Start-Up Roundtable Intrapreneurship_Photov2

Published on June 19th, 2013 | by Danny Roberts


A New Age of Entrepreneurship

It is almost impossible to do anything spectacular completely on your own. Unless you’re an incredibly talented (and lucky) artist, writer or entrepreneur, your best shot of having any sort of effect on the world will be from within an organization.

Many people, myself included, cringe at the thought of it. These big organizations appear so stifling, so constraining, so dull and structured. But we all see changes we’d like to make and these institutions—and the people within them—are in a good position to make them.

That’s where this courageous new kind of person comes in—the intrapreneur, or as they are sometimes called, corporate social entrepreneurs.

It’s a risky venture, much like being an entrepreneur. You put your ass on the line, so to speak, and failure isn’t just possible, it’s likely.

But we’re looking at the rise of a new generation at the moment, and with it a new set of values. The next batch of workers and leaders has cut their teeth amidst financial, political and economic uncertainty. And our unprecedented access to information has revealed the ugly side of what happens in boardrooms, CEO offices and the halls of power.

Take Wal-Mart for example. It’s the classic crap company. They crush small business with their superior purchasing power, buy off politicians, prevent their workers from unionizing, pay their workers such dismal wages that they are forced to depend on government social programs, do business with anyone including companies with terrible environmental records and seem to have no regard for anything but the fact that they make nearly $25,000 per second.

Only one of two things can change the way Wal-Mart operates: 1) Consumers catch-on and boycott the company until they change their ways or 2) Somebody with a moral backbone and balls of steel within the company convinces Wal-Mart execs that there’s a better way to do business.

It takes a certain kind of person possessing vision, creativity and the courage to stand up for their values in the face of skeptical, battle-hardened execs and managers. But it can be done. And for any of you out there interested in taking up this task, there are a few helpful tips to consider:

  • Keep your ideas away from the higher-ups for as long as possible, at least until you have something pretty convincing to show them and sell your idea.
  • Don’t ask for company funds for as long as possible. The more you can do on your own, the more impressed your superiors will be when your idea starts working out.
  • Have a master plan before looking for approval.
  • Act like a boss.

And don’t worry, it’s worked for other people before.

Intrapreneurs have already changed the landscape of business in companies like Nestle, Citibank and Google. In fact, Google execs have been so impressed by the efforts and results of their intrapreneurs (which include such now-commonplace applications as AdSense and Gmail) that they allow employees to spend up to 20% of their work time working on whatever innovative, creative projects they desire.

It all goes hand-in-hand with the notion of “high road capitalism,” the theory of which is that you can treat your employees well, not destroy the environment, provide quality products or services to your customers and still make money. And it seems to me that the theme running through modern-day entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs is a shared sense of these business values. If we as a generation stick to these, then companies like Wal-Mart won’t have any choice but to stagnate and flail or keep up with the times. And if they don’t think it’s worth it, we’ll be happy to provide some competition—which brings me to start-ups.

If you’re working in a start-up, you’re either an entrepreneur or reporting directly to an entrepreneur. Times are tough, stress runs high and money runs low. But think of the possibilities available to mold a new company into viable, high road competition for the seemingly entrenched business and social institutions currently shaping our societies today. You’ve got ideas, you’re creative and you’re an innovator. You have a chance to lay it all out, take a risk and potentially see some awesome results for your efforts. And for those in a position to allow or not allow your team to innovate, remember why you hired them in the first place and give it a shot.

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