Columbia Business School

How to Become an Intrapreneur

Presented by Columbia Business School


With a proven capacity to solve difficult problems, a passion for driving change, and above all, an entrepreneurial spirit, intrapreneurs are professionals who apply the key qualities of entrepreneurship to the roles they fill within an organization.

Dustin Harris ’15 has embodied these attributes throughout his career. Prior to joining the gTech Ads team at Google, Dustin created strategies for new mobile products and services at American Express, where he was recognized with the Centurion Circle Award and the Chairman’s Award for Innovation. He pursued his MBA to develop his marketing, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills so that he could continue to cultivate the ability to recognize problems as opportunities, and improve companies from the inside out.

The Lang Summer Fellows — students who are awarded fellowships to contribute management expertise and invigorate ideas at a startup — asked Dustin to share his advice for being an effective intrapreneur within any organization, from an early-stage startup to a large corporation.

What does being an intrapreneur mean to you?

An intrapreneur is someone who works in an established business and solves problems with new products, services, or processes. Successful intrapreneurs consistently demonstrate an appetite for risk, create a vision for what is possible, distinguish between what customers need versus what they ask for, and understand how to effectively navigate their organization.

How is it best to handle the autonomy that comes with intrapreneurial positions?


Create clear goals and structure for your team. While brainstorming random “out-of-the-box” ideas can sometimes work, I have found that defining the challenge clearly, identifying what I want to learn, and setting up a structure for vetting ideas are the most effective actions to take within an autonomous environment. You will end up with incredible takeaways that either improve the idea, or provide valuable data that can inform future decisions.

How do you convince other parts of the company to get on board if you have a new, innovative idea?

It is always important to gain an understanding of your company’s culture and learn what motivates key decision makers. This enables you to develop an approach that has the best chance for success.

From a tactical standpoint, I would start by developing a concept test that seeks feedback on the idea; how it works, who it impacts, and how they benefit. This can be as simple as a document with some basic wireframes showing the user experience.

Put the concept in front of a few key stakeholders. Their feedback is critical — not only does it help to shape the initial concept, it also draws them in and makes them feel invested in the product.

Next, create a solid business case. It is important to understand the financial implications and the opportunity for scale. Think hard about the questions people will ask, and do your best to answer them ahead of time. Again, understand your culture. Do leaders in your organization shy away from ideas that take a long time to pay off? Do they react to customer’s verbatim commentary? Understand these aspects of your culture and figure out a way to work them into your business case.

What are some benefits of being an intrapreneur?

You have the opportunity to build something great without risking your own capital — you are essentially operating in an environment where your company is your VC. Since your company has existing customers, you have an audience available for testing ideas and getting real feedback. You have a team of experts in finance, risk, marketing, and servicing available to join your venture. There is also the opportunity for career advancement and making a name for yourself within your industry. If you are successful at introducing new products or services that impact your business, there will be press and market buzz that gets you recognition.

What courses at CBS were most helpful in developing the right skills and mindset?

I found Launching New Ventures to be a great forum for testing a concept, vetting the idea with customers, building a business case, and creating a pitch deck. Entrepreneurial Finance helped to analyze financial implications and how to think about scale. Marketing Strategy was valuable for understanding the concept of customer LTV. Finally, Negotiations and Leadership offered critical lessons on motivating people and leveraging their interests to influence decisions.

What advice would you give to fledgling intrapreneurs?

Think about a problem that is important to solve in your current role and dedicate the time and discipline to figuring it out. Demonstrate your ability to be comfortable, and actually thrive in the face of change. If you do not feel your current role offers the opportunity to make an impact, figure out where you want to be in five years and identify the roles, responsibilities, and challenges that will help you get there. If you know you want to be a leader in an intrapreneurial part of an organization, build relationships with people in those areas and look for opportunities to get involved in their work.

Whether it is incremental or groundbreaking — there is opportunity in every role to be innovative.

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About the Author

The Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School aims to instill entrepreneurial thinking in all students, and provides the tools and education needed to launch, scale, and invest in startups. Subscribe to the Lang Center’s newsletter, Upload: Lang Center News & Ideas, to receive monthly insights and advice from thought leaders.