By Jeanne Holden


The following essays are from the U.S. Department of State publication, Principles of Entrepreneurship.

What Is Entrepreneurship?

Meaning of entrepreneurship has evolved over the centuries

What is meant by entrepreneurship? The concept of entrepreneurship was first established in the 1700s, and the meaning has evolved ever since. Many simply equate it with starting one’s own business. Most economists believe it is more than that.

To some economists, the entrepreneur is one who is willing to bear the risk of a new venture if there is a significant chance for profit. Others emphasize the entrepreneur’s role as an innovator who markets his innovation. Still other economists say that entrepreneurs develop new goods or processes that the market demands and are not currently being supplied.

In the 20th century, economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) focused on how the entrepreneur’s drive for innovation and improvement creates upheaval and change. Schumpeter viewed entrepreneurship as a force of “creative destruction.” The entrepreneur carries out “new combinations,” thereby helping render old industries obsolete. Established ways of doing business are destroyed by the creation of new and better ways to do them.

Business expert Peter Drucker (1909-2005) took this idea further, describing the entrepreneur as someone who actually searches for change, responds to it, and exploits change as an opportunity. A quick look at changes in communications – from typewriters to personal computers to the Internet – illustrates these ideas.

Most economists today agree that entrepreneurship is a necessary ingredient for stimulating economic growth and employment opportunities in all societies. In the developing world, successful small businesses are the primary engines of job creation, income growth, and poverty reduction. Therefore, government support for entrepreneurship is a crucial strategy for economic development.

As the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in 2003, “Policies to foster entrepreneurship are essential to job creation and economic growth.” Government officials can provide incentives that encourage entrepreneurs to risk attempting new ventures. Among these are laws to enforce property rights and to encourage a competitive market system.

The culture of a community also may influence how much entrepreneurship there is within it. Different levels of entrepreneurship may stem from cultural differences that make entrepreneurship more or less rewarding personally. A community that accords the highest status to those at the top of hierarchical organizations or those with professional expertise may discourage entrepreneurship. A culture or policy that accords high status to the “self-made” individual is more likely to encourage entrepreneurship.

This overview is the first in a series of one-page essays about the fundamental elements of entrepreneurship. Each paper combines the thinking of mainstream economic theorists with examples of practices that are common to entrepreneurship in many countries. The series attempts to answer: Why and how do people become entrepreneurs? Why is entrepreneurship beneficial to an economy? How can governments encourage entrepreneurship, and, with it, economic growth?

What Makes Someone an Entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs come in various ages, income levels, gender, and race

Who can become an entrepreneur? There is no one definitive profile. Successful entrepreneurs come in various ages, income levels, gender, and race. They differ in education and experience. But research indicates that most successful entrepreneurs share certain personal attributes, including: creativity, dedication, determination, flexibility, leadership, passion, self-confidence, and “smarts.”


    • Creativity is the spark that drives the development of new products or services, or ways to do business. It is the push for innovation and improvement. It is continuous learning, questioning, and thinking outside of prescribed formulas.
    • Dedication is what motivates the entrepreneur to work hard, 12 hours a day or more, even seven days a week, especially in the beginning, to get the endeavor off the ground. Planning and ideas must be joined by hard work to succeed. Dedication makes it happen.
    • Determination is the extremely strong desire to achieve success. It includes persistence and the ability to bounce back after rough times. It persuades the entrepreneur to make the 10th phone call, after nine have yielded nothing. For the true entrepreneur, money is not the motivation. Success is the motivator; money is the reward.
    • Flexibility is the ability to move quickly in response to changing market needs. It is being true to a dream while also being mindful of market realities. A story is told about an entrepreneur who started a fancy shop selling only French pastries. But customers wanted to buy muffins as well. Rather than risking the loss of these customers, the entrepreneur modified her vision to accommodate these needs.
    • Leadership is the ability to create rules and to set goals. It is the capacity to follow through to see that rules are followed and goals are accomplished.
    • Passion is what gets entrepreneurs started and keeps them there. It gives entrepreneurs the ability to convince others to believe in their vision. It can’t substitute for planning, but it will help them to stay focused and to get others to look at their plans.
    • Self-confidence comes from thorough planning, which reduces uncertainty and the level of risk. It also comes from expertise. Self-confidence gives the entrepreneur the ability to listen without being easily swayed or intimidated.
    • “Smarts” is an American term that describes common sense joined with knowledge or experience in a related business or endeavor. The former gives a person good instincts, the latter, expertise. Many people have smarts they don’t recognize. A person who successfully keeps a household on a budget has organizational and financial skills. Employment, education, and life experiences all contribute to smarts.


Every entrepreneur has these qualities in different degrees. But what if a person lacks one or more? Many skills can be learned. Or, someone can be hired who has strengths that the entrepreneur lacks. The most important strategy is to be aware of strengths and to build on them.

Why Become an Entrepreneur?

People attracted to entrepreneurship by advantages of starting a business

What leads a person to strike out on his own and start a business? Perhaps a person has been laid off once or more. Sometimes a person is frustrated with his or her current job and doesn’t see any better career prospects on the horizon. Sometimes a person realizes that his or her job is in jeopardy. A firm may be contemplating cutbacks that could end a job or limit career or salary prospects. Perhaps a person already has been passed over for promotion. Perhaps a person sees no opportunities in existing businesses for someone with his or her interests and skills.
Some people are actually repulsed by the idea of working for someone else. They object to a system where reward is often based on seniority rather than accomplishment, or where they have to conform to a corporate culture.

Other people decide to become entrepreneurs because they are disillusioned by the bureaucracy or politics involved in getting ahead in an established business or profession. Some are tired of trying to promote a product, service, or way of doing business that is outside the mainstream operations of a large company.

In contrast, some people are attracted to entrepreneurship by the advantages of starting a business. These include:


    • Entrepreneurs are their own bosses. They make the decisions. They choose whom to do business with and what work they will do. They decide what hours to work, as well as what to pay and whether to take vacations.
    • Entrepreneurship offers a greater possibility of achieving significant financial rewards than working for someone else.
    • It provides the ability to be involved in the total operation of the business, from concept to design and creation, from sales to business operations and customer response.
    • It offers the prestige of being the person in charge.
    • It gives an individual the opportunity to build equity, which can be kept, sold, or passed on to the next generation.
    • Entrepreneurship creates an opportunity for a person to make a contribution. Most new entrepreneurs help the local economy. A few – through their innovations – contribute to society as a whole. One example is entrepreneur Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, and ignited the subsequent revolution in desktop computers.


Some people evaluate the possibilities for jobs and careers where they live and make a conscious decision to pursue entrepreneurship.

No one reason is more valid than another; none guarantee success. However, a strong desire to start a business, combined with a good idea, careful planning, and hard work, can lead to a very engaging and profitable endeavor.

Entry Strategies for New Ventures

It is easy to be captivated by the promise of entrepreneurship and the lure of becoming one’s own boss. It can be difficult, however, for a prospective entrepreneur to determine what product or service to provide. Many factors need to be considered, including: an idea’s market potential, the competition, financial resources, and one’s skills and interests. Then it is important to ask: Why would a consumer choose to buy goods or services from this new firm?
One important factor is the uniqueness of the idea. By making a venture stand out from its competitors, uniqueness can help facilitate the entry of a new product or service into the market.

It is best to avoid an entry strategy based on low cost alone. New ventures tend to be small. Large firms usually have the advantage of lowering costs by producing large quantities.
Successful entrepreneurs often distinguish their ventures through differentiation, niche specification, and innovation.


    • Differentiation is an attempt to separate the new company’s product or service from that of its competitors. When differentiation is successful, the new product or service is relatively less sensitive to price fluctuations because customers value the quality that makes the product unique.A product can be functionally similar to its competitors’ product but have features that improve its operation, for example. It may be smaller, lighter, easier to use or install, etc. In 1982, Compaq Computer began competing with Apple and IBM. Its first product was a single-unit personal computer with a handle. The concept of a portable computer was new and extremely successful.
    • Niche specification is an attempt to provide a product or service that fulfills the needs of a specific subset of consumers. By focusing on a fairly narrow market sector, a new venture may satisfy customer needs better than larger competitors can.Changes in population characteristics may create opportunities to serve niche markets. One growing market segment in developed countries comprises people over 65 years old. Other niches include groups defined by interests or lifestyle, such as fitness enthusiasts, adventure-travel buffs, and working parents. In fact, some entrepreneurs specialize in making “homemade” dinners for working parents to heat and serve.
    • Innovation is perhaps the defining characteristic of entrepreneurship. Visionary business expert Peter F. Drucker explained innovation as “change that creates a new dimension of performance.” There are two main types of product innovation. Pioneering or radical innovation embodies a technological breakthrough or new-to-the-world product. Incremental innovations are modifications of existing products.


But innovation occurs in all aspects of businesses, from manufacturing processes to pricing policy. Tom Monaghan’s decision in the late 1960s to create Domino’s Pizza based on home delivery and Jeff Bezos’s decision in 1995 to launch as a totally online bookstore are examples of innovative distribution strategies that revolutionized the marketplace.

Entrepreneurs in less-developed countries often innovate by imitating and adapting products created in developed countries. Drucker called this process “creative imitation.” Creative imitation takes place whenever the imitators understand how an innovation can be applied, used, or sold in their particular market better than the original creators do.

Innovation, differentiation, and/or market specification are effective strategies to help a new venture to attract customers and start making sales.

Marketing is Selling

Marketing is often defined as all the activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer to the consumer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling. For a new business, however, marketing means selling. Without paying customers to buy the goods or services, all the entrepreneur’s plans and strategies will undoubtedly fail.

How does a new business get orders? Before launching the business, the entrepreneur should research the target market and analyze competitive products. “Most business sectors have specific marketing strategies that work best for them and have already been put into practice,” entrepreneur Phil Holland said. In 1970, Holland founded Yum Yum Donut Shops, Inc., which grew into the largest chain of privately owned doughnut shops in the United States. He suggests analyzing competitors’ successful selling methods, pricing, and advertising.

For example, an entrepreneur can also develop a file of potential customers by collecting names or mailing lists from local churches, schools, and community groups or other organizations. This file can be used later for direct mailings – even for invitations to the opening of the new business.

After the new firm is launched, its owners need to get information about their product or service to as many potential customers as possible – efficiently, effectively, and within the constraints of a budget.

The most effective salesperson in a new venture is often the head of the business. People will almost always take a call from the “president” of a firm. This is the person with the vision, the one who knows the advantages of the new venture, and who can make quick decisions. Many famous entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates at Microsoft, have been gifted at selling their products.

Company-employed sales people can be effective for a new venture, particularly one aimed at a fairly narrow market. Direct sales conducted by mail order or on the Internet are less expensive options that can be equally successful.

External channels also can be used. Intermediaries, such as agents or distributors, can be hired to market a product or service. Such individuals must be treated fairly and paid promptly. Some analysts advise treating external representatives like insiders and offering them generous bonuses so that the product or service stands out among the many they represent.
Advertising and promotion are essential marketing tools. Newspaper, magazine, television, and radio advertisements are effective for reaching large numbers of consumers. A less expensive option is printing fliers, which can be mailed to potential customers, handed out door to door, or displayed in businesses that permit it. New companies can also compose new product releases, which trade magazines usually publish without charge.

It is important to be listed in local telephone directories that group similar businesses under a single heading, such as the Yellow Pages in the United States. It is also useful to be listed on Internet search engines such as Google or Yahoo, which are used by consumers for locating local businesses. These often link to a company’s Web site, thereby communicating more information.

Publicity is also an extremely valuable way to promote a new product or service. New firms should send press releases to media outlets. A local newspaper might publish a feature about the startup. A TV or radio station might interview its owners. This can be very effective in generating sales, and it’s free!

Intellectual Property: A Valuable Business Asset

Protecting intellectual property is a practical business decision

Intellectual property is a valuable asset for an entrepreneur. It consists of certain intellectual creations by entrepreneurs or their staffs that have commercial value and are given legal property rights. Examples of such creations are a new product and its name, a new method, a new process, a new promotional scheme, and a new design.

A fence or a lock cannot protect these intangible assets. Instead, patents, copyrights, and trademarks are used to prevent competitors from benefiting from an individual’s or firm’s ideas.

Protecting intellectual property is a practical business decision. The time and money invested in perfecting an idea might be wasted if others could copy it. Competitors could charge a lower price because they did not incur the startup costs. The purpose of intellectual property law is to encourage innovation by giving creators time to profit from their new ideas and to recover development costs.

Intellectual property rights can be bought, sold, licensed, or given away freely. Some businesses have made millions of dollars by licensing or selling their patents or trademarks.
Every entrepreneur should be aware of intellectual property rights in order to protect these assets in a world of global markets. An intellectual property lawyer can provide information and advice.

The main forms of intellectual property rights are:


    • Patents: A patent grants an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling an invention for a fixed period of time – in most countries, for up to 20 years. When the time period ends, the patent goes into the public domain and anyone may use it.
    • Copyright: Copyrights protect original creative works of authors, composers, and others. In general, a copyright does not protect the idea itself, but only the form in which it appears – from sound recordings to books, computer programs, or architecture. The owner of copyrighted material has the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the work, or perform or display the work publicly.
    • Trade Secrets: Trade secrets consist of knowledge that is kept secret in order to gain an advantage in business. “Customer lists, sources of supply of scarce materials, or sources of supply with faster delivery or lower prices may be trade secrets,” explains Joseph S. Iandiorio, the founding partner of Iandiorio and Teska, an intellectual property law firm. “Certainly, secret processes, formulas, techniques, manufacturing know-how, advertising schemes, marketing programs, and business plans are all protectable.”Trade secrets are usually protected by contracts and non-disclosure agreements. No other legal form of protection exists. The most famous trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola, which is more than 100 years old.Trade secrets are valid only if the information has not been revealed. There is no protection against discovery by fair means such as accidental disclosure, reverse engineering, or independent invention.
    • Trademarks: A trademark protects a symbol, word, or design, used individually or in combination, to indicate the source of goods and to distinguish them from goods produced by others. For example, Apple Computer uses a picture of an apple with a bite out of it and the symbol, which means registered trademark. A service mark similarly identifies the source of a service. Trademarks and service marks give a business the right to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark.

In most countries, trademarks must be registered to be enforceable and renewed to remain in force. However, they can be renewed endlessly. Consumers use marks to find a specific firm’s goods that they see as particularly desirable – for example, Barbie dolls or Toyota automobiles. Unlike copyrights or patents, which expire, many business’s trademarks become more valuable over time.

The Strengths of Small Business

Small businesses have flexibility to innovate, create new products, services

Any entrepreneur who is contemplating a new venture should examine the strengths of small businesses as compared to large ones and make the most of those competitive advantages. With careful planning, an entrepreneur can lessen the advantages of the large business vis-a-vis his operation and thereby increase his chances for success.

The strengths of large businesses are well documented. They have greater financial resources than small firms and therefore can offer a full product line and invest in product development and marketing. They benefit from economies of scale because they manufacture large quantities of products, resulting in lower costs and potentially lower prices. Many large firms have the credibility that a well-known name provides and the support of a large organization.

How can a small firm possibly compete?

In general, small start-up firms have greater flexibility than larger firms and the capacity to respond promptly to industry or community developments. They are able to innovate and create new products and services more rapidly and creatively than larger companies that are mired in bureaucracy. Whether reacting to changes in fashion, demographics, or a competitor’s advertising, a small firm usually can make decisions in days – not months or years.

A small firm has the ability to modify its products or services in response to unique customer needs. The average entrepreneur or manager of a small business knows his customer base far better than one in a large company. If a modification in the products or services offered – or even the business’s hours of operation – would better serve the customers, it is possible for a small firm to make changes. Customers can even have a role in product development.

Another strength comes from the involvement of highly skilled personnel in all aspects of a start-up business. In particular, start-ups benefit from having senior partners or managers working on tasks below their highest skill level. For example, when entrepreneur William J. Stolze helped start RF Communications in 1961 in Rochester, New York, three of the founders came from the huge corporation General Dynamics, where they held senior marketing and engineering positions. In the new venture, the marketing expert had the title “president” but actually worked to get orders. The senior engineers were no longer supervisors; instead, they were designing products. As Stolze said in his book Start Up, “In most start-ups that I know of, the key managers have stepped back from much more responsible positions in larger companies, and this gives the new company an immense competitive advantage.”

Another strength of a start-up is that the people involved – the entrepreneur, any partners, advisers, employees, or even family members – have a passionate, almost compulsive, desire to succeed. This makes them work harder and better.

Finally, many small businesses and start-up ventures have an intangible quality that comes from people who are fully engaged and doing what they want to do. This is “the entrepreneurial spirit,” the atmosphere of fun and excitement that is generated when people work together to create an opportunity for greater success than is otherwise available. This can attract workers and inspire them to do their best.

The Importance of Government Policies

Government values entrepreneurs and small businesses

Entrepreneurial activity leads to economic growth and helps to reduce poverty, create a middle class, and foster stability. It is in the interest of all governments to implement policies to foster entrepreneurship and reap the benefits of its activity.

Thomas A. Garrett, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, says that government policies can be categorized as “active” or “passive” depending on whether they involve the government in determining which types of businesses are promoted. Active policies, such as targeted tax breaks, help specific forms of businesses, while passive policies help create an environment that is friendly to entrepreneurs without regard to specific firms.

Both active and passive policies are effective in promoting small business, Garrett says, but passive policies promote entrepreneurship most broadly. “It is this entrepreneurial-friendly environment that will allow any individual or business-regardless of size, location or mission-to expand and to thrive,” he says.

Among the most successful strategies for encouraging entrepreneurship and small business are changes in tax policy, regulatory policy, access to capital, and the legal protection of property rights.

Tax Policy: Governments use taxes to raise money. But taxes increase the cost of the activity taxed, discouraging it somewhat. Therefore, policymakers need to balance the goals of raising revenue and promoting entrepreneurship. Corporate tax rate reductions, tax credits for investment or education, and tax deductions for businesses are all proven methods for encouraging business growth.

Regulatory Policy: “The simpler and more expedited the regulatory process, the greater the likelihood of small business expansion,” says Steve Strauss, a lawyer and author, who specializes in entrepreneurship. Reducing the cost of compliance with government regulations is also helpful. Governments can, for example, provide one-stop service centers where entrepreneurs can find assistance and allow electronic filing and storage of forms.

Access to Capital: Starting a business takes money. There are required procedures and fees as well as the initial costs of the new enterprise itself. Therefore, the most important activity a government can undertake is to assist potential entrepreneurs with finding money for start-ups. In the United States, the Small Business Administration (SBA) helps entrepreneurs get funds. The SBA is a federal agency whose main function is guaranteeing loans. Banks and other lenders that participate in SBA programs often relax strict loan requirements because the government has promised repayment if the borrower defaults. This policy makes many loans available for risky new businesses. Legal Protection of Property Rights: Small business can thrive where there is respect for individual property rights and a legal system to protect those rights. Without property rights, there is little incentive to create or invest.

For entrepreneurship to flourish, the law needs to protect intellectual property. If innovations are not legally protected through patents, copyrights, and trademarks, entrepreneurs are unlikely to engage in the risks necessary to invent new products or new methods. According to the World Bank report, “Doing Business 2007: How to Reform,” new technologies are adopted more quickly when courts are efficient. “The reason is that most innovations take place in new businesses-which unlike large firms do not have the clout to resolve disputes outside the courts.”

Creating a Business Culture: Governments can also show that they value private enterprise by making it easier for individuals to learn business skills and by honoring entrepreneurs and small business owners. Policy makers can:


    • Offer financial incentives for the creation of business incubators. These usually provide new businesses with an inexpensive space in which to get started and services – such as a copier and a fax machine – which most new businesses couldn’t otherwise afford. Often business incubators are associated with colleges, and professors offer their expertise.
    • Make information available. In the United States, for example, the SBA has many offices, making publications widely accessible. Its “Small Business Answer Desk” (telephone: 800-827-5722) and its Web site ( answer general business questions. Its online business tutorials are available to anyone with Internet access.
    • Enhance the status of entrepreneurs and businessmen in the society. Governments might create local or national award programs that honor entrepreneurs and call on business leaders to serve on relevant commissions or panels.


Author Jeanne Holden is a free-lance writer with expertise in economic issues. She worked as a writer-editor in the U.S. Information Agency for 17 years.