Let’s Place the Entrepreneur in Context
Define entrepreneurship. Its meaning seems to have clouded through the years. Is it a skill? A state of being? A cult? We’re seeing “entrepreneurship” taught in universities, used in contests for student entrepreneurs, even MTV was recently recruiting for a pilot based on Young Entrepreneurs.
Yet, entrepreneurship is not a culture unto itself. French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, coined the word as “one who undertakes an enterprise, especially a contractor, acting as intermediary between capital and labour.” In 1983, Howard Stevenson evolved the definition to “Entrepreneurship is the process by which individuals pursue opportunities without regard to the resources they currently control.”
Either way, entrepreneurship is inherently linked to risk, but then who is the enterpreneur in a start-up, the person with the idea or the person who funds the idea? It depends on who is taking the real risk. We’ve lost touch with the aspect of risk. It’s not enough to simply have an idea or be creative.
We talk a lot about being an entrepreneur, but in actuality the US’s rate of new business development is continuing to slide, according to a Census Bureau Business Dynamics Statistics briefing published by the Kauffman Foundation on May 5, down to between 7 percent and 8 percent (as a portion of all companies).
When you begin to look at who is in that category of entrepreneurs, you see a different picture than the you’d expect. The highest rate of entrepreneurial activity belongs to the 55-to-64 age group, according to a Kauffman Foundation study. The age bracket that includes 20- to 34-year-olds actually has the lowest rate of such activity, reports USA Today.
They’re taking the opportunity of their retirement (or lay-off) to start businesses they’ve thought of all along. It makes sense.These individuals have survived ups and downs through another person’s lens. They know, in a sense, what they want to do and what they don’t want to do.
Entrepreneurship in college was once simply called Small Business 101, and the takeaway was this: learn your lessons on someone else’s dime. Small Business 101 involved great ideas and spreadsheets. Spreadsheets that usually proved you’d fail somewhere along the first five years. That was enough to sit you down with the school’s placement counselor.
Perhaps, the notion should be evolved to “My Business Preparedness,” rather than the magical perception of Entrepreneur or the mundane Small Business 101. Because things go wrong every single day. You rethink and strategize on the fly. There is no room for ego.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, however, there is great room for evolution. Not every entrepreneur program lives up to the concept of Babson College’s program in Wellesley, Massachusetts. It has been named the best US graduate entrepreneur program for the fourth year in a row by the Princeton Review. The program began in 1967. Its focal point is a venture accelerator program and a strong community. Community is critical. It’s sad to see a young start-up’s flame burn out to soon.
Alexia Vernon makes a great point in her Forbes article about re-envisioning mentorship in the age of the millennial. She writes, “In order for Millenials to move back and forth between entrepreneurship and working for a traditional company, it’s vital that we stop viewing mentors solely as people who help their mentees climb a linear career ladder.”
Whether corporate or entrepreneurial, there are no short cuts to success. It just sometimes looks that way. It takes patience to make impact. Initiative without risk is purely thesis, not entrepreneurship. Only when you can feel the repercussions of risk can you understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.
It’s more important to think, be innovative and challenge convention — wherever one is. Learn how to be bold in adversity. Leave the real financial risk until you’re ready. It’s almost apologetic to look for a job upon graduation. And that’s not good. Creating new religions doesn’t fix the establishment.
Think about our hiring phrases: “you’re too entrepreneurial” is a euphemism for you won’t work within our conventions. Or descriptions that seek entrepreneurial thinking, which mask we hope to maximize your IP cheaply.
Being entrepreneurial is powerful, but are we making the investment in understanding the evolution of our own vocabulary?
Image: Work of Phillppe Parreno, sourced from MoMA.org