If you have ambitions to be an entrepreneur, but don’t have an idea for a startup or lack the risk-taking mindset that might be necessary, where do you go? You go to large corporations who actual need people like you to be creative and innovative, perhaps even disruptive but not to the point of leaving the company. It’s a very fine line for management to recruit people who have the core tenants of being an entrepreneur and to effectively manage them working inside a large company. Let’s look at how these companies might define and support corporate entrepreneurship.
Corporate entrepreneurship is senior management supporting employees to think and behave like entrepreneurs within the confines of an existing organizational structure. Employees with the right vision and skills are encouraged to identify opportunities and develop ideas which lead to innovative new products, services or even new lines of business.
Corporate entrepreneurship programs, if they are so defined, should produce solutions to problems or opportunities which are disruptive in nature, rather than smaller, incremental changes. Also, innovations and new product launches tend to be led by these employees, rather than being implemented by management. So, let’s look at the types of corporate entrepreneurs who might thrive in a corporate environment where entrepreneurship is expected and rewarded and see if you can be a corporate entrepreneur.
Closet entrepreneur. This is the person in an organization who is actually a real entrepreneur but is loyal to management (to an extent), but has all the capabilities to create a new product or service, perhaps even a new company. Think Mark Benioff who worked at Oracle but left to create Salesforce. They see the changes or opportunities in the marketplace and have the strategic vision to understand what needs to happen. If you give this person room to thrive, they will create new divisions in your large company. If you don’t, they will leave.
Problem solver. This type of corporate entrepreneur is and has been a problem solver from day one. Even when they started with the company at an entry level, they were good at solving smaller, simple problems. They are curious, they ask good questions, they like to do their own research and they don’t give up. They tend to have a core skill set like sales, marketing or finance and work well with teams. They are a quiet leader that usually garners the respect of fellow employees’, and over time, they build their reputation with senior management for ‘getting it done.’
Cause/Mission. This type of future corporate entrepreneur has joined a large company on purpose. And they have selected the company due to the company’s mission. Think of Patagonia as an example. While their purpose is to make the best outdoor wear in the world, their mission is to do no harm to the planet. This person will work above and beyond what is necessary to complete their job tasks and over time, will rise in the company due to their loyalty and ability to know exactly ‘what to do’ based on the company’s mission. In time, they will be handed more responsibility and if they have strategic business chops, will be asked to lead new efforts that actually build the business but never stray from the core mission.
Competitive/Team. This version of a corporate entrepreneur has probably been competitive their whole life. who potentially views the marketplace as a playing field and is always thinking about ‘how to win.’ If they have the skillset of being a ‘captain’ of the team, people will follow them as they look to create strategic wins for the company. You would hope this person is not completely ruthless and has perhaps a win/win mentality but more often than that not, they are looking for corporate wins. While they might not come up with the solution for a new product or service that creates a division, they will probably lead and grow that division.
You don’t have to create a startup or run a small business to utilize your entrepreneurial skills. But you have to know who you are and to select the right company to work for that will also embrace and support your corporate entrepreneurship capabilities and ambitions.