The Entrepreneur Inside

How many times have you thought to yourself "I could do that better if only there was…" "why doesn’t this…?" Sound familiar? If so, I suggest you read on as you may well be suppressing the thing many employers are seeking — your entrepreneurial spirit. If you have been frustrated at work or the world around you and know of a way to do things better, seize your opportunity to shine

Entrepreneurs are usually thought of as individuals, coming up with an idea and starting their own business. But times are changing; now we are seeing the rise of the ‘intrapreneur’ — the individual who acts entrepreneurially inside an established organisation to launch new products, services or even improve the existing way of doing things. It is also not always just about driving profit; many intrapreneurial innovations are linked with improving society and in turn building a better working world. 

The main difference between a traditional entrepreneur and the entrepreneur inside is the context within which they operate. An entrepreneur strikes out on their own and often starts with a blank canvas; whereas an intrapreneur usually has access to existing resources and support from their employer but has to balance their zeal with the organisation’s appetite for risk and wider company objectives. 

The characteristics required for both are similar. Both require ambition, creativity, a clear vision, resilience and strong communication skills. However internal entrepreneurs often have a greater need and desire to work with others and within an existing infrastructure rather than starting from ‘ground zero’. 

 EY’s recent research suggests that more and more people are being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Over two thirds of 25-34 year olds who work in large organisations aspire to run their own business. 

Whilst I am encouraged by these findings, they also pose a challenge to established businesses: how can corporations harness the entrepreneurial spirit of their employees and enable them to realise their intrapreneurial ambitions within their organisations rather than going it alone? 

It is important to remember that not everyone is likely to set up their own business, it is however in everyone’s capacity to act entrepreneurially. 

Businesses employ millions of people and are the drivers of growth for our economy. But they will only continue to drive growth and act as agents for change within society if they are able to nurture the latent entrepreneurial talent they employ. I think it is essential that those working in businesses have the same mindsets as the entrepreneurs operating outside working on their own endeavours.   

EY’s research also indicates that whilst entrepreneurial appetite is high, many want to remain with their employers rather than striking out on their own. Almost half of those surveyed intend to stay with their current organisation for more than four years; probably driven by the desire for stability and a regular income stream and perception of it being less risky to work for a larger organisation. Whilst it might sound counter-intuitive, businesses can act as the perfect breeding ground for entrepreneurs.

This is not a cause for complacency though. When questioned on drivers for changing roles, over a third of 25- 34 year olds working in corporations surveyed by EY said that if they were to leave their current employer they would be looking for more encouragement to innovate/be entrepreneurial. This alone should be a wake-up call for businesses to act to ensure they not only attract entrepreneurial talent but can retain and get the very best from their employees.   

It is clear that many businesses are not currently doing enough to nurture the entrepreneurs in their ranks. More than 40% of respondents said they have ideas that could create opportunities or revenue for their organisation. However the survey uncovered frustrations linked to company structure and culture hindering employees from achieving their ambitions, with more than 45% of respondents saying that they have not been able to implement their ideas within their organisations.

 This raises two problems. Businesses are failing both to realise significant potential growth opportunities and failing to retain talent — their intrapreneurs. We operate in a knowledge economy and in an ever competitive economic landscape it is essential for businesses to continue to innovate and stay ahead of their competition. In order to do this they need to embrace entrepreneurialism and empower their employees who in turn can help develop the new propositions required to stay relevant in the market.   

Be rest assured though, acting intrapreneurially is not necessarily about developing the next multimillion pound breakthrough for your business. It is also about incremental changes; thinking of ways in your day to day work that you can improve and do things differently. Not only is this good for business but also for the individual. An entrepreneurial mindset will help an individual to constantly re-invent themselves to stay relevant and continuously add value in whatever situation they may find themselves. 

So now you know that you are not alone what do you need to succeed as an entrepreneur within an organisation? There are three main facets which intrapreneurship boils down to: leadership, connections and experimentation. 

Let us start with leadership. One of my all time favourite quotes is…

Be the Change you wish to see in the world 

 – Mahatma Gandhi –   

 Intrapreneurship is about leadership. You need to sell your vision and get people to buy into you and what you’re hoping to achieve whether that be potential employees to work for you, investors to invest in you or customers to buy from you. Gandhi’s quote is my personal mantra as it summarises an attitude we should all have in business and in life. It’s about taking ownership over the situations you are in. 

I’m sure there have been situations where you have found yourself frustrated by something but thought that someone else would fix it? This can particularly be the case if you work in a large organisation and there are lots of people above you in the hierarchy. However it’s a sign of inertia and complacency — both traits which are the enemies of an intrapreneur. If you don’t like something do something about it. 

It’s about taking responsibility and stepping up to the challenge. Don’t wait for others; don’t be a follower — be a leader.  

Secondly there are connections — joining the dots is an important skill. In a business environment you need to look out for trends and make connections in your mind between things you see and hear to pre-empt what may follow. This helps you gain new insights and knowledge about the world in which you operate whilst potentially inspiring you to think of your next innovation.

You also need to be good at networking — connecting with people and connecting other people in your network to each other. The first thing is to make a conscious effort to expand your network and get to know new people. Share your passions, thoughts and ideas and don’t be afraid to seek feedback and ask for help.

As clichéd as the saying goes, in business ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ so you should constantly be striving to expand your network and adding value to it by facilitating introductions between people you already know.

By becoming the ‘node’ in your network you will find yourself becoming a magnet for opportunities and able to tap into a vast range of expertise to help you in your own career.

Finally it is about experimentation. Rarely will you hear of any entrepreneur — whether they work for themselves, or for a multi-national organisation with a straight line trajectory to success. It’s almost always the case of a stop-start journey and rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.

About the author

Rajeeb Dey is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Enternships. He was names as one of the 1,000 Most Influential People in London by The Evening Standard and as the O2 X Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009. He became the youngest recipient of the Queen's Award for Enterprise Promotion in 2013.