What Makes an Entrepreneur?

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Jams, Jellies, Sauces and Pie Fillings

Bias.  This is a word I think of often when listening to people talk about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs.  Why?  Because the definitions vary based on the person talking!  Experience impacts their perception of what makes an entrepreneur.

High tech entrepreneurs are often biased by defining entrepreneurs as world-changing, technology developers.  Note, Phil Libin, the co-founder and CEO of Evernote, says the only good reason to launch a company is to change the world.

After starting, building, selling and closing several businesses, I interviewed more than 100 entrepreneurs in 80 plus industries.  I teach a class on entrepreneurship for wounded veterans and their families.  And I read 1000’s of articles, blogs and tweets about the subject.  As a result, my bias is an open definition of what makes an entrepreneur.

For example, an Iraq war veteran came back to his family farm and found out that the farm could not support him financially unless he came up with new ideas for building their total income.  He developed jams, jellies, sauces and pie fillings, canned them, bought the canning business which canned his products, and started canning for other farmers.  The technology involved in his story is minimal, and not much different from technology used by farmers for over 100 years.  However, this entrepreneurship story, in my book, is as successful as the tech genius pitching great ideas to venture capitalists.  The business income from his ideas supports his growing family.  He employs people in his community.  The hard work he puts in from before dawn to long past dusk seven days a week is worth it to him, even if the world is little changed by his yummy jellies.  Not bad for a guy whose “board of directors” is made up of his buddies from the Marine Corp.

The entrepreneurs I interviewed have energy companies and wine shops.  They create businesses around their special talents, such as administrative skills or mediation skills. Customers of theirs are changed because exercise makes them stronger or because the seats in their stadiums are stronger and more comfortable.  They provide technological solutions to large companies and government agencies and they support the technology needs of individuals and small businesses.  Their businesses are small but profitable, on the INC 5000 list of fastest growing privately owned companies or were sold to publicly traded companies.

Why did these entrepreneurs start a business?  To balance their lives, to make a living, to gain independence, to build or make something they admire or love, to sell something they admire or love, to apply their special talents to solve the problems of others, and, yes, to change the world their way.  However, sometimes their definitions of “change” and “world” are biased – it can be as small as changing local communities or as big as changing 100 lives.

All the best!



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