The economies of the world are in a constant state of change. Every industry has the potential to suddenly become a roller coaster of financial ups and downs. Having a degree in any particular field is no longer a guarantee for a secure job, or monetary stability. Entrepreneurship is now seen as a way of navigating an unclear future. The abilities to adapt, be agile and shift focus in developing a product or building a service are invaluable in clearing a path through the realm of business.

The entrepreneur is a unique breed.  Whereas nearly everyone can be taught the skills of decision making and problem solving, not everyone is born with the motivation needed to turn nothing into something and many existing businesses are aware of this.  These businesses provide the perfect environment for those who may possess entrepreneurial talent but who are not necessarily compelled to come up with the next, great startup from scratch.

What is an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs are essentially the same thing. Having either title requires that an individual be remarkably innovative, patient and resourceful. Both types of “preneurs” must be willing to be inventive and take risks.

The biggest difference between the two is where they decide to use their skills. An intrapreneur is someone with entrepreneurial ability who utilizes his or her creative streak within a bigger company. Intrapreneurs take existing businesses and transform them. Whereas an entrepreneur would take an idea and build a business around it, an intrapreneur takes an existing business and branches it out into uncharted waters. In a September 1985 Newsweek article, Steve Jobs was quoted as saying, “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship; only a few years before the term was coined—a group of people going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company.”

Examples of Intrapreneurship

There are plenty of examples of successful intrapreneurs. All the way back in 1943, the so-called “Skunk Works” group a.k.a. Advanced Development Programs at Lockheed Martin, devoted their work to revolutionary projects outside of the company’s direct strategy. This group ended up pioneering several famous aircraft designs. Spencer Silver and Art Fry’s development of post-it notes at 3m is also an impressive example of intrapreneurship.

Modern day technology companies like Hewlett Packard and Intel enact policies to support intrapreneurs. Google is famous for having employees take “20% time”. This is where everyone, mainly engineers, are encouraged to work on anything they think is innovative and cool. They receive the backing and support to come up with all new products. Their concept of “20% time” has turned out some incredible products, most notably, Gmail and Google Sky.

Two of today’s most popular gaming systems also stemmed from the work of intrapreneurs. Sony’s Playstation was born out of Ken Kutaragi’s critical reception of his daughter’s Nintendo console, while he was working at Sony Labs. While still working at Sony, he started putting together a cd-rom based gaming system that eventually became the Playstation. A few years later, Robbie Bach and J Allard’s Microsoft team saw the Playstation dominating the market. They started an enormous project that would have been impossible without working under the umbrella of Microsoft research. It became the wildly successful Xbox console.

The Importance of Intrapreneurs

Intrapreneurs are responsible for keeping companies current. They are the energy behind new ventures that make big businesses stay profitable. Recently we have seen what can happen to companies that do not actively invest in intrapreneurship.  Take a look at Kodak and RIM.  Perhaps if they had put greater focus on evolving, their products and companies would be in much better situations currently.

It is extremely important for schools to teach the basics of entrepreneurship. Whether or not every student becomes the next Bill Gates does not matter. Entrepreneurial skills can translate themselves into a number of applications. Those who have these valuable skills are capable of doing anything from opening their own clothing store, to leading the team at Apple that comes up with the next iPad.

Are you an intrapreneur? Or do you think you could be?  Let us know about your experiences in the comments.