The Entrepreneur in Everyone

The definition of what constitutes entrepreneurship is far too narrow. We must learn to celebrate enterprising individuals no matter where they appear.

By Yusuf Mansur

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “entrepreneur”? Almost everyone would conjure up an image of a successful businessman or business woman; basically, the mind goes to the extremely wealthy few. The word “entrepreneur” has become synonymous with rich, innovator, market leader, sophisticated, visionary, powerful, and other equally aggrandizing meanings.

Yet, this thinking is not doing any favor to those who want to become entrepreneurs. It is even harmful to the effort of creating more entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. By over glamorizing the concept, making it less of a normal, ought-to-be common undertaking or behavior, one endows it with some unique or unattainable attributes. In general, the majority seems to confuse successful people with entrepreneurs.

Let’s go back in history to the origin of the word. The word “entrepreneur” was borrowed from French by economist Richard Cantillon in the 1700s and coined by Jean-Baptiste Say in the 1800s to mean “one who undertakes an enterprise, especially a contractor, acting as intermediary between capital and labor.” Nowadays, students of economics are taught that an entrepreneur is a person who organizes the factors of production (land, labor, capital, and technology) into a business entity, assumes all risks and uncertainties, and their payment is profits.

This person is therefore someone who gathers labor through some contractual arrangement; employs capital in the form of buildings, machinery, and tools; utilizes a technology (which need not be a new invention or innovation and can be as simple as a way of doing something); purchases leases or rents natural resources; and can either make a living through profits or lose their shirt in the process. In short an entrepreneur is someone who organizes a business venture and assumes the risk for it. What this person isn’t, however, is a salaried employee of another.

So where do we find this person? He’s the child who convinced his mom to squeeze a few lemons, give him ice from her fridge, loan him a pitcher, leftover paper cups and an old box from the attic to display his wares upon; scribbled a sign that said: “Cold lemonade for 10 piasters, pennies or cents” and sold it to passersby on a street corner. We know many of these children and believe it or not, they are entrepreneurs. I know one person who did exactly this as a child to support his family, and later became one of Jordan’s largest producers of ice cream. He learned business skills without going to a business school or receiving an Ivy League education. At the age of 40, he started to learn to read. At 50 he seemed to lose it all as he failed to continue to lead in his industry and only recently bounced back. He has learned to take risks throughout his life.

Let me further emphasize a point: The person who started a falafel shop is an entrepreneur; the guy next door who learned his trade as an apprentice mechanic and later opened his own mechanic shop after saving enough money is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are almost everywhere. Now, these entrepreneurs may not be as successful as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or our own hundreds of self-made millionaires. But they are as entrepreneurial as the ones that don’t come to mind; they just happen to be more successful than most.

Of course there are several types of entrepreneurs, such as social entrepreneurs who start social enterprises, and innovative entrepreneurs who come up with new ideas to do things better. But they all fall under the one definition of creating an enterprise to do something. So, next time you hear of an entrepreneur think of the simple guys all around you, the grocers, shop owners, and everyone who started a business, any kind of business; not the very, very rich guys the news talk about. And remember, entrepreneurship is no guarantee of wealth or success; if all people who started a business became rich, no person would work for another.