Guest article written by Dan Lauer, the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate.
With the explosion of startups and the success of game changers like Google and Facebook, it’s no wonder entrepreneurship is more relevant than ever. The related concept of intrapreneurship is gaining prominence for the way it’s revolutionizing the business world as well as the academic sector.
Intrapreneurship is simply the companywide adoption of an entrepreneurial mindset, and it’s driven by disruption. Startups unleash a level of innovation that threatens to make the most established companies irrelevant. Just look at how Airbnb and Uber disrupted legacy companies in their respective industries. To stay competitive, companies have been forced to consider an entrepreneurial approach, and one of the most effective ways to implement such an approach is to ingrain an intrapreneurial mindset in employees.
According to the general consensus of last year’s Intrapreneur Alliance, an intrapreneurial viewpoint stresses thinking like a business owner. This is an effective method for innovation because it forces employees to imagine risking their own dreams and taking on additional responsibilities to see things through to completion, much like a business owner would.
This starts by defining the current problem and generating a workable solution; it ends with analysis of customer response. Such a careful, iterative process requires constant big-picture thinking, unlike the traditional feeling of being a cog in a larger machine.
And by adopting this spirit of intrapreneurship, educational leaders can help foster truly innovative educational experiences for their students that will have lasting effects on their careers for decades to come.
Bringing Intrapreneurship Into the Classroom
Today’s graduating students must develop a vastly different set of career skills than their predecessors, and their workplace expectations are far more intrapreneurial. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, Millennials desire cause-related or mission-driven careers and want to work in teams to solve problems from start to finish. Today’s new jobseeker is not looking for a 30-year career at one company and a gold watch upon retirement.
Programs that teach these skills give their students a huge advantage, which is why we work to foster innovation and entrepreneurship at UMSL Accelerate, an interdisciplinary, cross-campus initiative at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) that develops these attributes, traits, and skill sets in students. It’s about having less fear, learning quickly, making bold decisions, and possessing an obsessive focus on the customer. More than anything, it’s about remaining in a state of doing. How many meetings have you attended where the decision was when to hold the next meeting?
In our classes, we teach students to progress through rapid cycles of trial and error. We emphasize agile thinking and the process of testing a concept, getting feedback data, pivoting, and repeating. Our pedagogy is not 1980s-style curriculum; rather, it’s “next practices” taught by practitioners. And we use the latest thought-leading approaches, such as Lean Canvas business model, design thinking, and emotional intelligence to guide students.
Facilitating Intrapreneurial Culture at Your School
It’s clear that students benefit from a quality education in intrapreneurship. To gain a better understanding of exactly how to incorporate intrapreneurship into degree programs, let’s look at a few key principles.
Hire the change you seek.
Universities typically do not innovate at the same pace as startups or companies in entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial circles. You’re doing students a disservice by only hiring people who think the same way you do. One way to achieve new results is by bringing in a new point of view.
When hiring instructors and program directors for an intrapreneurial initiative, it is important to look for those who commit to the intrapreneurial mindset and have experience working on the front lines of startup culture. But most importantly, search for individuals who can impart the spirit of entrepreneurship to your students.
Make your message simple and powerful.
To foster a culture of true intrapreneurship, school programs can’t rely on a bland three-page mission statement. Shorter statements encourage action, which aligns with the intrapreneurial attitude. UMSL’s new mission statement is three words: “We transform lives.” It’s succinct, puts students first, and engages all our stakeholders. It simplifies decision-making with a clear priority that allows us to stay on mission and continue transforming the lives of our students. In our story, students are the hero; we are the trusted guide.
It also allows us to impact the larger intrapreneurial sphere, which includes mentors, who are so important to students’ career development. In fact, three-quarters of executives cited mentoring as a critical piece of their own career arc in a survey by the Association for Talent Development (formerly the American Society for Training & Development).
Set actionable steps.
A strategic plan isn’t something you can come back to every five years in conjunction with a consultant or leave untouched in a document. You’ll be more likely to reach your goals if your steps are clear, actionable, and milestone-driven. This type of living plan engages faculty, students, mentors, and even the larger community and can center your effort to create a dynamic and effective intrapreneurial program at your school.
Intrapreneurship will remain a key theme in the coming decade as legacy companies learn from and adopt the lessons of the entrepreneurial revolution. Preparing students for that reality sooner rather than later will accelerate their success beyond college.
Dan Lauer is the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, an initiative that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship in and outside the classroom and helps bring concepts from mind to market.
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