After completing their college degree, new graduates are equipped with an arsenal of talents. Skills learned from classes and internships are just a fraction of what new grads have to contribute to the future. And for the most part, they have two places to take those skills: graduate school or the real world. For the very ambitious, the path into the real world may lead to entrepreneurship. While starting a business may seem desirable for motivated grads with fresh ideas, such a venture also comes with a load of challenges.
So how do people prepare themselves for entrepreneurship? Internships and part-time jobs can certainly be helpful, but are typically light years from taking complete responsibility of a company. In the mid-80s, Gifford Pinchot coined the term "intrapreneur" to describe employees of large corporations hired to think and act as entrepreneurs. New grads may find that an intrapreneurship is just what they need to discover first hand all the ups and down of being an entrepreneur.
Pinchot defines intrapreneurship as "behaving like an entrepreneur when you’re employed at a large corporation for the benefit of the corporation as a whole" and believes employment as an intrapreneur prior to trying a hand at entrepreneurship is a great way to get your foot into the entrepreneurial door.
"I think it’s a very smart way to go if you want to be an entrepreneur, because you can learn using someone else’s money," Pinchot says. "And you’ll presumably get guidance and help."
Pinchot also says a big part of being an intrapreneur is listening to the marketplace. "Intrapreneurs are involved in innovation, so when you’re doing new things you never know what the right answer is," he says. "You do your best and learn from feedback."
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The major advantage of an intrapreneurship is obvious: you can see what it’s like to run your own business. Pinchot believes grads can get a chance to experience much of the agonies of an entrepreneurial career as well as many of the joys. "As an intrapreneur, you learn what it takes to start a business and you develop the necessary skills," he says. "Those skills are transferable to entrepreneurship."
According to Pinchot, there is a certain skill set necessary for success in both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial positions that include, "the ability to deal with uncertainty, and the ability to take a complex goal and break it down into a series of steps and then work diligently to accomplish each step along the way."
In addition to a particular set of skills, there are character traits that make a successful intrapreneur or entrepreneur. "The most successful are risk takers who are driven by a vision of something that is better in the world," Pinchot says. "They are honest and use a balance of intuition and analysis to make their decisions."
Not all qualities are the same for entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. While companies admire an intrapreneur who is an independent thinker, being too independent could cause problems. The biggest different between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship, according to Pinchot, is that an intrapreneur has to deal with authority figures. ‘So if you absolutely cannot stand to be told what to do by others, you may not do well as an intrapreneur," he says.
How to find one
Pinhot suggests finding companies who are interested in innovation and talking to them about how they think innovation happens. He also thinks that it’s important to find the right person to work for to get what you want out of the experience. "You get a lot of support when you’re with a big company, but you can also get a lot of resistance," Pinchot says. "In many cases the support out ways the resistance, but I think it’s a matter of finding a boss who wants you to be creative with different things."
But if a grad’s academic appetite still isn’t satisfied after a bachelor’s degree, graduate school may be a good option. Pinchot is currently president of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, a grad school that offers MBAs in sustainable business. "We are distinguished by our focus on sustainability, as well as our focus on entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship."
In the past, Pinchot says, intrapreneurship has been a part of the institute’s program, but it has recently been pulled out to be taught separately. Bainbridge is currently preparing a course in intrapreneurship itself, which Pinchot hopes will be taught starting in fall 2006.
Intrapreneurship can be a rewarding career in itself or a pathway to a successful entrepreneurial career. Whichever way you choose to go, Pinchot has some serious advice for turning any idea into profitable business: "Don’t just sit there! Start steps to put your idea into action!"
More information about Bainbridge Graduate Institute.
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