Intrapreneurship vs. Entrepreneurship: Why I chose to work at an innovation department within a tech giant

 

Blog post by ELP Student Caitlin Ju (Business Admin | Class of 2021)

 

It’s been almost a month since I started at Samsung, working as an IoT product marketing intern on the ARTIK team. I’m back in the Bay Area where I grew up, but every day as I enter my floor-to-ceiling glass office surrounded by 2,000 other employees at Semiconductor headquarters, I am reminded that besides the place, nothing about this summer has been familiar.

 

Summer Goal: Entrepreneurial Self-Discovery

 

I could go on about how at a large corporation, you have to make self-learning a priority, to not be afraid to ask for help, and to take advantage of all the wonderful people and endless opportunities around you. And yes, all of those things are true (special shoutout to Samsung’s tennis team, an example of an opportunity I am so glad I took!).

 

But interning at the innovation center within the world’s largest semiconductor company has been the perfect opportunity for entrepreneurial self-discovery. This summer has given me a glimpse of how I can truly take ownership of my desire to work at the forefront of innovation. In other words, I wanted to redefine what entrepreneurship can look like for myself.

 

Entrepreneurship and the “Garage Spirit”

 

I’ll admit this. Not too long ago I, like the majority of people, had a very conventional definition of what being entrepreneurial must look like. I essentially had a very HBO’s Silicon Valley stereotype in my head: you either had to start your own startup or be an early employee at one to be considered entrepreneurial.

 

The reality that I only truly began to embrace these past few weeks is that the only way large companies continue to thrive is entrepreneurship. They have a very special term for being entrepreneurial within a large company: intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurs are the people not afraid to, as Steve Jobs said of his MacIntosh team, go “back to the garage, but in a large company.”

 

Why We Need Intrapreneurs

 

Intrapreneurs share the same qualities as entrepreneurs but simply work within a different, larger context. They are equally proactive, passionate, and creative. Especially in tech, one of the fastest-paced industries with excitingly direct implications for all other industries, innovation and the intrapreneurs who drive it could not be more important.

 

Take Blackberry, for example. I know my generation might be hard-pressed to remember a time when Blackberry was the ultimate, in-style smartphone, but it truly was. In 2009, not too long ago, Fortune magazine even named Blackberry the fastest growing company in the world. But Blackberry made its fatal mistake in not focusing on intrapreneurship. Instead of embracing the clear trend that users preferred touchscreens over keyboards, Blackberry insisted on sticking to what it knew best and continued to produce phones with keyboards until it was far too late.

 

Netflix, on the other hand, is an example of a company that was not afraid to “disrupt” itself. Netflix started with the DVDs-by-mail model, but after realizing that the online streaming business would disrupt its DVD model, the company pivoted. Had any of the leadership been too stubborn or risk-averse to pivot, the company would undoubtedly have failed.

 

I wanted to experience firsthand that paradox of innovation at a large company that Netflix and many of the companies we admire most today have proved possible. I found that opportunity in an IoT product marketing position at the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center (SSIC), which develops components, like the ARTIK product my team focuses on, and invests in new technologies and business models. Right before I began my internship, my ARTIK team shifted from SSIC to the Samsung Device Solutions business division, but the focus on innovation remains. Samsung Device Solutions’ slogan is, in fact, “Collaborate. Innovate. Grow.”

 

Defining Intrapreneurship

 

In this unique position of joining a team that had just left “startup phase” yet clearly still worked within a mega-corporation, I began to reform my view of intrapreneurship. To me, intrapreneurship became more than that starter definition of entrepreneurship within a large company. It was also about more than just bringing up new ideas or strategic initiatives.

 

For me, intrapreneurship is three things:

 

  • First, for the company, it is building and maintaining an internal culture of innovation.

 

Many large companies name innovation as one of their driving principles, but an innovative internal culture is something their employees can feel. It becomes obvious whether innovation is actually a priority. Without the large company making intrapreneurship a priority by supporting it with significant resources, intrapreneurs can rarely succeed. Just like with startups and venture capital, the best idea in the world still needs support to enable it to succeed.

 

  • Second, for the team, it is knowing that it is not just acceptable but sometimes essential to pivot. And whether it is the strategy, product, or the entire business model, the earlier the team realizes this, the better.

 

  • Third, for the individual, it is the entrepreneurial qualities and values you continue to uphold. Though I might be working at large company, I believe that if you persist and stay true to your values of creativity, being a self-starter, or whatever your entrepreneurial values may be, I see that as being intrapreneurial.

 

By choosing to redefine what entrepreneurship can look like for myself this summer, I guess you can say I was being a little entrepreneurial.