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1.13 Defining Entrepreneurship: It All Depends

While we have used the terms entrepreneur and entrepreneurship previously, we have not yet defined what these terms mean. To do that, the reader must allow us to digress for another moment into an academic discussion that we feel ultimately will be informative. One reason we think stories about various entrepreneurs have been so intriguing to so many is that these stories reflect a complex set of interrelated phenomena. Trying to frame entrepreneurship as a single scholarly domain is nearly impossible. Yet, many have tried as long as entrepreneurship has been recognized or existed as a field of research. Despite plenty of attempts, to date there is no single definition of entrepreneurship. If you have seven entrepreneurship professors in a room, you are likely to have seventeen definitions. Those with psychology backgrounds have one (or two), those coming out of sociology another, economists will have several, and then there are those who come out of finance and management who carry their own bias about the topic. Even accountants are engaged in the field, which is good as too many academics in the field sometimes confuse revenues with profits.

That said, there seems to be a very broad agreement that a commercial entrepreneur (compared to a social entrepreneur) is usually a person who exploits opportunities for the purpose of economic wealth creation. This idea has existed for centuries starting with Cantillion in 1755. Different authors have over the years used different descriptions, implicitly as a risk taker while exploiting opportunities (Cantillon 1755; Knight 1921; and Say 1803), or more explicitly as opportunity creator/innovator (Schumpeter 1934) or as alert seeker of opportunities (Kirzner 1973; Mises 1951). In 1776 Adam Smith actually saw the entrepreneur as a capitalist (Landström 2005). Again, there is still little agreement in the field on how to study how opportunities are formed or exploited.

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