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How to transition from a traditional career to an intrapreneur

By Rahul Sampat

Organizations big and small are looking for employees who can inspire innovation from within. When ideas are big enough, companies are willing to expand their product lines and create new ventures within an existing organization.

One of the most high-profile examples of intrapreneurship working well for a company is Gmail, which was created by employee Paul Buchheit during his “20% time”, which is the personal project scheme that became a cornerstone of Google’s reputation for innovation.

Simply put, intrapreneurship keeps companies competitive and relevant. It’s also appealing to employees. Intrapreneurship gives you the ability to make calculated risks within the structure of an existing company while having the opportunity to innovate and work independently.

If you’re considering bypassing a traditional career path and moving toward intrapreneurship, consider the following changes you’ll need to make within your professional life before making the leap.

Focus on professional development

For professionals without a background in business management, it’s likely you have gaps in essential areas of business operations and decision making. To be an effective intrapreneur, you must be able to prove your ability to make a plan, align with your organization, and navigate changes even through ambiguity.

If these tasks aren’t something you handle on a day-to-day basis, it’s critical to advance your skillset to help you achieve your goals. Consider two common ways to be considered for intrapreneurship, and the hard and soft skills you’ll need to stand out:

  • Hackathons: Many tech companies host hackathons to encourage innovation, and hope to land on a new product or feature their organization can run with. Hackathons are a microcosm of a start-up, meaning apart from technical skills, it’s critical to showcase soft skills as well. Specifically, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, sound judgment calls, and showing confidence without attitude.
  • Sandbox funding: To acquire financing from your existing company you’ll need to identify a market need, create a solution and effectively communicate why your company should buy into it. This requires skills like strong leadership communication, strategic decision-making, and creativity.

To run a sound start-up, or to land funding from your company, you may need a more comprehensive library of business knowledge than you currently have. By understanding your starting point, and what skills you need to acquire to reach your end goal, you can start making a plan to develop yourself professionally. Executive MBA programs are geared toward mastering the knowledge and vocabulary of the core business disciplines.

Zero in on innovation

The spirit of intrapreneurship is to create value within your organization through fresh ideas and thought-leadership driven by innovation.

So, how can you become more innovative?

Design Thinking

One way to zero in on innovation is through specialized training in design-thinking. Design-thinking is about making decisions based on evidence while maintaining an understanding of human needs and behaviors. Design-thinking uses a discovery-based framework to tackle problems by pushing ideas down the ladder of development:

  • Uncover
  • Develop
  • Model
  • Validate
  • Advance and take action

Specific techniques to arrive at innovative solutions via design-thinking are:

  • Ethnographic research
  • Qualitative research
  • Design sprints
  • Foresight work

With design-thinking, you’re able to think about business as “what could be” rather than “what is.” If you’ve never made decisions based on design-thinking, it’s worth investing in. It’s one of the most common methodologies businesses use to solve complex problems.

Learn more about leadership innovation for full-time MBA students at Berkeley Haas

Leverage your experience for incremental change

If you’re starting down the path of intrapreneurship, you’re likely focusing on a role change rather than an industry change. So draw from the experience you have in your current position and industry to make incremental changes within your corporation.

How do your past experiences open doors for new opportunities?

Think about how you can access small ideas that can solve an existing problem in your market. For example, if your current role is a product manager, much of your day is likely spent:

  • Talking to customers
  • Connecting interdepartmental work
  • Practicing time-management
  • Rallying support

Can you leverage your current assets to encourage innovation?

  • When speaking with customers, is there a pattern, or a market need you can uncover?
  • With access to customers, can you start to ask questions that help you solve a problem effectively?
  • When you generate ideas for change, can you start to confirm ideas with a broader audience, like your customers?
  • Are there colleagues who can confirm the viability of your product idea?
  • How can you use your leadership and collaboration to push through barricades that might advocate against your change?

You already might have some skills that are important as you pursue a path toward intrapreneurship. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to leverage change in your position, now is a great time to learn how to fine-tune your skillsets, and discover the next steps to bringing your product idea to market.

Master the art of operating lean

You might think becoming an intrapreneur is initially about creating a bullet-proof business plan and demonstrating your ability to size markets. But, it’s much more than that. In the real world, there are pressures and demands to ramp up quickly and ensure that your final product meets market needs, while only having few resources to work with.

Even if you’re operating under an existing business and may have access to more products, employees, cash, and processes that you would have as an entrepreneur, you’ll still need to know how to operate lean because your resources won’t be limitless.

To do this effectively, you’ll need to learn how to:

  • Analyze industry trends
  • Evaluate marketplace factors
  • Budget
  • Value assets
  • Evaluate risk
  • Forecast

These skills are in addition to core business functions like accounting, operations, and strategy.

Learning these skills won’t happen without diving in. Which is why having hands-on experience is a useful tool. Through MBA initiatives like emerging markets, and lean launch courses you can gain the hands-on experience you need to develop business concepts properly, receive feedback on products and analyze the life cycle and effectiveness of the strategies you put on the table.

Are you interested in making the career switch to intrapreneurship? Learn how an MBA from Berkeley can set you on the correct path.



Topics: the job market  |   innovation  |   Career
Rahul Sampat
Rahul was Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals from 2015-2019. He hopes these blog posts provide you with useful insights into the Berkeley MBA experience and questions you may have about the MBA in general.