Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Though Undervalued Now, Intrapreneurs Are Essential To Detroit's Future

In Detroit, we celebrate entrepreneurs - whether they be social, civic, or for-profit entrepreneurs - and rightly so. Entrepreneurs create new technologies and possibilities in the markets they attempt to serve and disrupt. What is also true, however, is that entrepreneurs are scrappy. Their resources are often limited, so it makes sense that successful entrepreneurs seem to have vision, ingenuity, creativity, drive, and a willingness to take risk - without these things, entrepreneurs would have no edge over incumbents because they certainly have less resources. Entrepreneurs make do and ultimately succeed with less resources than their corporate counterparts. In my mind, this is an oxymoron. Why are entrepreneurs the ones who change industries and social problems, even though they usually have less talent, money, or other resources?

The most obvious explanation is that entrepreneurs can work without the confining attributes of large, political, risk-averse organizations. Entrepreneurs don't have to cut through red tape like those in corporations do. Because they're freed from the confines of traditional organizations they have high "ROR" - or "return on resources." By this I mean, they have a lot of results, given the limited about of resources to which they have access.

But, imagine the value that would be created if the ROR of organizations with large amounts of resources were higher? A 10% ROR for a $1B company is much higher than that of a $1M company.

What's needed to accomplish an increasing ROR in large organizations is not entrepreneurs, but intrapreneurs. Intrapreneurship is not a well definied concept within society...yet. Here's a working definition:

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.

These intrapreneurs might create new products or services to generate increased profits within a business. Or maybe an intrapreneur builds a new idea which increases the social impact of the organization. Maybe the intrapreneur changes the way a company works so that it's a happier, healthier, or more effective organization.

Much like the way countries can't always export their way out of recession, I don't think Detroit will become a more vibrant city if we only create entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship can't wholly replace the city's existing employment opportunities and industries except in decades, maybe. Entrepreneurship takes too long and is very risky, to name a few reasons. More than that, we have a tremendous amount of talent and resources in our local companies. To let those resources atrophy and become obsolete would be a waste and lost opportunity.

Imagine: Detroit could be a hub of private sector and local government intraprenurship and lead the nation in such efforts. We have institutions, companies, and industries ripe for a fresh approach. We have a dire need to adapt to changing economic, social, and civic realities. We also have a history of tenacious work ethic and ingenuity.

Detroit could be home to the world's best intrapreneurs and we would be better for it.