What Is an Entrepreneur?

There are many differing views on what makes someone an entrepreneur and what an entrepreneurial venture is. In a sense the definition itself is evolving as the field itself comes into the mainstream of American business. While we speak of many of the originators of businesses in the past as entrepreneurs, it was not until the mid1970's that the concept became a prevalent enough part of our economy that definitions even were necessary. Consequently, we see in the literature a wide variety of possibilities for what this field of endeavor really is.

Looking online, the Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary from 1913 defined an entrepreneur as "one who creates a product on his own account." That sounds a trifle stuffy, is very limited and doesn't fit for many of the people widely known as entrepreneurs. The meaning of the word entrepreneur has certainly evolved since 1913.

Does just creating a product make you entrepreneurial if you never do anything with it? What if you take someone's product and make it a success? That is not entrepreneurial? Investorwords, a set of definitions of financial terms, defines an entrepreneur as "an individual who starts his/her own business." At what point then are you no longer an entrepreneur? When are you no longer starting up? From the Merriam-Webster Online comes a more current definition: "one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise." Assuming risk certainly fits most entrepreneurs. This definition is definitely richer, but still lacks the sense of innovation that one usually associates with entrepreneurs.

Moving from formal definitions, Ashoka, an organization which promotes social change, calls for "social entrepreneurs," people who open up major new possibilities in education, health, the environment, and other areas of human need, "just as business entrepreneurs lead innovation in commerce, social entrepreneurs drive social change." The concept of business entrepreneurs leading innovation is appealing because it denotes more than just starting a business. An entrepreneur herself, Daile Tucker, provides her thoughts on what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Are You an Entrepreneur? She defines an entrepreneur as "a person who has decided to take control of his future and become self-employed whether by creating his own unique business or working as a member of a team, as in multi-level marketing." She identifies work ethics and several character traits of successful entrepreneurs, ending with "Entrepreneurs compete with themselves and believe that success or failure lies within their personal control or influence." This begins to touch on motivational aspects for being an entrepreneur which may distinguish the type of person drawn to being an entrepreneur.

Mark Hendricks takes Tucker's definition a step further, acknowledging innovation, but also providing alternatives. Hendricks suggests that to be an entrepreneur you don't particularly have to be daring. Many entrepreneurs are perfectly content to sell tried-and-true products, bringing a steady income without the intensity of launching a new product. He labels these lifestyle entrepreneurs. They want to be their own boss and make a good living, but they don't need to be on the cutting edge, which entails living where one wants, working with people one likes, and doing work one wants to do.

An Academic Perspective

The Evolution of the Professional Entrepreneur

To quote Tom O'Malia from his introduction to the book, Been There, Done That, "Entrepreneurs are about loving their journey, not their destination." For me, this sums up the excitement and fun of being an entrepreneur. And that is why it is not synonymous with being a small businessperson. The entrepreneurial mind set can operate in all sizes and types of businesses.