An entrepreneur is an individual who identifies a need in the marketplace and works to fulfill it.
The term, historically, has been applied to an individual who starts a business, seeing the ability to fulfill that identified need as an economic opportunity.
The textbook definition of entrepreneur speaks to that classic perception. Consider, for example, Merriam-Webster’s definition that explains entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”
Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson, whose research and teaching focused on the field of entrepreneurship, said, “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.”
Types of entrepreneurship
However, entrepreneur, entrepreneurial and entrepreneurship have expanded meanings today. They are sometimes used to describe individuals who are able to identify unmet needs in a variety of settings, including in existing companies, and seek to find ways to meet those needs.
As such, those terms are also applied to a way of thinking and a way of organizing or managing, rather than simply a way to develop a new business.
For example, people describe innovative individuals in nonbusiness settings such as nonprofits and social movements as social entrepreneurs.
Innovative individuals working in existing companies are sometimes called intrapreneurs. Other terms used in the corporate setting are corporate entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.
Additionally, the terms entrepreneur, entrepreneurial and entrepreneurship are sometimes applied to individuals who identify and pursue new ways of working or new processes and procedures regardless of their positions or settings. It is occasionally used as a synonym for a go-getter, who could also be described as having an entrepreneurial spirit.
What an entrepreneur does
In the classic sense of the term, an entrepreneur starts a new business venture, building the organization by fulfilling what he or she sees as an unmet market need.
In this regard, an entrepreneur also meets the definition of both a business founder and a small business owner. However, not every business founder or small business owner is an entrepreneur. Businesses that were started to provide existing products or services in ways similar to others already in the market are not considered entrepreneurial, even if they provide superior products or services.
To meet the definition of entrepreneurship, the business venture requires a new or unique element or process.
For example, the four co-founders of Whole Foods Markets are considered entrepreneurs because when they founded the store in 1980, they saw an opportunity providing natural food products to fill an unmet need for such items in an established industry (grocery stores) that focused more on delivering commercial and processed products.