A growing number of young people are eschewing university studies in favor of pursuing a career as an entrepreneur. It’s hard to argue with the decision to avoid crushing student loan debt in pursuit of an education that often leaves graduates with poor employment prospects and little career direction.  

Aspiring entrepreneurs point to the likes of Steven Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who managed to amass fortunes after dropping out of college. Unfortunately, for every Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg, there are hundreds of thousands of failed entrepreneurs living in their parents’ basements.

The difference between success and failure is more than just luck. While many universities do a poor job in preparing individuals to be entrepreneurs, prospective new business owners need to learn how to be successful somewhere. And the place to best place to learn may be inside a traditional workplace, by becoming an intrapreneur.

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An intrapreneur is an individual who works for another but one who treats his or her job as if he or she were running a company within a company.

One industry where an intrapreneurial spirit is especially valuable is the rapidly growing field of environmental, health and safety and sustainability consultancies. A good consultant in this field need to be able to manage clients, work independently, make sound business decisions and have strong personal and business ethics and vision.

In short, he or she needs all the things it takes to be a good entrepreneur. But the nature of the work -- travelling to remote areas conducting environmental-impact studies, conducting health and safety audits in many, geographically diverse, industrial settings or meeting with top business leaders to discuss plans for sustaining their business far into the future -- can make it tough for a young entrepreneur to succeed. But intrapreneurs, on the other hand, can enjoy the advantages offered by an existing company's global footprint, while retaining many of the perks of being an entrepreneur.

There are some strong advantages to being an intrapreneur before striking it out on your own. Intrapreneurs do the following:

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1. They earn while they learn. Every employer is capable of teaching you important lessons about what to do and what not to do. Learning how to market, sell, govern and run a business while earning a salary not only allows you to gain valuable business skills but also allow you to save up much needed capital.

2. They tend to be top performers and excel in the corporate environment. Because intrapreneurs are successful at their jobs, they tend to be promoted quickly and are allowed to bid on other jobs within the company to keep them happy. Companies want to retain intrapreneurs and will often invest more to develop and hone their business skills.

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3. They face far less risk. When you are an entrepreneur, even a seemingly small failure can cause catastrophic fallout that tarnishes the brand and may even destroy the company. Intrapreneurs have the opportunity to fail inside an environment that is more forgiving. An intrapreneur who makes a bad decision may get fired but seldom risks long-term career consequences.

The keys to being a successful intrapreneur include having the following qualities:

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1. Patience. Intrapreneurship is not a shortcut to success. Just as an MBA takes six years (or more) to earn, gaining real-life work experience takes time.   

2. Ambition. A successful intrapreneur has to crave success and see every assignment as a step toward an ultimate goal.

3. Humility. Just as you wouldn’t walk into a college course and inform the professor he or she doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, a good intrapreneur expects to start at the bottom.

4. Political skills. Everyone you meet in the workplace -- whether you like them or not -- is potentially a key contact when you launch your company. The person you meet in the mailroom today may well be in the boardroom tomorrow. When it comes to connecting with people, everyone matters.  

Many young idealistic professionals are drawn to the environmental, safety and sustainability profession because they see it as a way to change the world. That’s tough to do as an entrepreneur but its far easier as part of a team of intrapreneurs. 

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