How the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Stereotype Is Killing Entrepreneurship
It wasn't until my company had more than $1 million in revenue that I had the critical moment of clarity: I wasn't pretending to be an entrepreneur. I actually was one.
Until then, I'd considered myself an imposter. So much of the entrepreneur stereotype was different from my skills set, goals and personality. I don't have a million ideas. I'm not a natural salesperson. I don't have aspirations to build a billion-dollar business. I'm more introverted than extroverted. I'm analytical and organized.
Entrepreneurial stereotypes missed the mark on me, yet I built a successful business.
Over the last eight years, through my organization, Empact, I've had the unique opportunity to travel across the country facilitating hundreds of entrepreneurship events in diverse communities from Georgia to Washington. At the same time, I have developed friendships with many of the country's top young entrepreneurs through our Empact Showcase, which recognizes them at the United Nations and White House.
Here's what I've learned: My experience is not unique. Entrepreneurs are known for breaking the mold, but many entrepreneurs break the "entrepreneur mold," too.
Why does this matter? Limiting our vision of the entrepreneur to one stereotype -- the gregarious tech entrepreneur with a billion-dollar goal -- actually holds back would-be entrepreneurs from seeing if entrepreneurship is right for them.
If someone does not self-identify as an entrepreneur, they will not seek out the resources to become one. This has direct implications for how entrepreneurial of a world we are today and how entrepreneurial we'll become in the future. It also contributes to how diverse the pool of entrepreneurs in our country is.
Let a thousand different definitions bloom
There's no one way to define a "real" entrepreneur. Many leaders and organizations focus on venture-backed, high-growth entities. Others broaden the definition to include Main Street businesses, mom-and-pop shops, social entrepreneurs and freelancers.
People fear that if the word is used in too many ways it will become fragmented and ultimately mean nothing.
The opposite is true. The more fragmented it is, the more meaningful it will be to more people.
All types of entrepreneurs add value to our society in unique and important ways. Ultimately, there are many more types of entrepreneurship, but here are a few of the most prominent types:
Value to Society
Creates innovation and jobs.
Creates culture and jobs (e.g., if one in three Main Street businesses added just one employee, the U.S. would be back to full employment!)
Solves social problems that the government and traditional private sector are not solving.
Provides more niche offerings in the market and allows the entrepreneur to spend more time with their family or travelling or doing something they love.
Provides high level expertise to smaller firms and more flexibility and control to the entrepreneur.
Delivers more creativity to society and provides individual a vehicle for self-expression.
Over the past few years, extra attention has been put on the importance of high-growth tech companies. These types of companies are critical to the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
However, we shouldn't forget a few important things:
- The first entrepreneurial experience for many is NOT with a tech company.
- The tech sector overall has underperformed the S&P since 1997.
- Of the most successful companies in the country, tech is not even one of the handful of key items that they say has contributed to their success. Technology is more of an accelerator of success rather than a creator of it.
Beyond the benefits of the various types of entrepreneurship to society, there are also varying benefits to the entrepreneurs themselves.
The many faces of entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs have a very broad range of reasons for going into business. Their goals can range from wanting more control over their schedules to not having other employment options to the thrill of having limitless potential in what they can contribute or earn.
Similarly, their personalities span a wide spectrum. From the introverted and analytical to the social and creative, there are so many skills that can be valuable for an entrepreneur that the real challenge is knowing how to properly channel the right skills and hire to compensate for any lacking skills.
How to encourage the 'should-be' entrepreneurs
Everyone has the potential to become an entrepreneur. For individuals who otherwise would not consider an entrepreneurial path, one of the first steps could be in exposing them to the different approaches to entrepreneurship and the characteristics of each. With this support, individuals could determine if there is some type of entrepreneurship that fits their goals and personality.
By helping would-be entrepreneurs see whether and how some type of entrepreneurship is right for them, we can boost diversity among startups and catalyze the value they have to offer to society.
In the end what makes an entrepreneur is not whether they pass an "Are You An Entrepreneur?' quiz, but whether someone actually starts a business and then persists courageously through the inevitable challenges and personal fear that arise in order to make it successful.
Related: 7 Ways to Become a Better Leader
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