Startup Entrepreneurship vs. Corporate Entrepreneurship: What I Learned

This spring, I taught a Corporate Entrepreneurship (CE) course for the first time. Like most new pursuits, it was a wonderful learning experience: new and interesting concepts, case studies, and business strategies that will be valuable for my other courses, mentoring entrepreneurs, and pursuing my own ventures.

Bu it wasn’t just what I learned about CE in a vacuum that was important. What was also helpful was what I took away in contrast to my experience with startup entrepreneurship (SE), a world in which I’ve been for over 16 years.

Three key lessons stood out, all of which seemed rather obvious at the surface level. But the more I reflected upon them, the more I realized how much they will shape the way I approach SE in the future.

  1. Entrepreneurship is definitely not just an art form. Like most of what Corporate America does, CE is based on doing things systematically. Process trumps people, there is a clearly defined method to the madness, and passion takes a back seat to business objectives. Obviously, that differs extensively from SE which is driven by personalities, is characterized by chaos and change, and requires a great deal of belief and conviction…all of which scream of an art form. But just as the lean startup methodology has proven that entrepreneurship can and should be a bit scientific, so does CE.
  2. Process reduces risk. Speakers like Alan Yefsky of Briggs Healthcare and Andy Annacone of Redbox shared with the students their companies’ respective processes for launching and managing new businesses. What these firms have done is built models, flowcharts, and systems that help make the startup process more efficient and less risky. I found their case studies reflecting venture investing, serial entrepreneurship, and the collision of business planning with lean startup…all of which are characterized by a desire and ability to reduce risk.
  3. Corporate entrepreneurship is indeed entrepreneurship. There is a risk, there is a pursuit of opportunity, and there is the intent to create value. The one big difference is that, compared to SE, the people doing the work in CE often don’t have true ownership of those elements; the company does. But as long as the elements are present, it’s entrepreneurship in my view.


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