This piece originally appeared on Millennial.
Millennials are oftentimes referred to as the entrepreneurial generation given their openness to the thrill of starting their own business. However, for many millennials riddled with financial instabilities there are other stepping stones to a future career as an entrepreneur, such as the increasingly popular concept of intrapreneurship.
If we look at millennials as a whole, very few are actually in a position financially to take the big leap into entrepreneurship. This is well evidenced by the simple fact that nearly 70% of millennials have expressed interest in launching their own company while those under 30 own less than 5% of businesses, according to a recent study by Bentley University.
So why the stark contrast between aspiration and execution when it comes to millennial entrepreneurship and what’s a millennial to do about it?
One of the main reasons for the disparity is the simple fact it’s hard to find a recent college graduate who doesn’t leave school with at least some form of student debt. In fact, nearly 70% of college graduates are now leaving school with student debt to the tune of about $28,000 on average.
This is a staggering number and one that leaves millennials significantly hampered when it comes to running with their entrepreneurial propensities. With student loan payments oftentimes starting at a minimum of a few hundred bucks a month, millennials are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to attempting to start a business given the financial inflexibility that comes with having a substantial fixed monthly payment.
The Entrepreneurial Alternative
The good news is that the entrepreneurial spirit of many millennials does not need to be completely hindered by the stark financial realities faced by many.
The term intrapreneur first appeared in 1982 in an edition of the Economist, but it wasn’t until a decade later when the term took on a more formal definition. It was defined simply as “a person within an organization who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.” In short, intrapreneurship is simply operating as an entrepreneur, but inside a company.
For those entrepreneurial spirited millennials not in a position to make the financial sacrifices (at this time) necessary to start a business, intrapreneurship is the next best thing. It allows individuals the opportunity to take calculated risks while developing a new product or service-line within a company. Operating within an organization provides more financial security at a time when most millennials are anything but financially stable.
Professionally it can also serve as a safer entrepreneurial environment to acquire the necessary skills needed to become an entrepreneur when the time is right. Think of intrapreneurship as an entrepreneur’s residency program.
Intrapreneurship is Full of Benefits
Being an entrepreneur requires a laundry list of skills, many of which cannot be truly learned from reading the proverbial “Entrepreneurship for Dummies” or taking a college course on the subject. This is precisely why intrapreneurship can be so valuable to millennials looking to cut their teeth when it comes to innovating and starting a business early in their careers.
Operating as an intrapreneur inside an organization, whether it be spearheading the launch of a new product or working with a team to tap into a new market segment by offering a completely non-core service offering, can serve as an opportunity to grow in a somewhat less threatening environment for millennials. In many cases, it allows for hands-on learning of what it takes to be an entrepreneur, while also developing skills beyond the basics of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs, for example, especially solopreneurs, are fortunate in that they typically do not have to convince others of the “why” (assuming they aren’t looking for funding). The solopreneur oftentimes has to convince himself why he should quit his day job to take a blind leap of faith to start something new, but rarely does he have to convince corporate boards or upper level management “why” the company should redirect scarce company resources to an initiative outside of the core business.
This process of learning how to navigate the intricacies of a corporate ecosystem is invaluable because of the diversity of skills it requires. Individuals are forced to make a clearly articulated business case, all the while building support and excitement around whatever it ultimately is. All of these skills are invaluable to aspiring entrepreneurs as well as anyone looking to work in both the corporate and nonprofit world.
How to Intrapreneur Your Career to Success
Want to supercharge your career and skip a few rungs on the old corporate ladder? Then, spearhead the launch of your company’s next major revenue driver. Many intrapreneurial journeys begin no differently than their entrepreneurial cousins. It all starts with a vision.
If you see an opportunity to improve upon an existing product line in a dramatic way or to revolutionize the customer experience, then in the words of Nike, “Just Do It.” Don’t let the thoughts of “there’s no way my boss would ever let me run with this idea” stop you from attempting. In fact, that’s part of the distinct difference between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs – entrepreneurs have to convince themselves to say yes, intrapreneurs have to convince others to say yes.
One way intrapreneurs can make it easier for people to say “yes” within their organization is to bootstrap the venture by testing and launching lean. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Start-up, advocates this approach by creating a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, which is the minimum version of a product or service that can be launched to test the market’s appetite for it.
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Ultimately many millennials are not positioned to jump into entrepreneurship at the onset of their careers, but that shouldn’t diminish their dreams of owning a business and driving innovation. Instead, get a residency in entrepreneurship while paying off your student loans and building your war chest of cash to use when the time is right to take the leap out onto your own. At the very least, while you are intrapreneuring you will be certain to acquire a variety of irreplaceable skills that will provide you with career flexibility both inside and outside of organizations.