Entrepreneurs are the faces of innovation. They start new businesses that disrupt industries and create great value to society.
In 2016, being labeled an entrepreneur has taken on new meaning. Due to the allure of entrepreneurship created by the most recent wave of new technology companies, led by celebrity founders like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, the term is increasingly thought of as a skill, not just an occupation. These leaders label themselves as founders, CEOs, etc., even if they’re seen as entrepreneurs, writes a Forbes contributor. It’s often those who aspire to the status of Silicon Valley-esque business owners who label themselves as such, which is why the word is included on many resumes.
While some insist that people do away with the trend of writing “entrepreneur” on resumes, a growing opinion is that they can be entrepreneurial without having started a business.
Being entrepreneurial is a special skillset, and someone doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word to have it, according to Nathalie Duval-Couetil, associate director for Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. “Capturing value is that entrepreneurship piece because you might have a great idea,” Duval-Couetil said, “but really if the idea doesn’t have any value to anybody that they’re willing to use or pay for it, then it doesn’t have any value.”
Large companies have found the value of operating more entrepreneurially in how they function. Methods such as agile and lean, development practices coined in the technology industry, have overtaken some formally bureaucratic organizations. Moreover, 2012 research from professional services firm Deloitte found that nearly half of the companies it surveyed reported generating higher profit margins when they became more entrepreneurial.
But what does it mean to entrepreneurial?
Purdue’s Duval-Couetil said that entrepreneurs understand the process of capturing values from knowledge or resources. Qualities and skills of these people include perseverance, willingness to navigate obstacles and ability to network and analyze market research.
Michael Marasco, director of Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, added that entrepreneurs typically possess qualities that include being hardworking, smart and focused on changing things for the better.
People who are entrepreneurial may exhibit these skills even if they’ve never started a business from scratch.
Are entrepreneurial skills learned or innate?
Duval-Couetil, who helps lead a university program in entrepreneurship, said that some people are naturally drawn to the idea of embodying the skills of entrepreneurship, while others take some time to discover their interest.
Nevertheless, many business schools have entrepreneur courses and certification programs. The Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at Purdue requires that students take introduction courses in entrepreneurship, marketing and management, two option courses for market-specific depth and a capstone course or experiential program.
Duval-Couetil said these courses are rooted in the fundamental definition of entrepreneurship: They help students learn how to take an idea to market and start a business from the ground up.
However, she also said that by virtue of taking these courses many students learn many entrepreneurial skills that are valuable toward their employment with large organizations.
For instance, an engineering student with limited sales or public speaking skills might take what they learned on these subjects in an entrepreneurship course and apply it to their future engineering job at a large company.
Northwestern’s Marasco said that these types of entrepreneurs — the kinds that work in large firms — understand the business and aim to make it better, so they bring up ideas, gain support for them, and then make compromises between what they want to do and what the organization aims for.
What can CEOs do to foster an entrepreneurial workforce?
To show that the company supports entrepreneurship, leaders can champion new initiatives, support new business and keep open channels of communication, Marasco said. This helps employees at the organization have a say in what’s happening and feel that they’re owners of the company.
Duval-Couetil advocated for training to gain greater awareness of the concept. But beyond that, it’s important for companies to create a culture that embraces the value of entrepreneurship and values entrepreneurial talent. “The smart companies are the ones that are figuring out ways to keep those people,” she said. “If you have kind of a bureaucracy culture, you can’t expect entrepreneurial people to thrive.”
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy.
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