Intrapreneurship is evidently currently a hot topic, This week I received notifications of two different Intrapreneurship Conferences in New York City in October 2015. One October 21 – 23rd, simply called the Intrapreneurship Conference states it is the 6th edition and another one called the Corporate Innovation Summit on October 8th states it is a spin-off event. I have no personal knowledge of either event so can not report on them, but I do have roughly 20 years of personal experience as an Intrapreneur at Bose and Apple in the corporate world, in higher education at Cogswell Polytechnical College and at DARPA probably one of the speediest, most progressive and best funded technology think tanks in the US Government.

Bottom Line – Intrapreneurship Works especially well in innovation cultures and seems to follow some common progressions of steps to be described below but first lets define the term.

An intrapreneur is an internal Entrepreneur, meaning they have significantly less responsibility to make things happen than most entrepreneurs who have to generate the resources to meet a payroll. As entrepreneurs take greater risks they also enjoy much greater potential rewards. The largest difference is resources. The second largest difference is politics. And with one, comes the other. Having lived on both sides of this street, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Experience as either one is helpful preparation to be the other. Large companies acquire small companies all of the time and attempt to convert entrepreneurs into intrapreneurs with mixed results, but this is not what this discussion is about.

It is about the simple fact that being an intrapreneur is a terrific way to be an innovator. In person interactions, conferences and attending events do rule but for a lot less investment here are several important lessons.

  1. Learn how to create and maintain relationships with people who can provide air cover. You are going to need it as soon as others are threatened by having to share resources, essentially immediately, as you can not begin without resources. You can not fake relationships. You have to care about the people who care about you. If you can not, life is going to very hard. And do not be duplicitous everyone can tell. You have to be authentic.
  2. Expect to have to work just as hard as an entrepreneur just in different dimensions. Large organizations do not like to change even if they claim they want to. And no, you are not likely to get rich doing it internally. This means your motivation has to be more than money. You really have to want to make this happen as it will cost you personally unless you have enormous innovation vitality and resilience. Of course when you succeed, then you are a hero and it all feels worth it, but this may take a few years.
  3. Try very hard to do this within an innovation culture. You can spend years and get no where if the values of the organization do not include supporting new ideas, tolerating mistakes, and valuing intangibles. It is not very likely that you are going to change a corporate culture just because you are present. The only company you can be sure to dramatically impact the culture of, is the one you are a founder of.
  4. If you can, try to innovate in ways that are complimentary to what the company thinks their main business is. While this seems obvious, make sure you do know what business your enterprise is in and what business models it subscribes to.  Also be aware that people who help you are probably risking some political capital by taking you and your cause on. Their careers can be hurt. When you act, put yourself in the other persons place.
  5. Search to identify and support proof points before you are asked for them. There have to be intermediate goals to spread the risk out over smaller steps. Make sure you can set and manage expectations, because things never turn out exactly how you expect them to and that is part of the fun. Innovation requires quite a bit of improvisation but even seasoned improvisors try to ascertain as quickly as possible what key and tempo they are playing in or cacophony results. Do anticipated homework before you are asked. Offer decision makers something they can say yes to.

There are plenty more lessons, but these basics can get you launched and for those of you who can make it to New York City this fall, each of the two conferences entrance fee is $1000 as an early bird, decent Manhattan rooms are usually upwards of $250 per night, even Air BnB is $100 or more, and plane tickets are another few hundred. Even parking a car is $50 or more per day. It is hard to get to any conference for less than one or two thousand dollars, not counting your time, but this could be a great place to start – ask your company to pay for you to go and explain why this is a great investment for them as you intend to shake things up and this will reduce the risk somewhat. If you do not have the courage to let your boss you are going to shake things up and ask for a couple of grand, perhaps you should rethink being an intrapreneur?