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From Marco Polo to Mark Zuckerberg: The Evolution of the Entrepreneur (Infographic)


No one knows for sure who the world’s first entrepreneur was. It’s too bad because it would make a great story.

Reuters | Robert Galbraith
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

To find him or her, you’d have to go as far back as before the written word, before recorded history. Alas, the mystery pioneer shall remain unknown. But we do know that, while entrepreneurs have little choice but to evolve with the times to stay relevant, many of the key traits that make them the enterprising outliers they are have remained the same throughout the ages.

Ingenuity, passion, fearlessness, drive, commitment, grit. The best entrepreneurs of our time and the times before share these gainful characteristics. Adaptability is perhaps the most crucial entrepreneurial trait of them all, enabling nimble entrepreneurs to keep up with ever-changing customer needs, market shifts and advances in technology.    

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Today we’re so busy being starstruck by self-made Silicon Valley tech tycoons like Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, to reflect much on the most prolific and successful entrepreneurs of the past and the enduring wisdom we can glean from them.

Some of the earliest entrepreneurs were merchant adventurers, like Marco Polo, for example. The nomadic Italian capitalist embarked on legendary merchant trading expeditions throughout Asia in the 13th century that were financed by venture capitalists. The wealthy trader’s storied 24-year journey across the globe not only sharpened his business acumen, it also provided him with an unprecedented and profitable understanding of world trade.

The 18th century gave rise to Eli Whitney, a prolific American inventor-entrepreneur who created the cotton gin, fueling the birth of the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century, came the indelible mark of the nearly forgotten former indentured servant and social entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper, the mother of modern franchising. Harper’s beauty shop empire spanned 500 franchises across the globe, forever changing the face of business.  

Related: This Business Has Been Fiercely Independent Since 1776

For more fun history on the evolution of the entrepreneur, check out the infographic from Homestead Technologies below. We introduce it with only one caveat: there’s not one female entrepreneur in the mix.    

Click to Enlarge

From Marco Polo to Mark Zuckerberg: The Evolution of the Entrepreneur (Infographic)

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Kim Lachance Shandrow

Written By

Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper,, and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here