What is an entrepreneur?

The age of the entrepreneur has now well and truly arrived. Twenty years ago, they have used the word “buccaneer” in the same breath as an entrepreneur. Still, now the definition of an entrepreneur is someone willing to take risks to launch a product or service successfully.

A popular misconception is that inventors and entrepreneurs are the same. This is not the case. An inventor creates something new. An entrepreneur assembles and then integrates all the resources needed – the money, the people, the business model, the strategy, and the risk-bearing ability – to transform the invention into a viable business. He or she is a person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture. They have a talent for homing in on opportunities and have the abilities needed to develop those opportunities into profit-making businesses.

‘It is a contradiction in terms to call yourself an entrepreneur when you’re actually betting other people’s money. Let’s define the entrepreneur as someone who is willing to take a risk with their own capital. They have an upside, but they also have a considerable downside. ‘The other thing that unites us as entrepreneurs is a burning desire to be our own bosses.’

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou Founder and chairperson, easyGroup

Research into entrepreneurs

The recent surge of interest in entrepreneurship has resulted in more focused research, which benefits us.

Across the globe, recognition is finally being given as to the importance of entrepreneurship to society.

‘Entrepreneurship is America’s most important competitive advantage. It’s what America does much better than any other advanced industrial nation.’

William Bygrave, Babson College

While traditional research rarely focused on entrepreneurs as a distinct group, this is now changing. Academic researchers have looked at the entrepreneurial process as something quite different from starting a small business or managing an established company. Research points to the entrepreneur’s ability to take calculated risks and to have an achievement orientation, a sense of independence, an internal locus of control, and a tolerance of ambiguity.

Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that an entrepreneur does not need specific inherent traits but a set of acquired skills.

‘Successful entrepreneurs have a wide range of personality types. Most research about entrepreneurs has focused on the influences of genes, family, education, career experience, and so forth, but no psychological model has been supported.’

‘There is no evidence of an ideal entrepreneurial personality. Great entrepreneurs can be either gregarious or low key, analytical or intuitive, charismatic or boring, good with details or terrible, delegators, or control freaks. What you need is a capacity to execute in certain key ways.’ 1

1 William Lee, What successful entrepreneurs really do (Lee Communications, 2201, Pleasanton, CA)

This is good news for those who don’t fit the stereotype, and I include myself in that. You don’t have to have an elusive set of unique genetic traits to be a successful entrepreneur. What you do need can be learned from speaking to experienced entrepreneurs and reading as much as you can get your hands on.

The evidence tells us they show a unique response to the world around them as a group.

‘They work hard and are driven by an intense commitment and determined perseverance; they see the cup as half full, rather than half-empty; they strive for integrity; they thrive on the competitive desire to excel and win; they are dissatisfied with the status quo and seek opportunities to improve almost any situation they encounter; they use failure as a tool for learning and eschew perfection in favor of effectiveness; and they believe they can personally make an enormous difference in the final outcome of their ventures and their lives.’ 2

2 New venture creation, Jeffry A Timmons and Stephen Spinelli

So, everything you need can be learned. However, there is a core set of traits found among many successful entrepreneurs that they may have acquired through experience or been lucky enough to have been gifted as a child. It’s a useful exercise to look at these traits in some detail. Indeed, even though you didn’t know it at the time, you were being compared with these when you did the quiz. They were all questions based on the following characteristics.

These are a set of characteristics that are available to anyone. I do not draw the following from scientific research, but from 20 years of personal experience and observation into successful entrepreneurs’ consistent characteristics.

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