“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.”
This definition of what is meant by entrepreneurship was coined at Harvard Business School by guru Prof Howard Stevenson.
The key elements of this phrase – pursuit, opportunity, beyond resources controlled – are a good starting point for an exploration of what it means to be entrepreneurial in a theoretical and practical sense.
Before I begin this journey, however, I thought it would be helpful to create some context.
I have always struggled with the concept of “entrepreneurship” and what it stands for, primarily aligning it to profit and money-making.
“Becoming an entrepreneur is so much more than being self-employed – it involves a personal aspect of you evolving just as much as your business and skills. Being in business, however, is about turning profit and doing it well. This differentiation must be made early on so that your path and intentions are clear as possible early on so you, yourself, don’t get lost in doubt and fear of failure along the way.”
Kirby, 2003, advances this definition further: “An entrepreneur is an individual who establishes and manages a business for the principal purposes of profit and growth.”
Perhaps an early exposure to biblical teachings (“The root of evil is money.” (1 Timothy, 6:10)) and a simplistic aversion to capitalist systems combined to make me think of it as a dirty word, linked to exploitation, brash winners and done-down losers.
Chell (2013) talked of the entrepreneur as “a creator of wealth, capital and large organisational empires, a household name with a personality that is larger than life.”
The functionalist approach towards studying and explaining entrepreneurship is based around a vision of entrepreneurs as people who produce “economic or social utility”. (Jones & Spicer, 2009)
Picture the likes of Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Donald Trump (pre-presidential distraction)…all entrepreneurs whose stories fit the functionalist approach.
This focus on financial reward as the primary measure of success has proved an intellectual barrier to my ambitions to become a self sustaining creative entrepreneur. It’s hard to be successful while simultaneously being embarrassed to discuss money or, in some cases, even reluctant to charge clients anything at all.
It would appear that this is a trait common to many cultural enterpreneurs more than any other type of entrepreneur (Leadbeater & Oakley, 1999):
“Their attitude towards money is as ambivalent as their attitude to the market. In ways they are non-materialistic. They are prepared to earn relatively little… for long periods as the price of doing what they want to do.”
In ‘The Independents: Britain’s new cultural entrepreneur’, Leadbetter and Oakley investigate the people and companies, often small scale, who are seeking to use their creative talents and ideas to develop as independent businesses.
They define who, why and where the cultural entrepreneur has emerged in Britain, highlighting in particular the ingredients for existence and development, the likely barriers and the importance of networks.
Another misconception which has flourished is that creative entrepreneurs are isolated geniuses. Leadbetter and Oakley’s research challenges this too:
“It is virtually impossible for cultural entrepreneurs to work in isolation. Their skills and talents usually emerge from a creative community and they are sustained by a shared milieu. That is why cultural entrepreneurs congregate in cities: they provide the most creative milieu in which they can work.”
Around Birmingham this is evident through regular meetups and hackdays, shared cultural spaces and collaborative projects. This activity shares traits with typical entrepreneurs, but often these communities are freely accessed, while more traditionally there has been a price to pay for access to other entrepreneurs (business clubs, breakfast meetings and so on.)
“Independents thrive on informal networks through which they organise work.” (Leadbetter & Oakley, 1999).
This type of organisation would seem to embody the interpretive approach towards entrepreneurship, focussing less on what is produced and more on what the product or service means and how it is understood (Gartner, 1990, cited in Jones & Spicer, 2009).
Finally, a critical approach seeks to question the prevailing theories around entrepreneurship.
My ambition, then, is to adopt a critical approach to entrepreneurship generally and, particularly, in relation to my own fledgling business ideas.
This will involve defining (and in some cases discovering) my primary motivations and assumptions and challenging myself to be more ‘entrepreneurial’ while doing so.
It will also involve questioning whether there is indeed a “personality type” more suited to entrepreneurship (Chell, 2008) – and if so, do I have what it takes?
Carter, S. and Jones-Evans, D. (2006) Enterprise and Small Business, Ch.15: Kirby, David A. ‘Leadership, entrepreneurship and management of small businesses’. Pearson.
Chell, E. (2013). The entrepreneurial personality. Hove, East Sussex: Routledge.
Ghadimi, P. (2017) ‘If profit isn’t the main goal of entrepreneurship, then what is?’ Available at: https://www.secretentourage.com/motivation/if-profit-isnt-the-main-goal-of-entrepreneurship-then-what-is/
Jones, C. and Spicer, A. (2009). Unmasking the Entrepreneur. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Leadbeater, C. and Oakley, K. (1999). The independents. London: Demos.
Stevenson, Howard H., Roberts, M. and Greenback, H. (1989) New Business Ventures and the Entrepreneur