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Word Defined: What is an Entrepreneur?

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

What is an Entrepreneur? Can you define it? Is someone who starts a business automatically an entrepreneur? Can employees be entrepreneurs? What journey do entrepreneurs go on?

When this word made it into our common language, entrepreneur was a specific type of businessperson, is that still the case?

Media tells us stories about these amazing people called entrepreneurs who have made a lot of money and live a life most only dream about. We see these bigger than life extraordinary entrepreneurs who have created huge corporate organizations, which they still actively lead. Are they still entrepreneurs after their company becomes a juggernaut of processes & red tape? And if so, does this make every CEO an entrepreneur? Can anyone be an entrepreneur?

The answer lies in the definition of the word, however, the word itself has lost its meaning by being overused in all aspects of professional life.

The Meaning of the Word Entrepreneur is...

The word “entrepreneur” originates from the French verb, entreprendre, meaning “to do something” or “to undertake.” In the 16th century the word entrepreneur meant someone who undertakes a business venture.

In 1730, Richard Cantillon defined it as, “The willingness to bear the personal financial risk of a business venture as the defining characteristic of an entrepreneur.” John Stuart Mill said an entrepreneur is, “A person who assumes both the risk and the management of a business.” So, an investor who takes on risk without the work is not an entrepreneur.

In the twentieth century, Joseph Schumpeter said, “An entrepreneur is an innovator who implements change in an economy by introducing new goods or new methods of production.” He believed entrepreneurs were the people who created new things and processes which fully replaced the ‘old way’ making things obsolete.

His contemporary, Israel Kirzner, defined the entrepreneur as someone who discovers previously unnoticed profit opportunities, which grows until the market competition wipes out the profit opportunity.

This occurs as populations move into new areas, growing opportunity for multiple types of businesses to open up, until the growth of the city stops or decreases.

In the 1980s and the 1990s local governments adopted Kirzner’s ideology and switched their focus to attracting entrepreneurs in the form of small business owners. This is the time the word gained popularity and became an acceptable profession to study in post-secondary schools.

Today, most of Canada’s economy is made up of entrepreneurs, small business owners who are trying to make a living by building their own small dreams. Not all entrepreneurs own private jets or live in mansions around the world, most of us are just like you, except we created our jobs.

Is it any surprise that thirty years later the definition of the word has become muddied and is overused?

The Dictionaries Define Entrepreneur as ...

The Oxford dictionary says, “A person who makes money by starting or running businesses, especially when this involves taking financial risks.”

1) Is a Person

2) Makes money

3) Starts a business

4) Runs a business

5) Takes financial risks

The definition from the Cambridge dictionary is, “Someone who starts their own business, especially when this involves seeing a new opportunity”

1) A Person

2) Starts a business

3) Sees a new opportunity

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says, “One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

1) Person

2) Organizes

3) Manages

4) Assumes Risk

5) Any business

6) Enterprise included

You may be wondering why I am putting so much effort into defining a word. I mean what does it matter? Who cares what the actual definition is?

How many of you communicate via text, IM, email? How many have received a one-word text? A simple sentence IM? A quickly typed email? AND misunderstood what the sender meant, interpreted it wrong, resulting in an emotionally charged reaction? I do this all the time.

Given, a word like Entrepreneur does not result in an emotionally charged misunderstanding, however when one reads a job description and it says they are looking for someone who is entrepreneurial, what are they looking for?

An employer wants to hire an entrepreneur as an employee? Is that possible? And if so how?

I know, failed entrepreneurs can be looking for work as employees, however, can they be satisfied in an employee role if they are truly an entrepreneurial person? As you can tell, my mind will keep asking questions to try to understand what is meant.

Managers, business leaders, thought leaders, and business reporters tend to grasp at the latest buzz word to make it sound like they are in the know, they are at the cusp of the next idea, and the person we need to pay attention to. Yet, most use these buzz words wrong, overuse time, put them into their corporate materials and the words lose all meaning.

I hope you will start asking questions when someone throws around a buzzword, a new word, or any defining word of a sentence to understand what they really mean. I doubt most really understand exactly what they want.

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Business Leaders say the Meaning of the Word Entrepreneur is...

When I was helping Anthony C. Gruppo write his latest book, Pushers of the Possible (available on Amazon - just saying), he told me, “Everyone can be a CEO. It is all in how you define the role.” Anthony defines CEO as, “Coaching yourself and others, be Entrepreneurial in your thinking, and Own the position.” Does this sound like you?

What does it mean to be Entrepreneurial? If everyone can be entrepreneurial, is being one as common as a penny, before Canada made them obsolete?

Then I met Cameron Chell. During his weekly Build Impossible calls, he talks about his definition of the Entrepreneur, as it applies to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, saying entrepreneurs are a unique breed who need the self-actualization before everything else.

I asked ask my connections on LinkedIn for their definition.

How People Define the Word Entrepreneur

The following people provided their definition of the word Entrepreneur as they experience it on their entrepreneurial journey.

Eli Logan on Twitter

The entrepreneur decides which product or service to offer, obtain the needed facilities, hires the required labor force, acquire production materials, and provides for the capital.

Monte Clark - Sure. I can define it for you Shannon Peel. Being an entrepreneur is akin to being a Navy seal. A base jumper, a ropeless cliff climber, a sky diver, a homeless person, an artist, a general, a warrior, a romantic, a counselor, and a lunatic all while loving every single minute of it!

Tom Broxham - Really good question Shannon Peel. Some words become used so often they become buzzwords and lose all meaning. It is easy to say someone is but it is hard for someone to actually be an entrepreneur. What people don’t see is all the work, dedication in behind being one.

Marilyn Anderson - When I think of the Entrepreneurs I know, a few common traits come to mind, among them - Curiosity, problem-solving, passion to create/help/achieve, interest in people, willing to share, ready to work hard and focus with passion/risk for their dream, realistic and hard-working, engaging and persuasive......

Toni Serofin - I’ve refused to call myself an entrepreneur in the past because I’ve only created one company (and, a sole proprietorship at that) and I have zero desire to build anything more. However, I’ve expanded my view on the topic because I’ve come to see my determination and commitment to what I do as entrepreneurial. Originally, I thought an entrepreneur would typically have the interest and ability to create more than one business over their lifetime.

Neil Pretty - Interesting question. I believe that entrepreneurs have a few qualities in common: a singular belief that their ideas put into action will fundamentally shift paradigms, that there is and should be a financial compensation for that action (even for non-profit entrepreneurs), they seek people that challenge THEM to grow but don’t get in the way or degrade their vision, they are comfortable with risk, and they have at last ONE thing in their life that is VERY stable that they can count on (like my wife for example).... this can be Intrepreneurial or entrepreneurial and does not mean they have what it takes to be a CEO. The traits are different and both may or May not be held by the same person. The SuccessFinder has a particular view on this based on 40+ years of data. It is compelling and accurate. It also provides perspective that even within a group that is extremely well suited that there are many roads to Rome.

Accumulated Interests - Entrepreneurs have a unique mindset and some have it more naturally than others (not all CEO’s have it but the good ones learn to recognize the gift in others who have it). To become a successful/effective entrepreneur takes training and the ability to build a team around vision. The top entrepreneurs are only as good as the team they put on the field.

It still isn’t clear, so I went to Facebook and entered a post search for, “What does the word Entrepreneur mean?” These are some of the definitions I found.

Gregor Hočevar - Entrepreneur. What does that mean? A definition says that entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. Ok. But I also like to say, that entrepreneur is anyone who’s had ups and downs. A human that has fallen numerous times but yet still had the strength to stand up again.

Kristin Marquet

Entrepreneurship is the process of creating a new business, product or service. The entrepreneur is the person who embarks on this journey and takes on the risks in order to pursue his/her dreams.

The definition of an entrepreneur is not just limited to business owners but also includes those who start up a company, create a product or service from scratch, or even create an online community.

Entrepreneurship can be difficult and even risky at times. It is important for entrepreneurs to have strong skillsets that help them navigate through their journey as they take on many responsibilities such as marketing, finance, and human resources management

Ken Wimberly

In my mind, and entrepreneur is someone who is taking an idea from 0 to 1. Someone who has the vision, the passion, and the dream. They are willing to suffer the inevitable LOWS that come in business and life. Yet they get back up, dust themselves off, and push ahead.

Angeley Mullins

The ultimate risk taker. An entrepreneur is a person who is willing to take the risks that others are not and are able to build a vision out fo thin air where others would not be willing to try. A business owner on the other hand is a person who likes to take on a pre-established or fully operational business. An entrepreneur takes risks on ideas that are not yet established.

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Sound familiar?

A person who has been thinking how to solve problems although naysayers said it can’t be done. Someone who is so passionate about what they are doing that they don’t look at the clock nor count how many hours it will take to do the job. Yes, that can be any person in the world, including you and no you don’t have to own a business to have an entrepreneurial mindset. Being a wonderful parent needs the same values, also someone who has hobbies has them.

Education plays a big part and is very important. And when I say education, I don’t mean formal education but the one you get through life and work experiences. Those are priceless. Reading books, attending workshops, masterminds, having a mentor. That kind of education will take you to another level. When I educate myself I don’t do it because I want to look smarter. This post is not about me. It’s about bringing something more to society, customers, children, spouse or to yourself.