Entrepreneur vs intrapreneur

When someone asked me at Media Mingle the other night, "How does it feel to not be an entrepreneur anymore since selling your company?” I was taken aback.

entrepreneurship robert bruce idealogI was temporarily speechless (which I might add, is rare). I was mortified at the thought that the word I believe defines me more than any other was no longer mine to use – at least according to this Mingler. I feebly responded that I was an “entrepreneurial employee and nothing has changed” but the damage had been done. I was left questioning what it is to be an entrepreneur, and whether I was still one after selling SublimeNZ  last year.

I have always considered myself to be an entrepreneur, ever since I was a young tot buying and selling GI Joes with my friends on the school field. The common perception of an entrepreneur (as drummed into me in fifth form economics at Heretaunga College, thanks Mr Temple) was someone who is ‘a risk taker’.

What does that mean? I guess putting your reputation and cash and time and health on the line to start a company that in this country has a 90 percent chance of failure (uncited statistic, sorry, but we all know it’s true), is pretty risky. Recently there have been lots of articles disproving the theory that entrepreneurs are rampant risk takers who put it all on the line to follow some hare-brained dream. It seems entrepreneurs are actually more risk adverse than originally thought with a mere 3.6 percent reporting adventurous characteristics, compared to 12.8 percent of 2,000 individuals in the general public, according to research from Britain.

Irrespective of definition (not the purpose of this blog), to me there is something infinitely romantic about being an entrepreneur. I associate with it 100 percent and suspect other entrepreneurs feel the same way. I don’t know exactly what is it, but something about the live-and-die-by-the-sword stigma that is attached to entrepreneurialism is extremely attractive.

Starting a business is a like a rite of passage, a badge of honour. To me entrepreneurialism means a more exciting life, one where you pick your own path and have only yourself to blame if it goes wrong. It represents a way of doing things that is unique, special; it is a club you can only join by starting a company and membership gives you camaraderie with other entrepreneurs that mere employees can never truly appreciate. Members of the E-Club (copyright Robert Bruce 2013) share the trials and tribulations of start-up mode, the stress, the late nights, the thankless grind of paying bill after bill after bill. It is a brotherhood.

Later, I had a conversation with a friend who had just returned from SXSW. He informed me I was now an ‘intrapreneur’. Say what?

Wikipedia, the source of all things true, cites the American Heritage Dictionary in its definition of an intrapreneur as “a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation". Not bad.

Another company I’ve never heard of called Our Knowledge Asia also nicely summarises the difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur as follows:  “An entrepreneur is someone who, through his or her skills and passion, creates a business and is willing to take full accountability for its success or failure. An intrapreneur, on the other hand, is someone who utilises his or her skill, passion and innovation to manage or create something useful for someone else’s business ... with entrepreneurial zest”. Seems reasonable.

Two websites can’t be wrong.

I think I can live with being an intrapreneur now that I know what it means, though it doesn’t have quite the same ring as 'entrepreneur' so I will probably just keep saying I am an entrepreneurial employee.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you have to own the company to be an entrepreneur?

Robert Bruce is the founder of experiential marketing agency SublimeNZ (now part of Professional Public Relations), and a regular contributor to Idealog. Contact him at

Comments or opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, Robert Bruce only. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of  SublimeNZ, Professional Public Relations NZ Ltd, or its management or employees. PPR NZ is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of comments written by contributors to this blog.

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