Every government wants entrepreneurs in its economy. They’re the innovators, the leaders, the job and wealth creators that any modern nation needs to compete and grow. The UK Government is no different: all sorts of initiatives and reforms are underway to encourage people – particularly younger people – to set up a business.
But the UK has a problem: there isn’t the same appetite for entrepreneurialism here as there is in other countries. For example, a recent study found that while 1 in 17 young people in the UK are actively involved in early stage entrepreneurial activity, the figure is 1 in 12 in Germany and 1 in 10 in the US.
Bring together a group of young entrepreneurs (as the RSA has done a lot recently) and pretty soon the conversation turns to the cultural barriers that exist in the UK to entrepreneurial activity. There just seems to be a greater fear of risk and maybe a whiff of moral doubt about going into business. Unfortunately, the conversation tends to stop there because while we can all dream up government policies on tax and regulation no-one really knows how to change culture.
no-one really knows how to change culture
So here’s a modest proposal (suggested only half in jest) to start breaking down the barriers: abolish the use of the word ‘entrepreneur’. This is why:
1. ‘Entrepreneur’ is associated with the wrong types of people.
From my own highly scientific straw polling, the word seems to conjure up two sorts: either the highly belligerent types seen on The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den or the money-grubbing untrustworthy characters that make regular appearances in soap operas such as Ian Beale in Eastenders. The underlying message being that unless you are very aggressive or morally dubious, the life of an entrepreneur is not for you.
Not only is this hardly a great incentive, it’s also untrue. The dozens of young entrepreneurs I have met in the last few months have (what a surprise) displayed a wide variety of personality types. A fierce commitment rather than a boorish aggression seems to be the only common feature.
2. ‘Entrepreneur’ is too closely associated with money.
I think many people probably believe that personal enrichment is the key motivation for entrepreneurs. Most all of us would like to be well-off, of course, but the young people I have met have their eye on a mission not money. They may be attracted by the idea of being rich but they seem to recognise that money flows naturally from the fulfilment of the drive to solve a problem or seize an opportunity not from the pursuit of wealth itself.
Those I have spoken to want greater literacy, more renewable energy, superior delivery of mental health services etc. etc. And they are convinced they have a better way of achieving those things. That’s what drives them, what gets them out of bed in the morning not the possibility of a bigger bank account.
In fact, a view of entrepreneurialism that captures this spirit far better than existing TV portrayals can be found in the rather brilliant Moo.com adverts.
This issue is important because it goes to the essence of those British concerns about the turpitude of the entrepreneur as a money-grubber rather than someone who has the wider good of the community at heart.
3. ‘Entrepreneur’ is associated with a narrow business model.
I think most people probably see the entrepreneur as someone who runs a limited liability company with the main eye on generating profit and maybe ultimately the sale of the firm to a bigger player. It’s a view which reinforces the belief that being an entrepreneur is about technical stuff like cash flow projections and company accounts. As well as reinforcing the view, once again, that entrepreneurs care more about the money than the mission.
But again based on the people I have met this seems a simplification. The young entrepreneurs I have spoken to value a diversity of forms including social enterprise, non-profits, co-operatives, charities, loose networks, partnerships as well as the more conventional limited company. And the diversity of legal forms speaks to a diversity of motivations and goals for young entrepreneurs that goes well beyond the standard ‘build it up and sell it on’ approach we are told afflicts the UK economy.
Of course if we do ban the word ‘entrepreneur’, we need to know what to put in its place. But ‘business person’ or ‘company director’ certainly don’t cut it.
Ian Beale has never called himself a ‘venturist’
My humble suggestion is ‘venturist’ meaning someone who sets up a venture. The reason is that ‘venture’ better captures the diversity of forms now attracting young people than ‘business’ or ‘enterprise’. It’s also a word that signifies an activity designed to achieve a goal or mission rather than being primarily about money. And, thankfully, Ian Beale, as far as I know, has never called himself a ‘venturist’.
And I realise I’m losing the plot now but ‘venturism’ has a solid teutonic feel to it while I can’t help feeling that that air of French ethereal intangibility that hangs around ‘entrepreneur’ does nothing to endear it to the anglo-saxon ear.