French word: “to undertake” and the English word “enterprise”.
Characteristics of an Entrepreneur
Here are some characteristics of an entrepreneur that you might see in yourself.
- More comfortable taking risks.
- Tend to be the type of personality who likes change, they like adventure, they like a challenge.
- Have strong opinions or strong ideas. They usually see better ways of doing things.
- Aren’t afraid to push the envelope or break the rules to do it.
- Often have big ideas but they can struggle to materialize those ideas.
- Tend to dislike stability or structure.
- Have a bad habit of working too much sometimes, in part because they genuinely love what they do.
My entrepreneur dad used to always say, “Entrepreneurs are the crazy people who’d rather work 80 hours for themselves, than 40 hours for someone else.”
Responsibilities of an Entrepreneur
So, what are the responsibilities of an entrepreneur?
Along with taking on the risks, entrepreneurs also take on more responsibility – they are responsible for the decision-making and direction of the business, they take on the debt, they provide the necessary ideas, they come up with the necessary resources to see those ideas through.
But with all that extra responsibility, comes the reward.
While they don’t have the safety of a regular paycheck especially in the beginning, when an entrepreneur is succeeding, they reap the benefit both in unlimited time and financial freedom. Hit the like button if you’d like more of both of those things…
Definition of Intrapreneur
So, what’s the difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur?
The word intrapreneur came into usage in the 1970s from the shortened form of entrepreneur plus the word “intra” meaning “within” or “on the inside”.
Intrapreneurs are people who work within a business, often in a more innovative role. They tend to take on the responsibility – whether by choice or by design – of the growth of the company.
Characteristics of an Intrapreneur:
The characteristics of an intrapreneur are somewhat similar to an entrepreneur.
- Tend to also love a challenge.
- See better ways of doing things, but aren’t open or aren’t ready to do those things alone.
- Prefer the opportunities, the learning, and the experience that comes from working within another company.
- Both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs tend to take initiative, although intrapreneurs are taking initiative on more than just their own ideas, they’re really making sure that the vision of the entrepreneur is moving forward.
- Tend to like working collaboratively versus alone.
- Like to have some guidelines or some rules to work within. It helps them to have a little bit more structure.
Responsibilities of an Intrapreneur
The responsibilities are different.
They’re going to take on the responsibility of tasks and in some roles, the responsibility of the outcome, but they’re usually not the main decision-maker. While they’re usually resourceful, they aren’t responsible for coming up with resources. They’re responsible for taking an idea – often from the entrepreneur or someone else in the business – and running with it.
Which Is Right For You?
If you were to boil all of this down, to whether someone is a good fit for entrepreneurship versus intrapreneurship, it really comes down to this: risk and reward, versus stability.
Where the entrepreneur moves towards risk, an intrapreneur tends to be more risk-averse. They don’t tolerate the fear of the unknown as well, they prefer the security, reliability, or consistency that comes with having a regular paycheck that they can rely on. Although, they do usually want to do work they love and can find fulfillment in, versus just a job that pays the bills.
This is what leads a lot of potential intrapreneurs to try their hand at entrepreneurship, because finding those positions that really add value or that are meaningful and fulfilling can take some time.
Also, they might want to become entrepreneurs, because having a job gets a bad rap, especially from entrepreneurs whose needs for stability aren’t as great, who don’t understand that that’s a valid need. This is probably why so many entrepreneurs struggle to hire – because they subconsciously see the roles they’re hiring for as being somehow less special than theirs.
Which is bulls*** – the truth is, entrepreneurs WOULD DIE without intrapreneurs – people who believe in what they do, who have the desire to see the company thrive, and who want to see the benefits of their work, both personally and in the world.
Intrapreneurship is a beautiful thing.
It is a strength and skill that not everyone is willing to develop but that’s deeply needed in the world. Intrapreneurs have the ability to keep businesses honest, aligned with their values, and serving other people – not just their bottom line.
Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing.
It is a strength and skill that not everyone is willing to develop but that’s also deeply needed in the world. Entrepreneurs – especially small business owners – are responsible for the health of their communities, for taking care of their team, and for serving clients and customers well.
Being an entrepreneur does not make you more gifted, more skilled, more special…in fact, a lot of people would say it makes you more crazy.
Being an intrapreneur does not make you less special, less skilled, or less important – again, entrepreneurs wouldn’t exist and many companies fold because they don’t have intrapreneurs on their team. Comment “AMEN” if you agree with what I’m saying.
Both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs are crucial to changing how business is done. It’s time entrepreneurs stop quietly judging people for having a “j-o-b” and start realizing that they are an integral part of what makes a business function and its purpose possible.
It’s also time that we stop idolizing entrepreneurs as mavericks or superheroes, and start talking about how important it is that they partner with a team who can help them create their vision.
If you’re an intrapreneur – thank you! And if you’re an entrepreneur – thank an intrapreneur! And do what you can to provide positions for people who want to care about the work they do, even if they aren’t crazy enough to take on all the risks themselves.
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What about you, boss lady?
Ok stepping off my soapbox now, I wanna hear from you. Let me know in the comments which of these is the right fit for you right now – entrepreneur or intrapreneur – and where do you wanna be over time?
Because if you’re an intrapreneur now you can certainly develop the skills and the confidence to be an entrepreneur later.
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