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How To Correctly (Re)Define Entrepreneurship?

Do you really know if you are an entrepreneur? Is a wider definition needed today?

Anthony Stark, a man at the fag end of his twenties, is a graduate in computer science and engineering from an Ivy League school. A software engineer by profession, he is successful as a programmer and in a career span of 5–6 years, he has learned many skills and trade secrets to excel in the industry. Then, one day he decides to quit his job. Why? To pursue a personal goal, a childhood dream.

But, there is a catch. This goal is unrelated to his current profession, skillset, and the discipline of his graduation. He wants to pursue this dream as he has a vision for a better world. After doing a decent amount of analysis and thinking, he quits his job and starts off on a new, exciting, unknown journey — a fresh start!

To work in this new field, he studies and trains hard, writes multiple and extremely hard tests, re-skills himself; and for this, he gives more than a year in preparation — no job, no business, no startup, no earnings, no fundings, and no guaranteed success. Is Anthony an entrepreneur?

The Oxford English dictionary defines entrepreneurship as — the activity of making money by starting or running businesses, especially when this involves taking financial risks; the ability to do this. Many of us might agree with this definition but let’s disagree and dig deep.

Etymologically, the word entrepreneur derives from French ‘entreprendre’ which means to undertake. An entrepreneur is thus, someone who undertakes risk, and entrepreneurship put simply, is one’s ability to undertake a risk — financial, professional, educational, concerned with career, among many others. Thus, the word has a much deeper meaning than what the dictionary describes.

Now, back to Anthony. Clearly, he took a risk with financial and career-altering aspects. To me, Anthony is an entrepreneur — even if he is not running a business or in popular terms not starting up.

What can we learn about entrepreneurship from Anthony’s case? How do we characterize and identify an entrepreneur? Let me list down some extremely important characteristics of an entrepreneur (in my humble opinion). These can act as a primer to identify entrepreneurial streak in others as well as in oneself —

Element of risk — Possibly the most fundamental idea to entrepreneurship is risk-taking. An entrepreneur works with calculated risks based on logical assumptions, analysis, and intuition.

Element of uncertainty — An entrepreneur’s success is uncertain (at least in the initial phase) and the possibility of failure always looms large.

Element of courage — Entrepreneurship takes courage. Period.

Element of clarity in vision — Entrepreneurs must have a vision and a clear picture of their whys (purpose).

Element of resilience — An imminent failure gives two options — to accept and move one or to be resilient, to adapt, to pivot. A true entrepreneur adapts and grows on failures.

Element of perseverance — Resilience coupled with perseverance makes a good formula for success (not a guaranteed formula though). Defying failures and trying harder every time one fails are key elements to entrepreneurship.

Element of social betterment — What do entrepreneurs essentially do? They solve a problem that they see around them — in their social environment. In a private capacity or in an official capacity, an entrepreneur works on a socially relevant problem.

Element of pressure — Social and professional pressures are more often than not associated with entrepreneurs. Why? Because they try to change the established norms.

We have seen six key ingredients of entrepreneurship that expand our limited understanding of the word and the people concerned. Let me take this opportunity to expand on what entrepreneurship is NOT or what it isn’t limited to —

Entrepreneurship is not necessarily a business undertaking.

Entrepreneurship does not always involve only financial risk.

Entrepreneurship is not necessarily driven by the profit motive.

Entrepreneurship does not always involve a private undertaking.

Entrepreneurship is not necessarily doing something that you are good at or experienced in.

Entrepreneurship is definitely not a selfish undertaking.

Entrepreneurship is not synonymous with ‘starting-up’ (a popular belief).

Entrepreneurship does not always lead to self-employment.

Entrepreneurship will not necessarily result in success.

Entrepreneurship is not subject to its outcomes (success or failure).

In the modern world, where all traditional rules seem to be either changing or being broken, there is one more that needs to change — mobility in opportunities. Employment and education are more systemic than personal. What I mean is that the system decides what one learns and what one does in his/her life. The system includes our homes, society, schools, government policies, and educational institutions. Each of them has a specific impact on our lives that leads us in particular directions in education as well as in career.

Be that as it may, we must not lose the innate liberty to form, pursue and achieve our own goals — goals related to education, employment, work, or life in general. Skills and work are and should always be evolving and transitional. As long as one has the ability to learn new things, there should be no stigma or hesitation in trying them out, irrespective of the result.

When someone quits their job to try or pursue something new and different, they hesitate. It’s not an easy choice. There is not only a social burden but also a professional stigma. The question that haunts people is this — what if they fail and in the event of a failure when they look for re-employment, how do they showcase their work, especially when it is something not necessarily related to their field of work, education, or known skillset? How to justify that break?

Coming back to Anthony Stark. Do the system, society and the industry accept him as an entrepreneur? Maybe or maybe not. Irrespective of the fact that Anthony may be a passionate problem-solver and a bold decision-maker, the definition of entrepreneurship is subject to interpretation and hence, changes with the place, time, people, and situation. And this hinders the growth of enterprising spirit in people.

This is why we need to widen the definition of entrepreneurship. To solve the problems the world is facing today, we need to channel the creativity and intellect of every Anthony Stark there is by giving them the liberty to explore, try, take risks and at the same time, remove all stigma (social as well as professional) associated with failure and with coming back to square one. That is the true spirit of entrepreneurship in the modern era — the one we all must strive to establish.

P.S.: Anthony Stark (AS) is a fictional creation but, he may resonate with and resemble many of us. He represents no specific gender either. And that is the beauty of AS — one of us but not any of us.

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Anand Soni

Anand Soni

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