The thought of becoming an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. You launch your own company, name yourself the chief executive officer (CEO) and enjoy business lunches as you network with other executives. Yet, there is another path to consider — that of the intrapreneur.
What’s the difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur? This career guide explores the differences and similarities, and offers some food for thought as you consider your career possibilities.
In This Article:
- The Difference Between an Entrepreneur and an Intrapreneur
- Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur: What Are the Similarities?
- Benefits and Drawbacks of Being an Entrepreneur or an Intrapreneur
- Earn Your Entrepreneurship Degree
- Taking the Next Step After Graduation
- Pursue Your BS Entrepreneurship Degree At GCU
The Difference Between an Entrepreneur and an Intrapreneur
The main difference between an entrepreneur vs. intrapreneur is that an entrepreneur starts their own company, whereas an intrapreneur works at a company that someone else founded. An entrepreneur develops a concept for a new business, which may include marketing products and services (or occasionally both). The entrepreneur must then create a viable business plan, secure venture financing, hire a leadership team and employees, secure premises (often, but not always) and market the business.
In contrast, an intrapreneur is an employee at an established company who has an entrepreneurial mindset. In other words, they embrace innovation, such as thinking of new products or services that can further the company’s growth objectives. An intrapreneur might spearhead a major new initiative, for example, and possibly be in charge of their own team.
Virtually any type of employee could be an intrapreneur — from a salesperson to the chief financial officer (CFO). At some companies, intrapreneurship is actively encouraged through the establishment of innovation labs, also known as idea labs. These may also be called think-tank groups within a larger organization that are granted greater autonomy to pursue their own initiatives.
Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur: What Are the Similarities?
Although there are considerable differences between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur, there are also quite a few similarities. Both of these professionals embrace the entrepreneurial mindset. They are constantly thinking of ways to solve real-world problems through new or improved products or services.
While there are certainly exceptions, both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs may exhibit the following character traits and skills:
- Out-of-the-box thinking
- Desire to improve products or services, and solve real-world problems
- Leadership abilities
- Adaptability in an ever-changing business environment
- Passion for continuous, lifelong learning
Some professionals who work as successful intrapreneurs may later decide to become entrepreneurs. Their real-world experience as intrapreneurs can serve them well as they adjust to developing and managing their own companies.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Being an Entrepreneur or an Intrapreneur
Before you decide to pursue an entrepreneurship degree, take a look at some of the potential pros and cons of intrapreneurship vs. entrepreneurship. Remember that every career path has its own pros and cons; there is no perfect career without any potential drawbacks at all.
Potential Benefits of Entrepreneurship:
- Be your own boss
- Determine the direction of your own company
- Enjoy decision-making freedom
- Ability to follow your passions
- Reap the financial rewards of success
- Ability to impact others in positive ways, such as partnering with charities
Potential Drawbacks of Entrepreneurship:
- Autonomy over your business equals complete responsibility for the successes and failures
- Assume all risks of business problems, including financial risks
- Can be stressful, especially in the beginning stages and while scaling
- Often requires long working hours
- Difficulty separating business issues and personal time
Potential Benefits of Intrapreneurship:
- Little to no financial risk for new ideas/ventures
- May have a greater degree of autonomy than other employees
- Successful intrapreneurship can lead to career advancement
- Personal satisfaction that comes from contributing to the company’s success
- Potential to pursue personal passions/interests, pending company approval
Potential Drawbacks of Intrapreneurship:
- You won't be your own boss
- Lack of autonomy over projects
- Less decision-making authority over projects
- Less financial reward for successful ventures
- May not receive full attribution for successful projects
- Career advancement may be stalled if new initiatives are not successful
As you can see, each career path comes with its own risks and rewards. Reflect carefully upon intrapreneurship vs. entrepreneurship as you think about your future.
Earn Your Entrepreneurship Degree
Whether becoming an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur appeals to you more, either career pathway can benefit from a strong academic background. An entrepreneurship degree can be a great choice for you if you embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and wish to learn how to apply tactical theories to the workplace. Although the specific curriculum will vary from one school to the next, you can generally expect to study the following topics in an entrepreneurship degree while exploring the difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur:
- The methodologies for developing innovative solutions to real-world problems, including the creation of new products and services
- Models and practices used in modern marketing campaigns, with a look at the life cycle of a marketing campaign from conceptualization to development to implementation to assessment
- Effective business communication and networking skills, allowing individuals to nurture professional relationships and expand professional contacts, while also being mindful of their own professional reputation
- The design, planning, operation and control of production systems, with an emphasis on managerial concepts and strategies
- Venture capital financing, including transactional structures for both start-ups and scaling
These are just a few of the topics you’ll study. You might also explore organizational behavior and management, business execution, ethical and legal issues in business, business finance and strategic management concepts.
An entrepreneurship degree may offer a capstone course, which you typically complete during your senior year. A capstone course is intended to demonstrate the culmination of your skills and knowledge. Plan to complete a project that mirrors your career ambitions, such as developing a business plan for a start-up you would like to helm.
During your time in school, it’s strongly recommended that you complete at least one internship experience. Internships are particularly important for future entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, as they enable you to develop professional contacts, gain an insider’s perspective of the workplace and learn how to conduct yourself in a professional manner.
Taking the Next Step After Graduation
As you approach your college graduation date, it's normal to still be undecided whether you want to pursue intrapreneurship vs. entrepreneurship. You certainly don’t need to make a decision right away. Even if you think you might start your own company someday, you do not need to do so immediately after college.
A common misconception is that entrepreneurs tend to be fairly young when they first hang up their own shingle. Although some of them certainly are, this isn’t always the case.
The Harvard Business Review conducted a study of census data to evaluate the average age of entrepreneurs. They found that the average age of an entrepreneur at the time of their company’s founding is 42, although it’s noted that this category may be largely comprised of small business owners who do not intend to scale much (e.g. by franchising). However, a closer look at the data reveals that the average age of high-tech start-up entrepreneurs is still in the early 40s, whereas entrepreneurs in other industries, such as biotechnology or oil and gas, tend to be around 47.1
Although you might decide to buck the trend and launch a start-up immediately after graduating, there are some advantages to landing a job and working as an intrapreneur for at least a few years, including:
- You may have more time to flesh out your business concept and test your ideas before assuming financial risk for them.
- You can gain practical, real-world experience that will serve you well as an entrepreneur.
- You can continue to develop better communication skills and leadership abilities.
- You could expand your professional network and develop a reputation in your field.
In short, you don’t need to make the decision to become an entrepreneur right away. Take the time you need to think through your options carefully.
Pursue Your BS Entrepreneurship Degree At GCU
Regardless of whether you choose to pursue a career as an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, you can begin working toward your future at Grand Canyon University (GCU). Apply today for enrollment in the Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurial Studies degree program at the Colangelo College of Business. This entrepreneurship degree instills foundational competencies in design theory, funding procurement, business communication and technology applications.
1 Retrieved from Harvard Business Review, Research: The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder Is 45 in December 2022.
Approved by an instructor for the Colangelo College of Business on Jan. 30, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.