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Entrepreneurs: the world's lifeline

Entrepreneurs seem to be in high demand. Yet Rebecca Harding finds that people often mean different things when they talk about ...

By Rebecca Harding 01 December 2006

Entrepreneurs seem to be in high demand. Yet Rebecca Harding finds that people often mean different things when they talk about entrepreneurship. What, exactly, are entrepreneurs? And, what role will they play in the world’s future?
Entrepreneurs the worlds lifelineFor all the burgeoning literature on entrepreneurship, establishing precisely what entrepreneurship is and why it matters is something of a Holy Grail. Policy makers across the world, inspired by the rapid productivity growth seen in the United States during the 1990s, have put in place structures to support start-up firms, develop a venture capital structure, link industry and universities more closely together and, of course, provide enterprise education. Similarly, businesses have sought to capture the creative, innovative potential of their workforces by following people-based strategies of empowerment and self-actualisation.

Yet despite the priority in business and policy that is placed on encouraging entrepreneurship, one can derive a jumble of mixed messages across the world just in trying to define terms. Innovation and entrepreneurship are used interchangeably as universities are encouraged to commercialise the results of their research and development, because this is seen as a key to US productivity successes. Businesses are increasingly talking about “entrepreneurial management” as a way of setting the parameters for competitiveness in their sector, yet rules-bound management is often the bane of energetic entrepreneurs. And television programmes like “The Apprentice” purportedly teach people to be entrepreneurs through making money at whatever cost. All of this begs the basic question: what is an entrepreneur?

Many remain confused. In a quest to boost entrepreneurship, some have made efforts to change employment cultures. In many countries, it is no longer common to work a nine-to-five day with regular holidays and to hold a job for life. According to “Enterprise Insight”, a UK-based organisation whose goal is to promote entrepreneurship among young people, people can now expect to change jobs on average 20 times during the course of their working life. Having the entrepreneurial skills to adapt and see work as a means to self-actualisation, achievement and labour market engagement is now said by many to be the secret to a fulfilling working life. But it’s hard to overlook the fact that a lot of people change jobs over and over and never come close to being an entrepreneur. Perhaps being an entrepreneur goes far beyond the length of one’s résumé.

It is fact that the parameters of the global economic and social order change, and systems need to adapt accordingly. Changes in society are fuelled by changes in the economy, as some groups become richer while others become poorer. For rich and poor alike, technology filters through into our everyday lives, usually accelerating the pace of change for all. Entrepreneurs, like everyone else, are affected by change and grapple with staying ahead of the next wave of change. But isn’t change the number one goal (and by-product) of entrepreneurship? See why confusion often reigns in a discussion about this subject? Let’s define the concept from the ground up.

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