A few weeks ago, a friend sent me an HBR Online article that argued that there is no such thing as a Corporate Entrepreneur because people who are trying to innovate within big companies don’t take on the same level of personal or financial risk as “real” entrepreneurs.
Having spent time as a Corporate Entrepreneur launching Swiffer at P&G, I had a pretty strong NSFW reaction to the article. But, in an uncharacteristic fit of maturity, instead of ripping off a response, I decided to send the article to friends who are currently Corporate Entrepreneurs and ask for their thoughts. What I received back was also NSFW.
But it got me thinking….are we even debating the right thing?
What is an Entrepreneur?
There are lots of definitions floating around but the one I have heard used most often is from Professor Howard Stevenson, referred to as “the godfather of entrepreneurship studies” at Harvard Business School:
Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled
There it is. No mention of where the entrepreneur is working (start-up vs. corporation). No mention of the level of personal or financial risk taken on. No mention of the pace of work or the degree or politics and bureaucracy endured. An Entrepreneur is simply someone who recognizes an opportunity and pursues it even though they do not currently have all the resources they need.
Why should we care?
Great, we have a common definition of Entrepreneur. So what? Isn’t this just some theoretical debate best left to academics?
Not really. Defining what an Entrepreneur is (and is not) is important because if the label is applied too broadly then it risks becoming devalued. A buzzword said while rolling your eyes and discussing your weird unemployed cousin.
Entrepreneurship is hard work and it’s understandable that the people who pursue it want to be known by a term that communicates the effort and sacrifices required and that commands respect.
So we need to draw a line between the ingroup (Entrepreneurs) and the outgroup but we need to be sure that line is drawn appropriately and not based purely on what makes us feel special.
Beware the Wantrepreneurs!
Entrepreneurs PURSUE opportunities. They take action. They DO something new (innovation). They make things (innovation) happen.
Wantrepreneurs talk about opportunities. They go on field trips to Silicon Valley and create innovation spaces painted in bright colors and filled with beanbag chairs. They got to pitch competitions and lurk around at meet-ups. They host ideation sessions and share photos of all the post-its notes on the walls. They create and parade around shiny objects that get people excited but that have no chance of ever generating the measurable and meaningful impact required to be an innovation. They pretend to be Entrepreneurs. And they are everywhere — founding start-ups, in start-ups, and in companies.
The line defining who is an entrepreneur and who isn’t should not be drawn based where they work or how the work gets done.
The line should be drawn based on what gets done. The should divide the Entrepreneurs who PURSUE opportunities and the Wantrepreneurs who PRETEND to innovate.
Which one are you?