What is Entrepreneurship? Lessons from a 50-Student Class Discussion

The first question to ask yourself if you are interested in entrepreneurship is “What is Entrepreneurship?” I teach an Introduction to Entrepreneurship course and, as indicated in the prior sentence, focus the first day on answering this question. Below I will summarize the activity I employed to try to get my students active, engaged, and thoughtful in trying to answer this difficult question.

First, after I provided large notecards to everyone, I asked the class to independently “draw entrepreneurship.” Afterwards, they took turns explaining what they drew to a partner and why it represented entrepreneurship to them. There was an incredible amount of diversity in the drawings. One young lady seemed to be describing a process of idea generation, adding value, and receiving payment. One gentlemen drew an ominous cave to represent the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. Yet another gentleman used the simplicity of a mere hammer, demonstrating that entrepreneurship takes hard work and the ingenuity to use the same tools for a variety of different situations. Takeaway: entrepreneurship can look like many different things!

Second, I asked my students to write a definition of entrepreneurship. I intentionally dissuaded them from writing the “formal textbook definition”, and instead asked that they use their own definition. Then, each student found a partner. Each pair of partners compared and contrasted definitions, ultimately deriving a new definition that they both agreed on. They repeated this process in groups of 4, and then groups of 8. Finally, each group of 8 wrote their definitions on the board. At this point, we identified several words that existed across all definitions. Some of the most noteworthy ones were: idea, opportunity, process, passion, and resilience.

Each of these words spawned an interesting discussion for the class:

(1) What is the difference between an idea and an opportunity? We concluded that an idea can only become an opportunity through making the idea tangible, but that through tangible action it becomes more clear if the idea really ever was an opportunity at all. Takeaway: If you have an idea, move quickly to figure out its efficacy, and iterate accordingly.

(2) When does “entrepreneurship” start? The initial answers to this were along the lines of “when the business is formed.” However, what did it take to form the business? Well…an idea! What did it take to form the idea? This is where the light bulbs went off in the room. Indeed, we realized that to have an idea and subsequently form a venture, you need the requisite prior experiences to make sense of the environment and see the opportunity. Takeaway: if you want to be an entrepreneur, cultivate unique and interesting experiences that will give you the foresight to see business opportunities in a particular field.

(3) Why do passion and resilience matter? As it turns out, entrepreneurship isn’t all it is made out to be! What they don’t tell you about entrepreneurship is that it can be very stressful. Do not expect to be sitting on a beach drinking margaritas! Many entrepreneurs turn out to be such hard workers that even if they achieve financial success to pursue such leisures, they struggle to do so. Passion for your business and resilience to stressors are a very important part to a holistic strategy to cope with entrepreneurial stress. Takeaway: when looking for business ideas, consider starting with asking yourself “what do I like to do?”

Third, we played a game called “entrepreneurship or not entrepreneurship.” Everyone in the class stood up. I said a phrase, such as “Creating the first desktop computer” and the class responded in one of two ways: (1) if they thought it counted as entrepreneurship, they clapped loudly twice; conversely, if (2) they did not believe it was entrepreneurship, they raised both hands in the air. Admittedly, the whole thing was a bit silly, but I have an 8:00 AM class, so I need to be creative with waking everyone up. Here were the phrases:

(1) Developing Facebook

(2) A self-employed personal trainer

(3) A self-employed photographer

(4) Starting an accounting firm

(5) Starting a small pizza restaurant

(6) Opening a lemonade stand

(7) Selling a pre-existing product online

There was a lot of debate, but ultimately the entire class agreed that each phrase did count as entrepreneurship, despite their differences in degrees of innovativeness. Takeaway: You can be an entrepreneur in many ways; it isn’t always about developing the next big innovation, although it can be!

In closing, instead of me giving you a definition of entrepreneurship, I would like to ask you to give me your own definition! Please leave a comment below: how would you define entrepreneurship?

Categories Deciding to be an EntrepreneurTags , , , ,

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