Entrepreneur: What's In a Definition?


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Peter I. Hupalo

Hypatia Society

How do we define "entrepreneur"? Is there anything to be learned about entrepreneurship and building a business by studying the definition? Or, is studying the historical definition of "entrepreneur" just an academic exercise?

Let's look at how some small business experts define the word "entrepreneur":

Bob Reiss, successful entrepreneur and author of Low-Risk, High-Reward: Starting and Growing Your Small Business With Minimal Risk, says: "Entrepreneurship is the recognition and pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources you currently control, with confidence that you can succeed, with the flexibility to change course as necessary, and with the will to rebound from setbacks."

A key factor in Reiss's definition is that entrepreneurs undertake opportunities regardless of the resources the entrepreneur currently controls. I've known many people who say they'd love to start a business, but they just don't have the money to get started. Neither did many of history's greatest entrepreneurs like Michael Dell, who started his computer company in his college dorm room or Lillian Vernon, who started her mail-order business when she was a housewife looking for extra income. These successful entrepreneurs didn't start rich and successful. They ended rich and successful.

Entrepreneurs find ways to acquire the resources they need to achieve their goals. One of those resources is capital. "Entrepreneurial" is often associated with venturesome or creative. Be creative in acquiring the resources you need to build and grow your business. Think outside the box and you'll improve your chances of acquiring what you need to succeed.

Linda Pinson, author of much of the SBA's material about writing a business plan and creator of business plan software (business-plan.com) says: "I have always thought of an entrepreneur as a person who starts a business to follow a vision, to make money, and to be the master of his/her own soul (both financially and spiritually). Inherent in the venture is the risk of what the future may bring. Therefore, I believe that an essential key to success is that the entrepreneur also be an "educated" risk taker.... "

Pinson continues: "I think that there is a general admiration for the entrepreneur who has a skill and bravely jumps into the middle of the fire hoping not to get burned. If he makes it, he is our shining example of who we want to be. If he does not, we say, "Oh, well" and pay no heed to the plight of his venders, associates, and customers who have been burned in the process. The view, though, I think is rapidly changing because a large percentage of American entrepreneurs have not been successful. Their industry knowledge and skills have been everything we could hope for......but their business skills have been sorely lacking. I think it is now recognized that the "educated risk taker" will win the race."

Pinson makes two key points. First, many entrepreneurs want to be masters of their own fate and they can't find this outside of entrepreneurship. While studies have shown that people derive tremendous satisfaction from their work, how many people are really doing exactly what they want to be doing? Entrepreneurs are usually doing what they want, or, at least, they are doing something which they feel gives them control over their future. Entrepreneurs like to be in control of their future. They like to set their own course.

Many entrepreneurs feel that running a business offers far more security than being an employee. Entrepreneurs often argue that you can acquire wealth much faster if you own a business and you can build a buffer of personal financial security. Further, an entrepreneur's continued paycheck isn't dependent upon a single employer whose faulty business decisions could lead to being laid off. So, while some people see starting a business as more risky than conventional employment, other people see it as less risky.

Pinson's second point is the growing awareness of "professional entrepreneurship." Today, more people aren't just starting one business. They are starting one business followed by another and often another. Such entrepreneurs are sometimes called "serial entrepreneurs." Sometimes these people become angel investors who invest their own money into start-up companies. The more you understand about business and entrepreneurship, the better your chance of succeeding in business. Become an educated risk taker.

Pinson reminds us that entrepreneurs have a certain responsibility not only to themselves but also to their customers, suppliers, and associates.

Gillian Murphy, leader of San Joaquin Delta College Small Business Development Center, says: "An entrepreneur is not static but fluid...continues to seek opportunities and/or different methods of operation. When I think of someone with 'an entrepreneurial spirit,' I think of a person who will do whatever it takes to be successful in business, e.g., A former client wanted to open a business in a specific strip mall. However, there were no vacancies. He sought out a business that didn't appear to be very healthy. The business owner agreed to my client's suggestion of dividing her premises, leaving her with reduced rent, inventory needs, and general operations. In turn, my client "found" a location where he could operate his business!"

Murphy again shows the value of creativity in acquiring the necessary business resources. Thinking outside the box or taking creative approaches can often gain access to resources that appear unavailable to less entrepreneurial-minded people. Further, entrepreneurs are willing to propose unique ideas to potential partners or to negotiate unconventional deals to get what they want.

Bernard Kamoroff, entrepreneur, owner of Bell Springs Publishing, and author of the highly-regarded and bestselling book (over 500,000 copies sold), Small Time Operator: How To Start Your Own Small Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes, And Stay Out Of Trouble! says: "The original dictionary definition of entrepreneur is one who undertakes to carry out an enterprise,' the words entrepreneur and enterprise possibly having the same root. But people who do call themselves entrepreneurs I find usually think of themselves as more than 'just' a business owner carrying out an enterprise. They view themselves more as a swashbuckler, business adventurer, risk taker. Inc. Magazine in particular likes to promote this image. Me, personally, I do not make the distinction in my books. One of the fun things of being your own boss is giving yourself whatever title you like."

Doing easily what others find difficult is talent; doing what is impossible for talent is genius.
- Henri Frederic Amiel