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1.10 Who Is an Entrepreneur?

This leads us to start a discussion on who is an entrepreneur. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), there are those who become entrepreneurs by necessity (no income, starving, etc.) and those who are opportunistic (exploit a need, market, invention, etc.). Most of the following discussion focuses on the latter group, the opportunistic entrepreneur. It should be noted early on that the distinction is not a pure one and includes a great deal of overlap. That said, there is increasing evidence that at least in the United States there is a significant increase in the number of new entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses because they see an opportunity, not because they are out of work and unable to get a job (necessity entrepreneurs). This may explain why immigrants in the United States have higher new venture creation rates than nonimmigrants, but most of these new firms are actually more opportunistic. These opportunistic entrepreneurs now represent nearly 80 percent of total new entrepreneurs an increase from the numbers found in the years following the Great Recession. Now let us turn to the defining who is an entrepreneur in more detail.

In the late 1980s academics tried to define who an entrepreneur is and what is entrepreneurial. William Gartner’s article “Who is an entrepreneur? Is the wrong question” was published in 1988. Our friend Bill questioned the idea of “an entrepreneur.” He argued that the why question tends to be answered with a description of who. Later other researchers tried to reframe the research agenda and define what an entrepreneur does, why they do, how they do, and then who this doer is. It has been argued that if we could find the answers to these questions, we should be able to design targeted educational programs to create more entrepreneurs. Completing an exam in entrepreneurship, or majoring in entrepreneurship at a university, would then be a rational solution to creating entrepreneurs. But, most of us know that this is not exactly the way it works. Certainly entrepreneurs have existed for millennia and certainly long before anyone developed a course on how to be one at universities such as Texas, Harvard, Stanford, New South Wales, Helsinki, or Oxford.

If one cannot make people into a functional entrepreneur, we rationalize that entrepreneurs are really born, that entrepreneurial behaviors are genetic—often using family firms as examples. But, anyone in a family business will attest that succession in family firms is among the most difficult tasks to carry out. Not all children are interested, willing or even able to take over the firm. Sometimes none of them are. And the ones who may be interested are not the ones the present owner wants as successor. Some children have no desire to live the life of a “constantly-on-the-job” parent who is an entrepreneur. While the parent’s hardworking may reflect the cost of being successful, not all children see that as desirable for themselves or as a factor in being a successful parent.

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