Brad Feld recently published “Do We Need A New Word For Entrepreneur,” touching on the differences between being an ‘entrepreneur’ and the practice of ‘entrepreneurship’, as well as, what is in his opinion, cases of common misuse of this term.
The word has been trivialised beyond measure, so it’s no wonder that there is severe confusion surrounding the definition of a modern entrepreneur and the process of entrepreneurship. Colloquialisms such as mumpreneur, teenpreneur and kidpreneur certainly don’t do this any justice. In fact, they’re adding fuel to the fire of uncertainty.
Having said that, I’m surprised that Feld isn’t pushing the conversation down a more constructive and valuable path, suggesting ways in which this ‘movement’ can gain more meaningful traction.
Going back to the origins, one of the oldest definitions of entrepreneur comes from the Oxford Dictionary: ‘entrepreneur’ is defined as someone “who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”. Based on this, one could define almost any small businessperson an entrepreneur. Is this accurate? Does this actually make sense in today’s context?
I don’t think so.
With this top of mind, in a direct comment to Brad’s content, I posed a number of questions that I believe align directly with the true value that an entrepreneur, or the process of entrepreneurship, actually delivers both economically and societally. I even suggested the definition – or at least Brad’s definition – should change.
What’s quite interesting (particularly as you see my LinkedIn title in the image above) is that by Brad’s definition, I am no longer an entrepreneur because I’m not actively engaged, at least as a founder, in building a business.
However, I would strongly argue that I practice the process of entrepreneurship; making practical application of the things I’ve previously learned raising capital and building product, each and every day within large corporations through the work I do at edgelabs.
In a 2013 hearing before the US House of Representatives, Jeff Reid, an adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University, pointed out that people have a wrong impression of entrepreneurs: “You know, when you ask, and I do this on the first day of my class, I say what do you think of when you think of entrepreneurs? And the common answer is just what you would expect. It is Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, it is these tech businesses, these folks that have become billionaires.
“But entrepreneurs are not just the techies in Silicon Valley …They come in all shapes and sizes. They are in every one of your districts. And we need more of them. So being an entrepreneur is just as much about a mindset, in my opinion, as it is a career choice. You can work in a startup that somebody else founded and be entrepreneurial. You can work in a large company and be entrepreneurial. You can work in a nonprofit, maybe even for the government, and be entrepreneurial.
“But what does that mean? If you are not the founder of a startup, how do you be entrepreneurial? What it means is embracing change, understanding risk, living with ambiguity, evaluating and seizing opportunities, solving problems, finding creative solutions, and being relentless in the pursuit of your goals. Those are all qualities that anyone can bring to their life and career. And it turns out those are skills and mindsets that can be taught.”
This raises the much larger question of what exactly an entrepreneur is and whether or not the current definitions, and therefore commons perceptions, are truly fit for purpose.
In his article, Feld mentions that he quite likes Wikipedia’s definition of an entrepreneur:
“Entrepreneurship is the process of starting a business, a startup company or other organization. The entrepreneur develops a business plan, acquires the human and other required resources, and is fully responsible for its success or failure.”
Then there are also some excellent definitions of entrepreneurship, such as;
“Entrepreneurship is the emergent process of recognising and communicating creativity such that the resulting economic value can be appropriated by those involved.” (Entrepreneurship: Stokes, Wilson & Mador, 2010, p.35).
The clear distinction to be drawn from this is that entrepreneur relates to a title given to an individual, and entrepreneurship relates to the practice or process undertaken by the individual.
Upon drawing this distinction, the next question one might ask is, “does applying the process of entrepreneurship make you an entrepreneur?”
Judging from Brad’s article, he would probably argue no.
I would argue that it’s a resounding yes, and I think Reid agrees.
Prior to detailing my rationale, let’s look at my definition of entrepreneurship:
“Entrepreneurship is the process of uncovering a unique insight, a high-value problem worth solving, or an unmet customer pain or gain, defining a solution and delivery model, and converting it into new economic or societal value.”
Therefore, an entrepreneur is an individual, or group of people, that uncover a unique insight and work towards delivering a new product or service to market, resulting in the creation of new economic and societal value.
Why then could this act of searching for and executing a business model, resulting in the creation of new economic and societal value, not be conducted within a large commercial, social or government organisation?
My rationale, and the fundamental reason I disagree with much of what Brad is saying, is that the purpose of entrepreneurship is actually about the process and creation of new economic or societal value. The environment in which this is achieved is merely an afterthought.
Given entrepreneurship is about the process and outcome, the title and environment are of little relevance.
Being a founder of a specific type of company should not be the only classification of entrepreneur, and is certainly not the only environment in which you practice entrepreneurship or where entrepreneurship has value. In fact, many early employees are likely just as entrepreneurial as founders, practicing the process of entrepreneurship each and every day, and almost always operate in environments with far less upside.
Various corporate or nonprofit employees also practice the process of entrepreneurship as they look to design re-imagined products, customer experiences and business models, potentially transforming millions of lives in the process. And yes, this can even happen in government!
Entrepreneurship as a process is a powerful concept in that it encourages innovation and change velocity, forces re-imagination and shuns complacency, is the catalyst for most of humanity’s progression, and provides an extremely stimulating purpose through which to do work.
I also believe that a network effect applies to entrepreneurship. The more individuals and groups searching for insights and underserved problems, building new and re-imagined solutions, and creating new economic or societal value, the better.
To be clear, an individual who is part of a ‘network marketing’ business model as the 10,000th participant is not an entrepreneur. An accountant who merely works “by the book” as they complete compliance work is not an entrepreneur. Unlike Reid, I am not saying we can all practice the process of entrepreneurship. I am saying that the process should be encouraged and well supported, regardless of the environment in which it has the potential to occur.
To re-state my case, the fundamental purpose of entrepreneurship is to drive the creation of new economic and societal value through the delivery of re-imagined products, services and customer experiences.
Entrepreneurs and the process of entrepreneurship have already, and will continue, to change the way we live, work, commute, interact and entertain ourselves.
If we take a closed stance and discourage entrepreneurship through strict, traditional definitions, will we miss out on incredible groups of people that could have changed the world with the right stimulus, support and opportunity? Of course we will. These are the groups of people that do the things no one else thought you could do.
So no, we don’t need a new word for entrepreneur; we just need to be clear on the purpose and power of the process.