But until recently, I’d never seen a good elevator pitch for entrepreneurship itself—that is, what you do that all entrepreneurs do?
Now I’ve seen it, and it comes from Harvard Business School, of all places. It was conceived 37 years ago by HBS professor Howard Stevenson. I came across it in the book Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (which I highly recommend) by entrepreneur and teacher Jon Burgstone and writer Bill Murphy, Jr. Of Stevenson’s definition, Burgstone says, “people often need to say it out loud 50 or 100 times before they really understand what it means.” Here it is:
Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.
I talked to Stevenson about his classic definition this weekend. Back in 1983, he told me, people tended to define entrepreneurship almost as a personality disorder, a kind of risk addiction. “But that didn’t fit the entrepreneurs I knew,” he said. “I never met an entrepreneur who got up in the morning saying ‘Where’s the most risk in today’s economy, and how can I get some? Most entrepreneurs I know are looking to lay risk off—on investors, partners, lenders, and anyone else.” As for personality, he said, “The entrepreneurs I know are all different types. They’re as likely to be wallflowers as to be the wild man of Borneo.”
I love that the piece highlights some of the value of academic work on the subject of entrepreneurship and essentially the idea that entrepreneurship is about behavior and thinking not personality traits or demographic attributes.