What is an entrepreneur? It’s a matter of personal experience & perspective.

Entrepreneurs are from all walks of life. They have different levels of skill and education. Some take more risks than others, but risk is there, nonetheless. Of course, there are many, many other characteristics and traits, and many combinations thereof.

So, really, what is an entrepreneur? What does the term mean? Are there varying degrees of being an entrepreneur – different classes, different levels?

These were some of the questions I have asked over the years in various LinkedIn groups and podcast interviews, and also in impromptu interactions. Below are some of the insights and perspective from a wide cross-section of individuals (entrepreneurs, corporate executives, small business owners, and even a number of restaurant servers, retail clerks, construction workers, and high school & college students).

What is the definition of an entrepreneur?

In a few cases, the definition provided included a specific word ahead of ‘entrepreneur’ almost as if to prequalify the definition. Doing some research, here are actual definitions of the shared terms:

1) Born Entrepreneur: Somebody that from an early age was active in earning money in exchange for products or services. These people never considered becoming an employee.

2) Must-preneur: Somebody who through chance or circumstance sees no other option than to become an entrepreneur. This might be due anything from to age to an utter lack of job opportunities

3) Opportunistic Entrepreneur: Somebody who sees an opportunity to start a business but has a contract to provide services to their current employer. E.g., Head of IT starting his own company to provide services to their previous employer

4) Executive Entrepreneur: Somebody who has reached the top of an executive ladder and views starting their own business as a way to progress further. They usually have a decent amount of money saved up and an extensive business network to tap into.

5) Family Entrepreneur: Start a business in order to spend more time with family. Lifestyle is the main motivator.

6) Mumpreneur: A mother who sees no other way of earning a flexible income whilst raising her family. Usually runs a highly efficient business.”

A couple of definitions seemed to be well thought out apparently having run through their minds before…

“An entrepreneur is a person who will see the embryonic seeds of an opportunity well in advance of others. Others will eventually only see a lost opportunity. An entrepreneur will see risk as an opportunity. Others will see opportunity as a risk. An entrepreneur will look forward to the challenges and hard work that an opportunity will bring. Others will only see an uphill struggle. An entrepreneur will continue to work at that opportunity irrespective of setbacks, make mistakes, pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes. Others will give up the fight when the going gets tough. An entrepreneur will work outside of the normal business framework in order to feel free and unrestricted while others will have a need to build an even stronger framework in order just to feel safe. When the opportunity is finally realized, an entrepreneur will not say ‘I told you so’. An entrepreneur will say to themselves not others, ‘I knew I could do it’. Others will say, ‘I wish I had done that’.”

“I think that we all, at one time or another, have what we believe is a great idea, the difference is that the entrepreneur will seize it, grab the ball and run with it, where most people will look back and say: I woulda, coulda, shoulda; the difference is implementation and execution. When I was a youngster, I used to ride horses a lot and the first lesson you are taught is when you get thrown off of the horse, you immediately get back on, for if you don’t, you will have a fear of doing so for the rest of your life. I would agree with you that being a business owner does not necessarily mean that you are an entrepreneur; most people who buy a franchise are looking for security (avoidance of risk), a structured environment and direction as to what to do and how to do it.”

Personal experience and emotions played into a number of responses. Here are a few that were definitely very heartfelt:

“For me- it was a burning desire to create something that would change the world. Simply owning a business was not my motivating factor.”

“I was tired of being told how to run a business by people that had no clue how to manage people or a business. When you get to that point you just say screw it, I am doing my own thing. You are never alone either. surround yourself with people that are positive and are open to you sharing ideas at a much higher level.”

“For me, it was an opportunity to offer a service that my former employer would not or could not provide. I also got tired off working my butt of to benefit someone else. Owning my own business has given me the opportunity to spend more time with my family and to provide them financially.”

“An entrepreneur is someone who doesn’t like following rules. Someone who wants to eventually make them. For me, I became an entrepreneur because I was sick and tired of working for a bunch of idiots. These goofballs were making way too much money…and I wasn’t. So, I took a risk. Joined my dad’s franchise consulting firm in 2001. Now, I’m a solo entrepreneur. And the King of the Castle. It’s been a fun ride. There are several more roads for me to cruise on. Join me.”

“The more I sold, management would adjust my comp plan to lower my pay. I got burned out on them fundamentally not getting that the more sold the better off everyone would be. So, I became a competitor starting with a folding chair, table and legal pad. Now I have lost my table and chair! Just kidding, I have never looked back.”

There were a few negative and somewhat cynical responses. Two that I remember quite well:

“I thought entrepreneur was French for unemployed. Can’t we just be business owners?” and “I always think of an entrepreneur as someone who can’t find or keep a job and justifies his existence by saying he is an entrepreneur.”

And here are a couple of my own comments from these exchanges…

“I believe the derogatory comments have been increasing because so many individuals lost jobs during economic downturns and then decided, well, I’ll be an entrepreneur. It really doesn’t work that way for true entrepreneurship. For them, it’s about the money. It’s about survival. It’s about replacing a job! That is not entrepreneurship.”

“Entrepreneurship, to me is looking to make a difference. Looking to change the way things are done. Sure, money is great, but money should not be the only result of your actions and success and certainly not the primary force from the beginning. Think about the true entrepreneurs of the world… Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban and of course, there are many more. Quitting school, operating out of garages, pushing to be leading edge with something different, disagreeing with the way industry leaders were doing things, and the list goes on – it wasn’t about the money or even the thought of riches to come. It was about change. It was about making a difference. It was about taking risk when they didn’t even think there was risk involved because they knew they would succeed. It was their conviction to perfection.”

Entrepreneurs do exist at many different levels and there are many within small business today, and the number is growing. As such, I’ll share this academic definition:

An entrepreneur is one that wants to make a difference, doing so by motivating and encouraging change all the while being aware of risk but challenging risk with clear perspective and innovation, never losing sight of their goals and the always driving forward even in the face of setbacks and failure.

Per Merriam-Webster: entrepreneur en· tre· pre· neur | \ ˌän-trə-p(r)ə-ˈnər  , -ˈn(y)u̇r, ˌäⁿn- \ Definition of entrepreneur : one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

Per Investopedia: An entrepreneur is an individual who creates a new business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards. The process of setting up a business is known as entrepreneurship. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as an innovator, a source of new ideas, goods, services, and business/or procedures.

Study.com has an interesting course with an animated video about the definition of an entrepreneur. Take a few minutes to preview HERE.

There is even a 10-minute video for children about what it means to be an entrepreneur. Definitely share this with your children or grandchildren. You can view it HERE.

Let’s keep the discussion alive. It’s too important a topic not to. So, what do you think? What is an entrepreneur? After all, being an entrepreneur is difficult enough without being misunderstood!