You don’t have to be Bill Gates to be an entrepreneur

You shouldn’t have to be Bill Gates to be considered an entrepreneur.


YusufBy Yusuf Mansur. This article first appeared in venture magazine.

Do you know what the new buzzword in Jordan is? Guess no more: it is “entrepreneur.” Alas, when asked of its meaning, many people give elitist definitions and grant the concept a meaning that is lofty and aggrandizing. But an entrepreneur is none of that!

Not knowing the meaning causes misconceptions that may be harmful to the development of entrepreneurship in Jordan and the economy.

While drafting this article, I asked a few friends: who comes to your mind when I say “entrepreneur?” Almost everyone shot out the name of one Jordanian whose name will not be mentioned here. This usual suspect has helped popularize the concept in Jordan, not only as a successful businessman, but also as a policy interlocutor and effective contributor to the concept of corporate social responsibility. Before his success, Jordanians almost always thought that for one to be successful he had to have a government post or title.

But thinking that this person is the sole manifestation of an entrepreneur makes for a dangerous route. The word “entrepreneur” has become synonymous in Jordan with rich, innovator, market leader, sophisticated, visionary, powerful, and other equally highly crafted meanings that spell “elite,” which should not be the case.

The common thinking is harms the effort to create more entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. By glamorizing the concept, the so-called entrepreneurship champions in Jordan are bequeathing upon it almost super hero characteristics; hence, a unique or unattainable status. In general, the majority seems to confuse highly successful businessmen with entrepreneurs.

The word “entrepreneur” was coined by Jean-Baptiste Say in the 1800s to mean “one who undertakes an enterprise, especially a contractor, acting as intermediary between capital and labor.” 

According to Wikipedia, “an entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome.”

Currently, students of economics are taught that an entrepreneur is a person who organizes the factors of production (land, labor, capital, and technology) into a business entity, assumes all risks and uncertainties, and her/his payment is profits. Therefore, this person is one who gathers labor through some contractual arrangement; employs capital in the form of buildings, machinery and tools; utilizes a technology (which need not be a new invention); purchases, leases or rents natural resources; and can either make a living through profits or lose her/his shirt in the process.

Some schools also teach that entrepreneurship is itself a resource because without it the business enterprise and ensuing production process would not exist. In short, an entrepreneur is someone who organizes a business venture and assumes the risk for it. What this person isn’t, is a salaried employee of another – he/she is self employed!

So where do we meet this person? He is the child who convinced his mom to squeeze a few lemons, give him ice from her fridge, loan him a pitcher, paper cups and a box to display his wares upon; then scribbled a sign that said “Lemonade for 10 piasters, pennies or cents” and sold it to passersby at a street corner. Believe it or not, these children are entrepreneurs. I know one person who did exactly this as a child to support his family and later became one of Jordan’s largest producers of ice cream. He learnt business skills without going to a business school or receiving an Ivy League education. At the age of forty, he learned to read, but only after he became a millionaire many times over. 

The entrepreneur is the person who sells gum on the sidewalk; the person who started a huge enterprise that trades stocks or commodities; and the thousands of people in Jordan who start their own businesses every day, whether formally or informally.

Entrepreneurs are everywhere. Now, they may not be as successful as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or our own hundreds of self-made millionaires. But they are as entrepreneurial as the ones that regularly come to mind; who just happen to be more successful than most.

Of course there are types of entrepreneurs: social entrepreneurs (ones who start social enterprises), innovative entrepreneurs (those who come up with new ideas to do things better), etc. So the next time you hear of an entrepreneur, think of the simple guys all around us, the grocers, shop owners, and everyone who started a business, any kind of business. 

They all fall under the one definition of creating an enterprise to do something, which may succeed or fail. And remember, entrepreneurship is no guarantee of wealth or success.

 

Yusuf Mansur is currently CEO and consultant at Enconsult, and former Director General of the Telecom Regulatory Commission TRC, CEO of Jordan Investment Board JIB and CEO of Jordan Agency for Enterprise and Investment Development (DX). You can contact him at ymansur@enconsult.com. 

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