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How Big Companies Can Make The Intrapreneur Sexy Again

Alexander Osterwalder

To be an entrepreneur is sexy. It comes with fame and prestige and money. Why can’t intrapreneurs be given that same career track for business innovation inside of a large company? Prestige in a big company means fat budgets and large staff, so perhaps we have to transform what prestige means for a corporation? In this post I share a few thoughts on how this role can be important again.

Companies know that they need to build new growth engines, but they’re not really sure how to go about doing this. A company might try to create internal startups or an internal culture, but rarely does the organization go all-in with its intentions.

More importantly, it’s still a rarity to see really empowered entrepreneurs inside of a large company--they’re seen more as pirates or rebels. It’s why the expression “intrapreneur” never really took off even though it’s a relevant label for someone building a new venture inside of a big company in an entrepreneurial context. Organizations are streamlined to execute an existing business model, anything outside of that risks being shot down by “organizational antibodies”.

Anyone who has built anything (inside or outside of an existing company) knows you can’t just wiggle it out of your sleeve. It’s a full time job and companies need a role to address this.

The intrapreneur doesn’t exist in most companies because people who manage new growth initiatives, especially in senior levels, have more execution based roles. The “entrepreneur” in an organization is usually responsible for or associated with R&D.

But the existing R&D structures inside of large companies are rarely focused on the search for new value propositions and business models. R&D is generally focused on technology or product innovation that helps improve the existing business model; it rarely prepares the company for future business model environments. It’s why we see big companies get disrupted: they aren’t prepared to explore new areas. We’ve seen this in well-known companies like Kodiak or Nokia.

Recommended Read: What Nokia Can Teach You About Resilience 

Intrapreneurs deserve to benefit a lot more from the potential they create for a company.

What comes closest to the intrapreneur today is probably the project manager or project leaders. Those aren’t decision making roles, they just manage projects. They don’t have the power to make fast, bold and important decisions. They have to report back to someone with more power; someone who has an execution role.

Big companies need someone who has the power to act fast, to be agile and make quick decisions like an entrepreneur. Intrapreneurs have to be able to make the pivots and necessary changes when required. That power also has to be coupled with new processes and incentives that reflect the role. Intrapreneurs deserve to be legitimized.

The intrapreneur is in service to the mother company.

There are serious advantages to having a powerful and decisive Intrapreneur. For starters, the Intrapreneur can harness existing resources to leverage from the host or parent company. They can draw on the brand, the sales team, even customers. Next to that, the Intrapreneur constantly has his or her ear to the market; regularly interacts with customers to understand and update their jobs, pains, and gains. She is constantly designing and then experimenting with new business models and value propositions that can benefit the big corporation.

hese people exist in companies today, but they don’t have a space to live out their skills. They’re often sidelined by the organizational antibodies who focus on the execution of the existing business model and are made irrelevant. It’s a horrible recipe for retaining top talent that can invent your future. Companies will be stuck with a staff that is excellent at executing a known business model, but are incapable of creating the future.

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