Many entrepreneurs start accumulating experience, contacts and education by working for companies first. These intrapreneurs have all the same characteristics as entrepreneurs, including the ability to take risks, sell their ideas and see opportunities where others don't. They choose to work for a company in order to test ideas, learn from mistakes and prepare themselves to eventually have their own businesses. A company can act as a venture capital firm in this way, and the main difference is that an employee almost never has the rights to what they create.
Intrapreneurship has been around since 3M developed Post-It notes back in 1977 and is even more popular today as companies leverage their employees to innovate and stay competitive in the marketplace. Some examples include DreamWorks, where employees take free classes to learn how to pitch their ideas and are then able to pitch them directly to executives, and Facebook's "hackathons," where engineers collaborate on software projects that have turned into real features for the site including the infamous "like" button. There's a lot you don't know about intrapreneurship, but through my research, I've uncovered a few interesting findings that reveal more about how supportive companies are and how it can lead to entrepreneurial ventures later.
1. Managers are actually willing to support intrapreneurial employees. In a new study in partnership with American Express, we found that 58 percent of managers are either very willing or extremely willing to support employees who want to chase business opportunities. Managers believe that the best employees will be more than their job description and seek additional responsibilities outside of their day-to-day activities. Intrapreneurship projects actually make managers look really good because it shows that they are innovating, thinking outside of the box and delivering more value to the overall organization. Intrapreneurs work longer hours, are more productive and their creativity and passion are infectious, so the entire team benefits.
2. The majority of workers still don't believe they can become an intrapreneur. In a study with Monster.com, we found that less than one third of workers feel they have the freedom, flexibility and resources to be an intrapreneur. From their perspective, they already have enough on their plates and it's hard to do more without additional incentives and flexibility. They are also afraid of getting fired and stepping on their managers' toes. Most companies still don't have formal intrapreneur programs, so it's not an obvious career path for employees to select. When you're starting a job, there's a lot of pressure to focus on your current job responsibilities, so you end up trying to avoid all distractions. Innovative companies embrace entrepreneurial-minded employees, and they rely on them to move business forward.
3. Intrapreneurship is a stepping stone to entrepreneurship. Some 94 percent of intrapreneurs think they have the required skills and knowledge to start a firm of their own, and 76 percent say that fear of failure would not prevent them from starting a business, reports the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. We've seen many examples of this, including Dave Morin, who co-created the Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect before starting his own company called Path. He established a strong reputation, visibility and skills at Facebook, which he was able to leverage in order to establish his own business. Of course, some entrepreneurs don't need to work at companies or even go to college, but the corporate world can certainly help increase your odds of success and its own path to achieving it.
Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the founder of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin's Press, 2013).