Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience


Managed Discomfort

Organizations are designed for efficiency and effectiveness, not entrepreneurship. In this context, clear job descriptions and success metrics are the guideposts; creating a sense of a certainty, job security, goal attainment and a clear path of promotion. Entrepreneurs inside see “a better way,” and opportunities to develop new ideas. They are willing to take on the responsibility as the change agent to make possibility a reality. But, thinking and acting entrepreneurially can seem at complete odds with the organization’s need for predictable performance. EI live in a state of managed discomfort; knowing they are the cause of uneasiness in others due to their entrepreneurial actions, learning how to help co-workers and leadership work through the discomfort and trying to find the necessary time and space to explore what’s possible.


  1. How can we help EI get beyond being “too busy”: can we redesign organizational constructs to accommodate the time needs of entrepreneurial work or redesign the concept of a job into a series of entrepreneurial projects?

  2. How can we create opportunities for authentic participation?

  3. How do we make trying things the norm not the exception?

It is not a job

It is not a job


Katie talks about the difference between being an intrapreneur and just being an employee.


Jess talks about navigating the separation of work and life.


Calvin talks about the luxury of merging their passions and job responsibilities.

Entrepreneurs inside see themselves as invested owners. They’re not merely executing what’s in front of them, they’ve tapped into something they care about at work. They’re invested in the organization’s overall mission and in the outcomes of their efforts in support of the mission. Entrepreneurs inside describe this as “taking responsibility” which includes figuring out better ways to do things, asking challenging questions, and finding the connection or fit between creating for oneself and for the organization’s mission. The rewards are great including high levels of engagement and connection to the work, the knowledge of making a difference, learning and professional development, and the advancement of the organization.

For some entrepreneurs inside, there is little separation between who they are and what they do. Jess, a storyteller, spent 13 years as an employee at a community non-profit  “working hard” to align who she is with what she does. After creating a new position for herself and a new storytelling capability for her organization, she no longer sees a separation between work and life—her personal mission and the organization’s are one. For Jonah, founder and worker-owner in a local food cooperative, it’s about becoming an authentic participant, which often takes deprogramming from rote, passive behaviors learned through previous employment.

Operating off the org chart

Operating off the org chart


Scott can be being pulled in different directions in the organization because of his unique capabilities.

Equal to the number of people who are hired into specified roles(6) and asked to take on formal change and innovation responsibilities, there are employees who think and act entrepreneurially outside of the job they were hired to do. It’s a challenging balancing act that requires managing two identities—one’s official job title and that of the change agent. For many, there’s a sense that operating off the org chart or cloaking entrepreneurial activities is the best way to get the chance to explore an opportunity or to develop some proof of the value of their idea. Jeff, a project manager at a social marketing software company, realized “it's natural to run into some barriers at first” because his company feels the role he was hired into is where he should be maximizing his organizational impact. But Jeff feels the “trick” is to show his company other ways in which he can add value and achieve high-impact. Other entrepreneurs inside refer to “working at the edges of the firm,” “finding the space between things,” “making like a ghost to get past barriers,” or “seeking out the nooks and crannies.” Rachel, a rabbi building a 21st century spiritual community, sees herself as an octopus—“With no skeleton, the octopus... is capable of squeezing through small openings. In my  work, I need to be nimble and responsible, and find those small openings to squeeze through.” Within flat organizations or community-based organizations that often have a strong entrepreneurial culture, EI have no need to cloak their work, but colleagues who normally see themselves as peers, suddenly find themselves in managerial and subordinate positions. It can be challenging for everyone to cope with the sudden shift in roles.


(6) In our sample, 59% (23) were in informal roles, 41% (16) were in formal roles.

The labels of others

The labels of others


Scott describes how others have labeled him and how he sees himself.


Jeff talks about his title and making it become a "living example" within his organization.


Danielle talks about navigating criticism.

Most people acting entrepreneurially within an organization, don’t think of or refer to themselves as “intra” or entrepreneurs. They self-describe as connectors, conveners, catalysts, edge thinkers, change makers/agents, sparks, bridges, tinkerers, facilitators, innovators, and movers and shakers. Whatever label they choose, all EI know their role—official or unofficial—causes discomfort within the organization, particularly among colleagues and team members. Entrepreneurs inside can get labeled as difficult to work with, quirky, or naive.  People new to or struggling in the role feel relieved to find a label that describes (the value and concept of) “what I do,” and a simpler way to communicate this to others. Those with some experience in the EI role accept the labels others ascribe to them and work to demonstrate their value to overcome non-acceptance and resistance. Melissa, a self-described cooperative business developer who has always thought of herself as facilitator of the group’s vision and capacity developer, realizes it’s often frustrating and demoralizing to attempt change within an organization. For her, it helps to have a concept for the role.

Too little time is the watchword

Too little time is the watchword


Scott notes how his creative work is often trumped by spending most of his days in meetings.


Pam talks about spending time outside of the office.


Steve talks about his initial reaction to the organization's idea contest.

Time, or lack of it, is often one of the first things entrepreneurs inside share about their experience (whether consciously or unconsciously). Lack of time and a sense of being overwhelmed unites entrepreneurs inside. It’s something they instantly recognize in each other and across different organizational contexts. Entrepreneurship requires a different mode of work and a different approach to time that most organizations cannot or do not accommodate. Paul Graham (essayist, programmer, investor and co-founder of YCombinator, the Silicon Valley tech accelerator program) describes this as “maker schedules” versus “manager schedules.” Roles aside, the premise is that a day broken into hour-long chunks is conducive for meetings and communication, but not for work that requires deep thinking, creative problem-solving, writing or making. This work necessitates uninterrupted blocks of time. Today, meetings almost always take precedence—it can become an obsession to pack one’s calendar to feel needed or to avoid loss of status by showing for all of them—leaving the interrupted work of entrepreneurship inside to be picked up and done during the insufficient moments between meetings or during off-hours.