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Out of Necessity: Coining 'Intrapreneurship'

Thom Ruhe

It was a thrill for me last summer when I had the chance to sit down with best-selling author, entrepreneur and teacher, Gifford Pinchot III.

For someone like me who has been an entrepreneur and who now works at the foundation for entrepreneurs, to meet the legend who actually coined the term "intrapreneurship" was a real treat. During our visit, I had the chance to ask Gifford about the motivation that led to the publishing of his best-selling book, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don't Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur, in 1985.

As it turns out, back in the 1970s Gifford experienced a business failure that not only left him owing the bank $80,000, but also left him in serious need of a job.

Up to this point in his life, Gifford had pretty much worked for himself. His experience working for someone else was limited to summer jobs he had held when he was in school. As he considered what type of work would satisfy him professionally, he thought about his skill set and what he knew best. But who would want someone who would work like an entrepreneur inside a company? How would that work? And how would someone go about finding a job like that?

To help him answer these questions, Gifford sought out his mentor, Bob Schwartz of the Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs. He recalled that Bob had made the comment some time earlier that there was going to be room for entrepreneurs inside big companies. When Gifford pressed Bob for details, it was clear that the idea was still nothing more than that—an idea.

Gifford became inspired. He and his wife Elizabeth started concepting a whitepaper on the topic. Specifically, they looked at what role individuals with an entrepreneurial skill set would play within a company, what value they would bring to the business and how a company might nurture this skill set within its own employee ranks.

And as they say, the rest is history. Gifford authored additional books on the topic of intrepreneurship and co-founded the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in 2002, which was the first graduate school in the United States to offer an MBA in sustainable business.

This splendid idea that so many companies rely on today manifested from someone who was simply in need of a job. Necessity sure has a way of providing focus, doesn't it? 

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