Entrepreneur. A much used word these days, but what does it really mean?

13 Nov 2015 in The Network, The Programme by David Ward

 Entrepreneur. A much used word these days, but what does it really mean?

“As Secretary General I see entrepreneurship at the very heart of what UNITECH sets out to achieve – to provide its Corporate Partners with talented engineers who can “Define, invest, build, repeat” in their companies (although the invest part perhaps should be read as “persuade others to invest”).” - David Ward UNITECH Secretary General

Entrepreneur. A much used word these days, but what does it really mean when a company says that it wants to encourage an “entrepreneur spirit” and how much space will they allow for that spirit to expand?

In an article in Forbes magazine (Forbes definition of "entrepreneur") I found this explanation:
“Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need—any need—and fill it. It’s a primordial urge, independent of product, service, industry or market.
The U.S. economy needs all kinds of entrepreneurs—from coders to clockmakers—in order to close its widening fiscal hole. But the relentless, seek-and-solve breed is our salvation. They are the ones forever craning their necks, addicted to ‘looking around corners’ and ‘changing the world.’ They—not lenders—are the real money multipliers: the ones who turn $1 of capital into $2, then $2 into $10, and $10 into $100. This is the true essence of entrepreneurship: Define, invest, build, repeat.”

That’s a clearly U.S.-centric description, and one that may seem a little too aggressive for our European sensitivities, however, “Entrepreneur” is a word that is increasingly used inside major European companies, including many of our Corporate Partners. In this article I will consider the topic “Entrepreneurship within companies/the UAA” from three perspectives: as UNITECH Secretary General, as a UNITECH Coach and as a general management consultant for businesses.

As Secretary General I see entrepreneurship at the very heart of what UNITECH sets out to achieve – to provide its Corporate Partners with talented engineers who can “Define, invest, build, repeat” in their companies (although the invest part perhaps should be read as “persuade others to invest”).

Back in 1999 as UNITECH was being developed as a concept, the driving force was to develop engineers who could think and function in business in more ways than just as excellent engineers. That is what we do and have been doing for 15 years.

Today the entrepreneurial element of UNITECH people is recognisable even to the casual observer as shown in a tourist’s observation that the UNITECH Group of 2015 “look like they are getting ready to change the world.” I included that anecdote in the website article on our GA Week in Dublin (see article here). And the UNITECH entrepreneur spirit is at work across the globe, with many of our graduates now in entrepreneurial roles in the business world – some in Start Ups and many in key positions supporting Corporate Partner companies as they define and build their businesses.

From a UNITECH Coach viewpoint, the content of the three UNITECH Joint Modules is focused on providing the persuasive communication and group dynamic skills, the sensitivities and the spirit that will enable the UNITECH Graduate to introduce entrepreneurial approaches to how results are achieved in the workplace.

UNITECH’s coaching is centred on providing young engineers with the capability to use strength and subtlety in balanced proportions. In combination with sharp technical and business capabilities, these skills can move a project, a team or a business in new directions, and bring other, possibly more long-serving, less entrepreneurially agile colleagues in that direction with enthusiasm.

In the general business world, where I do occasional management consulting and coaching, the word Entrepreneur is used to mean a kind of “intrepreneur” – someone who can apply internally in the company the mind-set and the skills that would be used in getting a Start Up to a level of success.

This recent trend of calling for “entrepreneurship” within companies is as confusing as its predecessor “empowerment” was. Trying to create entrepreneurship inside a company can backfire on the leadership if not handled well. The natural form of a company, with its hierarchies and long establish practices creates inherent resistance to change; the dominant power of the status quo does not lend itself well to providing the free space in which the “intrepreneur” can explore an opportunity to its fullest.

The key virtue of entrepreneurship, the key characteristic of the people best suited to this approach, is risk – the analysis and the management of risk. True entrepreneurship requires, above all, the recognition of risk, the willingness to engage with risk in the pursuit of success, and the readiness to risk ultimate failure.

The oft-used entrepreneurial cliché “think outside the box” comes up short when the box itself – the business structure and behaviour of the company – is too rigid, too constraining. To develop its internal entrepreneurship a company needs to first develop its “failure culture” whereby carefully considered and well-managed risks that do not succeed are recognised and considered as positive.

A company needs to identify and select the people who are able to handle challenges, as well as the associated risks, with an entrepreneurial work style. Then those people can be positioned in areas of the business where technical and commercial exploration can be – and should be – taken to extremes.

Who are those people? UNITECH Graduates, of course!

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