in Big Ideas, Canada

Let’s remove “entrepreneur” from the dictionary

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Brian Sharwood (LinkedIn, @bsharwood). Brian is the President of Homestars (@homestars), the leading online free listing and rating company for Home Improvement specialists. Prior to HomeStars, he was a research analyst and principal of SeaBoard Group. Brian holds an MBA from Babson College in Boston and a bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia.

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I hate the word entrepreneur. It is overused. It has lost all meaning. Everyone is an entrepreneur these days. From the increasing attendance at DemoCampStartup Drinks, and Sprouter events around Toronto and across Canada you can find “entrepreneurs” that are people with ideas, corporate PR folks, lawyers, wedding businesses, etc. It ranges from founders of tech ventures to people looking for get rich quick schemes. In short who is an entrepreneur? Well just about everyone.

The term entrepreneur is meaningless.

I propose we split the people who live under the current word “entrepreneur” into three new words (which I won’t attempt to coin) which help us understand who these so-called “entrepreneurs” really are.

The Entrepreneur as Artist

These are the people with the great ideas. They are ones that are trying to change the world with something that’s never been done or seen before. In the tech world, they are often the hackers, who build a new web application with a vague idea of how they might make money for it. They might be the business person who sees a better process and sets it up, either on their own or within an existing enterprise. They are building something not for the money because it’s satisfying for them to create something that others love.  I constantly run across great ideas and great web apps that I say ‘that’s great, but I wouldn’t pay for it’, or I might just appreciate it for the sheer ingenuity of it, or it might be something to purchase to incorporate into another larger product. These are the creators of the ideas for the new economy.

The Entrepreneur as Small Business Owner

This is probably the group of people that encompass most of the people we encounter who label themselves entrepreneurs. They build businesses and run from from the consultants like April Dunford, bringing marketing insights and analysis to growing tech companies, to Jarrett Jastal, one of our clients, who runs StoneCote, a stone flooring company out of Hamilton. Running a small business is tough, and these people deserve to be lauded for taking risks and building companies. Often scrambling to meet payroll, watching a bank account dwindle, and trying to solve the many problems of operations. But many, if not most of these businesses are relatively small and non-scalable. They often rely on the skills and expertise of the founders and operators of the company rather than a product or brand. Another key ingredient to growth is risk, and these are our risk-takers.

The Entrepreneur as Visionary Executor.

The last group are the visionary executors. These are the people that the venture capitalists are looking for. The people who see the great idea, and know how to turn that idea into a business. They don’t necessarily need to be the founders, or even the people with the idea, although they often are. They are the ones who take that idea and make it into a business. Ted Rogers didn’t invent the products he sells, but he is the business visionary and executor who took a lot of great products and made them into a business through vision, foresight and understanding the market. Our innovation economy is driven by these people who take ideas, see opportunities and make businesses.

It’s the visionary executor that we want in this country, building world leading businesses, taking great products and building businesses out of them. The small business people, and the artists are the required support. They provide the ingredients for the visionary to work with.

So let’s forget the word entrepreneur or even founder, and define the term so we can understand who really changes the economy of this country.

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Brian Sharwood (LinkedIn, @bsharwood). Brian is the President of Homestars (@homestars), the leading online free listing and rating company for Home Improvement specialists. Prior to HomeStars, he was a research analyst and principal of SeaBoard Group. Brian holds an MBA from Babson College in Boston and a bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia.

  1. I enjoyed and of course agreed with most of your analysis (agreement tends to enhance the enjoyment). I don’t know if we need to go as far as removing entrepreneur but definitely need to qualify it better. Personally, I alternate between the Artist and Business Owner definitions and while I refer to myself as an entrepreneur, always felt it was perhaps a bit of a stretch when compared to what you call Visionary Executors. As you noted, the difference is significant but all three are required.

  2. Actually, this is nothing but a rant.
    The problem is that the meaning of the word is exactly what you are describing. It’s an inclusive word covering a wide range of people. Even “The Entrepreneur as Artist” takes a risk both financially or resource wise (although I’d have to agree this is stretching the definition because they are not doing it specifically as a business according your your definition).

    Your concocted difference between “The Entrepreneur as Small Business Owner” and “The Entrepreneur as Visionary Executor” is a fallacy. They are the same people, the only difference is that some are more successful at it than others. There is no distinction.If you want a new word or even an old one, there is no need to “remove entrepreneur from the dictionary”… there are plenty of other words you could use… maybe even one like “bourgeois”.

    By the way, the definition is thus:

    en·tre·pre·neurnoun?/?äntr?pr??no?or/ ?/-?n?r/?
    entrepreneurs, pluralA person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do soA promoter in the entertainment industry

  3. Do you operate a business and take on most of the financial risk and responsibility?

    If you do, then you are an “Entrepreneur” despite rants to the contrary.

  4. After readin my reply, I think I’d have to qualify “The Entrepreneur as Visionary Executor” as not an Entrepreneur at all. By your definition they will not be risking their own financial stability. Instead they allow the investor to take the financial risk in exchange for the financial reward.
    The definition of Entrepreneur seems implicitly to exclude that group.

  5. Bill, you raise a good point and perhaps I read through the article too quickly, applying my own assumptions to the definitions. I assumed that in all three cases, by definition “entrepreneur” had a substantial financial interest in the venture whether through investment or as an income source. The qualification then becomes a case of scale. “Visionary Executors” are not necessarily entrepreneurs, most often they are not (most famous, GM – Durant & Sloan) but when they are, the economic impact is significant.

  6. All three types of entrepreneurs take risks – some personal, some financial. Just because you have an investor – either as a small business owner, artist, or visionary executor doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t your own. All are entrepreneurs in the definition we use now, but there’s clearly a difference between someone running a small consulting company and someone who is trying to use their business to change the world in a larger scale.

  7. Sexy! Looking forward to these great goodies. Thanks for being open about this stuff as well, it’s a nice treat indeed.

  8. Brill, you’re absolutely right. The main criterion to be considered an entrepreneur, as per the definition you cited, is that you are taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to organize or operate a business. If you simply have an idea that you pitch at events and haven’t taken any financial risk yet, you’re an idea guy…not an entrepreneur. If you have your business idea funded from the get go, receive a market competitive salary and are not investing your own money in the company, you are a lucky son-of-a-bitch…but you’re not an entrepreneur. If you start a new business but don’t leave your existing job and continue to draw the same salary as you did before, you are a moonlighter…not an entrepreneur. 

    Conversely, if you start a new business (whether it’s a small business or a “visionary” business) and you invest your own money to get it started and pay the bills, are not initially drawing a market competitive salary (or no salary at all) and are taking on greater than normal risk to start and operate this business, well then…”Hello, Mr. Entrepreneur.” 

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