At Growthink, our mission is "to serve the world's entrepreneurs." When I share this with folks, they often come back to me with "Who are these entrepreneurs that are your mission to serve?" Touché.
So who is and who isn't an entrepreneur?
I like Professor Arthur O'Sullivan's definition, from "Economics: Principles in Action" the best - "An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of an new enterprise, venture or idea, and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome. He or she is an ambitious leader who combines land, labor, and capital to often create and market new goods or services."
Wow, this is good. Let's list out individuals that obviously fit this description. Then, let's dig deeper and talk about those who may not label themselves (nor may society) as entrepreneurs but by golly per Professor O'Sullivan's definition above they certainly are:
First, the "obvious" entrepreneurs:
Individuals STARTING New Companies. New companies, startups of all shapes and forms, across all industries, all around the world. The classic "man (or woman) with a plan" entrepreneur.
In the U.S. alone, this represents the more than 6 million new businesses started every year, and the many, many millions more contemplated. The figure worldwide is a BIG multiple of this.
Thank heavens for all of them - according to a famous M.I.T study new business starts account for more than 2/3 of all net new job creation. Especially as by far the biggest economic issue facing America (and the world, for that matter) is job creation, these entrepreneurs truly hold the key to our nation's and the world's long-term prosperity more than any other group.
Individuals LEADING Small Companies. Per that M.I.T study, the other 1/3 of net new job creation comes from the so-called "gazelles," - rapidly growing, emerging companies. The most common statistical definition of these are the 641,000 U.S. firms with between 20 to 1,000 employees. They, along with startups, account for more than 62% of all private sector employment.
Anyone that has spent even a day at a gazelle can literally breathe the entrepreneurship in the air. The best of them are led by deeply ambitious men and women walking the talk of American business. The President, in his inaugural speech, described them best:
"Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated, but more often, men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."
Let us hope he and our Washington leaders think often of these inspirationally hard-working folks when crafting governmental policy in the months and years to come.
Now very importantly, not all small business people are entrepreneurs. The key phrase in Professor O'Sullivan's definition when evaluating whether one is, or is not, is ambitious leader.
All of us know small business men and women - that while certainly possessing of many wonderful attributes - for whom it would be a big stretch to describe them as "ambitious leaders."
To best illustrate, I suggest you attend a meeting of your local chamber of commerce and hear how much of the debate is focused on problems and grievances versus vision and possibility. Sad, but true.
The "Non-obvious" Entrepreneurs
I find the startup and small business entrepreneurs worthy of great praise and respect. In some ways, I am even MORE impressed with those that demonstrate strong, ambitious, principled entrepreneurial leadership in the contexts of bureaucracy, politics, and vexing social challenges.
Here are a few:
Individuals that are Accountable for Change and Growth at BIG companies. Into this category falls Executives like General Motor's Interim CEO Fritz Henderson. Now I know that GM maybe the last company that comes to mind when one thinks of entrepreneurship. But given the beyond monumental challenges of making that elephant dance, Mr. Henderson certainly meets the criteria (whether he will make the grade only time will tell). He is certainly an ambitious leader with very, very significant accountability for risks and outcomes - huge taxpayer subsidies, tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, American pride, etc. And his success will depend on his ability to lead GM to "combine labor, and capital to create and market new goods and services." Yes, if Mr. Henderson is to succeed at GM, he will only do so by walking, talking, and quacking like an entrepreneur.
Individuals With Leadership and Change Responsibility in Organizations of All Types. The challenges of leadership and accountability exist in ANY organization taking on meaningful and challenging objectives.
Bono, arguably the world's best known philanthropic celebrity, is an entrepreneur on two fronts. First, via his commitment to world-class creative output as the leader of the mega-rock band U2. And he is an entrepreneur, via his unique effectiveness as an activist and spokesperson and doer of big projects for causes close to his heart - human rights, third world debt relief, and AIDS and African development issues. If you think it is tough to get a city business permit, try getting governments of affluent nations to work together to solve global social challenges that barely garner a back-page sentence or two in the "it bleeds, it leads media" that voters back home call news.
In this vein, entrepreneurs exist in a wide host of non-profit and governmental institutions. Gary McDougal, former Partner at McKinsey and Company, who later in his life re-engineered the broken Illinois welfare system and made it a model nation-wide. Certainly an entrepreneur.
Whatever you think about his politics, while governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney's re-structuring of the state's health care system, absolutely required a "think outside the box" entrepreneurial approach. Gail McGovern as President of the American The Red Cross, working to expand the branding of the organization beyond disaster relief, works entrepreneurially everyday to effect this transformation.
Global Entrepreneurs. Now more than ever ambitious individuals worldwide strive to not just be entrepreneurs per the American way, but to take the best of what we do and how we think and add to it and candidly, then to crush us. And I say more power to them.
Because entrepreneurship as its essence is about creation, and the success of one entrepreneur ANYWHERE results in a better life for everyone EVERYWHERE.