Three differences between social intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs that people don’t talk about

Most literature implies that the successful intrapreneur needs most of the same attitudes and tools as the entrepreneur; in other words, that the intrapreneur is just an entrepreneur who happens to work within an established company. In fact, beyond the drive to innovate, there are arguably more differences than similarities between the two. Here are three.

#1: Skill sets:

It is not chance that determines who becomes an entrepreneur and who an intrapreneur: both require different drivers and very, very different skill sets.

A classic choice in entrepreneurship is: “king or rich?”*. In other words, would you prefer to be wealthy, and surrender some control, or to give up funding, and retain control?

While neither social entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs are likely to strike it rich, there is a marked difference in how much control each has. To navigate internal politics and make change happen within an established organization, intrapreneurs require strong skills in negotiation and stakeholder management. These are characteristics that would be valuable in any role, but they take on extra importance for an intrapreneur. This is not an area where kings would do well.

#2: Financing

Another differences between the practitioners is what types of financing, and thus financial knowledge, each is likely to require.

A social entrepreneur must be a master of creative financing, particularly at the start-up phase when there is a notable lack of available funding. This could mean anything from angel investors to impact investors to traditional donors.

In contrast, an intrapreneur is more likely to draw on internal funding. This gives them a substantial advantage in terms of flexibility and a much gentler cushion between start up and proof of concept.

#3: Objectives and Opportunities:

Social intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs are both well placed to deliver impact, but different means advantage each.

The independence of the entrepreneur lends itself more to trying new ideas and testing new solutions. However, starting from scratch makes it harder to implement at scale.

The intrapreneur faces the opposition challenges and opportunities. To succeed, ideas should have a direct relationship with the host company’s core business, strictly limiting the range of possibilities. However, successful ideas can be adapted through out the existing company structure, supporting quick scale-up.

*Wasserman, N. (2008) “The Founder’s Dilemma”, Harvard Business Review, 86(2):103-109.

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