Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Entrepreneurship" and "Individualism" Are Not Synonyms

So, what image comes to mind when you hear the word, "entrepreneur?"  For many, it conjures up images of a single person, AKA "the" entrepreneur, struggling against all odds to start a company.  This superhero image is still widely adopted.  Our superhero is able to develop new products, create financial projections to obtain loan or investment funding, navigate the obstacle course that local, state, and Federal laws and regulations bring, manage all finances, and everything else needed to make the business flourish.  It's hard work, but our superhero is up for the challenge.

Without exception, entrepreneurs can not do everything on their own.  The best ones don't even try.  This is true for all types of entrepreneurs: social entrepreneurs, corporate entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, serial entrepreneurs,... (I'm starting to feel like "Forrest Gump's" Bubba describing types of shrimp.)  Entrepreneurship happens in lots of different contexts and this point is relevant for each....

Entrepreneurship does not equal individualism.

True entrepreneurs use the resources that they control to make something happen.  (This generally means launching a new business or product.  For entrepreneurs that work within another business, even a university, this might mean moving a project along that furthers the organization's mission.)  Resources include money, for sure, but also labor, machinery, equipment, and other people's expertise.  We in Extension have contributed to many entrepreneurial ventures in agriculture and food, for example, by providing expertise on production, policies, business management, etc.  Entrepreneurs often visit Small Business Development Centers or other counselors for input.  They often have a team around them to help them see the things that would be overlooked if they worked on their own.

Even within an organization, including one like Penn State in which I work, we have a lot of leeway to be entrepreneurial.  The only difference is that we have to keep in mind that we do things under the Penn State brand and must operate within its guidelines.  Within that zone, though, we are free to behave as entrepreneurs.  I have zero doubt, though, that I'll not be as effective on my own as I would be as part of a team that is all rowing in the same direction.  At the end of the day, that's the entrepreneur's dilemma (or opportunity); how does one get all of those people rowing in the same direction?  It would be a lot easier if one could do it alone, but the entrepreneur's effectiveness drops precipitously if he or she tries.  Almost all university courses in entrepreneurship recognize and promote this fact by placing students into teams for class projects.

Truth be told, entrepreneurship works best when the individual puts "I" and "me" aside and turns it into "we" and "us."  The best entrepreneurs (remember, this refers to all types) connect with others to make their ideas better and to make their dreams a reality.  This mythical superhero just doesn't exist!  Myth... busted!

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