What is an Entrepreneur?

This week’s blog takes a look into the socially ambiguous terminology of an ‘entrepreneur’.

We use it so casually in society and I’ve seen some great debates on platform and in lecture rooms around the meaning.

Dictionaries, but not academia, say:

The Oxford English Dictionary.

“a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”

The Cambridge Dictionary confirms a similar theme.

“Someone who starts their own business, especially when this involves seeing a new opportunity”

Crystal clear, right?

Well, ish, until academics get involved and continually debate each other, which is the joy of academia. They love an argument. Within Chesterton’s essays you can find great thought about debate, ‘briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it’.  

Let us start to look at the vast difference between an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship.

In Tom Eisenmann’s Harvard Paper (2013) the definition of entrepreneurship is argued as, “.. entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled…’ Furthermore, it states that “Pursuit implies a singular, relentless focus”, “Opportunity implies an offering that is novel” and “Beyond resources controlled implies resource constraints”.

Right, that’s settled then. Got it.

But have you? I haven’t. I often quote Cole to students and scholars (and panels where I am defending reason!)

Cole, 1969 (contained within (Cooper & Komives, 1970), “my own experience was that for ten years we ran a research centre in entrepreneurial history, for ten years we tried to define the entrepreneur. We never succeeded. Each of us had some notion of it – what he thought was, for his purposes, a useful definition. And I don’t think you’re going to get farther than that.”

Oh, but we use the term so frequently, so we must be agreed? Well clearly not. I suspect if we replicated Coles studies, we would similarly struggle and drive ourselves insane.

But let’s give it a bash…

“The literature appears to support the argument that there is no generic definition of the entrepreneur, or if there is we do not have the psychological instruments to discover it at this time. Most attempts to distinguish between entrepreneurs and small business owners or managers have discovered no significant differentiating factors”. (Brockhaus & Horwitz 1986)

My plan failed. Perhaps we need to fast forward a little nearer to modern day.

“The dominant paradigm of entrepreneurship research practices, positivism, has brought about a fundamental paradox: researchers often try to analyse a phenomenon that cannot be properly defined” (Anderson & Starnawska, 2008)

I’m clearly struggling here!

The challenge is that we can probably take ideology from something as diverse as Plato’s Cave, a lesson in reasoning and discussion around science, math and geometry, the theory of forms, to pinpoint any start of a journey to form a personal argument and definition of the entrepreneur. History doesn’t allow us to pinpoint the great big bang entrepreneurial theory. Schumpeter’s 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Deomocracy (what do you mean politics, philosophy and economics are permanently wedded….) theorises that an entrepreneur brings together all factors of production, whatever that production might be and in essence this relates back to further research that it simply means ‘owning and running a business’.

No one can disagree with Schumpeter though, a Harvard Professor formerly of finance ministry in German- Austria. What a place to learn and experience the wedded environment of PPE.

Well perhaps not, but Bennett takes the theory further , “Other personal characterises that supposedly differentiate entrepreneurship from owner-managership include initiative, a willingness to take risks, self-confidence, perseverance, resourcefulness, independence, persuasiveness, tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity…” (Bennett, 2006,)

Ok. So we don’t have a settled reasoning. So I created my own for my own doctorate with a pretty robust defence mechanic. Similarly I am happy to be challenged.

‘Entrepreneurship is a parallel marriage between an “economic process”, a result of a series of commercial mechanics, and “motivators”, a series of individual drivers influenced by time and social position, in which one should not be discounted at the expense of the other.’ (Kidney 2022)

That’s not to say my definition is right but simply to encourage a platform for everyone to create and form their own theories and forms. From Plato through to Kidney.

And to think my grandmother said those names would never be uttered in the same breath.

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