We want to use our trip to gain a better insight on what impact entrepreneurship can have on social and environmental issues, like poverty or climate change. In order for us to start answering that question, we first have to state our definition of entrepreneurship.
We could have done this by only looking in the dictionary under entrepreneurship or look up the many definitions of entrepreneurship by researchers but we also wanted to know what our target group, the people behind many different sustainable initiatives thought, so we asked them: are you an entrepreneur?
These are the answers of Alex, Martha and Mark, who we all met on Zanzibar. All 3 of them are creating value, changing the world, doing something they believe in, but are they all entrepreneurs? And what do they think themselves?
Alex studied marine biology and is consulting NGO’s and Dive-clubs to set up their own eco-safari’s in order to generate a new sustainable income stream for both the NGO’s and the Dive-clubs, making the NGO’s less dependable on external funds and the tourist more aware off their environment.
Mark is running the RedMonkeyLodge, a small hotel on the eastside of Zanzibar. He tries to contribute to local development by hiring local staff, buying local produces, organizing capability building activities in the area etc. Mark is the guy with the new ideas, testing them, developing them etc. His wife Christina mainly does the daily management of the Lodge.
Martha works for the Scholar Rescue Fund from the Institute of International Eductaion, which offers prosecuted scholars all over the world the opportunity to flee their own country and temporarily teach at a university in a safe environment. Martha coordinates both the contact with scholars, the financial means etc.
When we look up the scientific definitions of entrepreneurship by well renowned researchers in the field and compare them with Mark, Martha’s and Alex answers, we find that within some definitions the researchers agree with Martha, Alex and Mark and sometimes disagree. To give you some examples:
Schumpeter (1965) defined “entrepreneurs as individuals who exploit market opportunity through technical and/or organizational innovation”. For Frank H. Knight (1921) and Peter Drucker (1970) “entrepreneurship is about taking risk”. Hornaday and Bunker (1970) stated “a real entrepreneur had to have really started the business where there was none before, had at least 15 employees and the enterprise had to be continuing for a period of at least 5 years in the present profit-making structure”. Hisrich (1990) defined that an entrepreneur is characterized as “someone who demonstrates initiative and creative thinking, is able to organize social and economic mechanisms to turn resources and situations to practical account, and accepts risk and failure”. Bolton and Thompson (2000) have defined an entrepreneur as “a person who habitually creates and innovates to build something of recognized value around perceived opportunities”.
When entrepreneurship is considered creating value all 3 (Mark, Martha and Alex) would comply, as they are all part of some innovative organization changing the world (how small or big doesn’t matter then). Is an entrepreneur defined by whether he really owns his own business, no matter how small or big, then that would make both Mark and Martha no entrepreneurs, because Martha is part of a big NGO and Mark currently rents the RedMonkeyLodge from the previous manager, who is now Marks landlord. When we look at it form a profitmaking perspective, then only Mark would be a real entrepreneur. And when we would consider Hornaday and Dunkers defenition, neither of them complies to the definition.
What does this tell us about our own definition of entrepreneurship? We can definitely conclude that the definition of that word is morphing, specifically in a Western context, as technology puts the fundamental tools for managing and organizing a business into anyone’s hands. You can be an entrepreneur from within a corporate organization, or while still in high school. It is becoming a way of life more than an approach to business. But as Lean Startup author Eric Ries points out: most of us (and we find this very true in still developing countries like the answers of the handicapped entrepreneurs in Kisumu showed us) still tend to think of entrepreneurs as the ramen-slurping garage dwellers starting their own businesses, portrayed in movies. “Everyone thinks they’re crazy, and then fast-forward boom all of a sudden they are on the cover of magazines,” he says. “But what makes you an entrepreneur today isn’t anymore what kind of noodles you eat, with who or in which garage, but rather the context in which you operate.” So maybe it is time for a new defenition of entrepreneurship which relates much more to this entrepreneurial attitude then to a state of being and which fits current sustainability trends worldwide: entrepreneurs are trying to create new value in conditions of extreme uncertainty.
What do you think: are Martha, Mark and Alex entrepreneurs?