Ryerson Entrepreneur Institute, Turning Ideas Into Reality - Located in Toronto, ON

What is Entrepreneurship?

One of the only things that entrepreneurship academics agree upon, is that we can’t agree upon a definition for entrepreneurship. So how do you teach it if you don’t know what it is?

“Each conflicting definition leads to a conflicting opinion on what should be taught. If the author is an economist, then entrepreneurs are seen as market actors that drive markets away from equilibrium (Schumpeter, 1934) or back toward equilibrium (Kirzner, 1997). As such entrepreneurs should learn how to be innovative (Drucker, 1985) or should learn how to be alert to new opportunities (Shane and Venkataraman, 2000). If the author’s context is the resource view of the firm (Penrose, 1956) then entrepreneurship is defined as pursuing opportunities without regard to resources they currently control (Stevenson and Jarillo, 1990) and students need to learn guerilla skills like bootstrapping. Other definitions lead to the belief that entrepreneurship education should focus on starting a company, taking risks or thinking like an entrepreneur.” (Gedeon, 2014)

Gedeon (2010) tried to resolve these contradictions by creating a Lexicon of entrepreneurship terms by adding a structured series of adjectives to the entrepreneurship noun. This created terms that were more specific and less misleading like “startup business entrepreneurship” or “corporate business entrepreneurship” or “nascent independent social entrepreneurship”. Abstracting away all the differences that arise from the use of adjectives, we are left with the essence of a definition for the noun entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship is a multi-dimensional concept that includes owning a small business (Risk Theory), being innovative (Dynamic Theory), acting as a leader (Traits School), or starting up a new company (Behavioural School). It includes spotting opportunities to drive the market toward equilibrium (Austrian School) or causing disequilibrium through “creative destruction” (Schumpeter). It includes doing this on your own, in a team or inside a company. It involves starting without any resources and creating new values in the realm of business, social values, government or academia. By adding the right set of adjectives to the noun “entrepreneur”, the proposed lexicon allows us to embrace and discuss all these facets of what it means to be an entrepreneur.” (Gedeon, 2010)

There are four primary domains of entrepreneurship:

  • Starting a New Business – this is the traditional form of entrepreneurship normally taught in most universities. These new business entities stimulate the economy and account for virtually 100% of all new job growth in modern economies. This is the form of entrepreneurship mostly assumed by the media and popular press.
  • Intrapreneurship – Creating value within an existing venture. Also termed Innovation or Corporate Entrepreneurship. Although a new corporate entity is not created and risk to the entrepreneur may be lower with no ownership, the entrepreneurial processes, skills, and attitudes are virtually identical.
  • Social Entrepreneurship – Creating primarily social or other forms of non-economic values. Also termed social innovation or change making. This can involve starting a new entity (for-profit or non-profit) or creating change within an existing venture or institution.
  • Personal Transformation – creating new values through self-empowerment. Often this form of entrepreneurship must take place prior to the other forms – to change the world you first have to change yourself.

For more details, please refer to Gedeon, S.A. (2010) “What is Entrepreneurship?” Entrepreneurial Practice Review, Vol 1., No. 3. pp 16-35.

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