The story of defining entrepreneur and entrepreneurship will sound like the story of six blind men describing an. elephant. There is hardly any commonly agreed upon definition among economic pundits.
The word “entrepreneur” is derived from the French word entreprendre which means to initiate or undertake. In the early sixteenth century, the Frenchmen who organised and led military expeditions were referred to as “entrepreneurs”. The term entrepreneur was applied to business in the early eighteenth century by French Economist Richard Cantillon. According to him, the entrepreneur buys factor services at certain prices with a view to sell their products at uncertain prices in the future. Richard Cantillon conceived of an entrepreneur as a bearer of non-insurable risk.
Another Frenchman, J.B. Say, expanded Cantillon’s ideas and conceptualised the entrepreneur as an organiser of a business firm, central to its distributive and production functions. Beyond stressing the entrepreneur’s importance to the business, Say did little with his entrepreneurial analysis. According to J.B. Say, an entrepreneur is the economic agent who un-ties all means of production, the labour force of the one and the capital or land of the others and who finds in the value of the products his results from their employment, the reconstitution of the entire capital that he utilises and the value of the wages, the interest and the rent which he pays as well as profit belonging to himself. He emphasised the functions of co-ordination, organisation and supervision. Further, it can be said that the entrepreneur is an organiser and speculator of a business enterprise. The entrepreneur lifts economic resources out of an area of lower into an area of high productivity and greater yield.
The New Encyclopedia Britannica considers an entrepreneur as an individual who bears the risk of operating a business in the face of uncertainty about the future conditions. Leading economists of all schools, including Karl Marx have emphasised the contribution of the entrepreneurs to the development of economies, but Joseph A. Schumpeter who argues that the rate of growth in an economy depends to a great extent on the activities of entrepreneurs, has probably put greater emphasis on the entrepreneurial function than any other economist.
In the words of Joseph A. Schumpeter, “The entrepreneur in an advanced economy is an individual who introduces something new in the economy – a method of production not yet tested by experience in the branch of manufacture concerned, a product with which consumers are not yet familiar, a new source of raw material or of new markets and the like”. The function of an entrepreneur according to him is to “reform or revolutionise the pattern of production by exploiting an invention or more generally, an untried technological possibility for producing a new commodity”. According to Schumpeter, an entrepreneur is an innovator, who introduces something new in the economy. Innovation may be: (a) introduction of a. new product, (b) introduction of new methods of production, (c) developing new markets and finding fresh sources of raw materials, and (d) making changes in the organisation and management.
Knight described entrepreneurs to be a specialised group or persons, who bear uncertainty; and uncertainty is defined as the risk which cannot be calculated. The entrepreneur, according to Knight, is the economic functionary who undertakes such responsibility which, by its very nature, cannot be insured or salaried. He also guarantees specified sums to others in return for assignments made to them.
Peter F. Drucker, in his book “Innovative Entrepreneurs” defines entrepreneurs as innovators. Entrepreneurs search for change and exploit opportunities. According to him “Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit changes as an opportunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practised. Entrepreneurs need to search purposefully for the sources of innovation, the changes and their symptoms that indicate opportunities for successful innovation. And they need to know and to apply the principles of successful innovation”. He further said that an entrepreneur is one who always searches for changes, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.
Cunningham and Lischerson in their recent work have described six possible schools of thought on entrepreneurs. The first school of thought i.e. ‘Great Person School’ says that an entrepreneur is born with an intuitive ability – a sixth sense and this sense helps him in start up stage. The second school of thought, i.e. ‘Psychological Characteristics School’ explains that entrepreneurs have unique values attitudes, and needs which drive them and help them especially in start-up stage. The third school, i.e. ‘Classical School of Thought’ says that central characteristic of entrepreneurial behaviour is innovation. This characteristic helps the entrepreneur much in start-up and early growth. ‘Management School’ is the fourth school of thought and it says entrepreneurs are organisers of economic venture and they organise, own, manage and assume its risk. Such functional orientation helps them in early growth and maturity. The fifth school of thought is the ‘Leadership School’. According to this school, entrepreneurs are leaders of people and they have the ability to adopt their style to the needs of people. Such leadership personality suits them most during early growth and maturity situations. ‘Intrapreneurship School’ is the sixth school of thought. Intrapreneurship is the act of developing independent units, to create, market and expand services within the organisation. Intrapreneurship is needed by an entrepreneur during the situation of maturity and change.
Whatever be the definition, across the world entrepreneurs have been considered instrumental in initiating and sustaining socio-economic development. There are evidences to believe that countries which have proportionately higher, percentage of entrepreneurs in their population have developed much faster as compared to countries which have lesser percentage of them in the society, discover new sources of supply of materials and markets and they establish new and more effective forms of organisations. Entrepreneurs perceive new opportunities and seize them with supernormal will power and energy, essential to overcome the resistance that social environment offers. In sum, the concept of entrepreneurs is intimately associated with the three elements-risk bearing, organising and innovating.