by Elmarie Bouwer


Someone once said that the wheels of western civilization (now eastern too) run on oil.

This truism speaks of universalism and in this context, equally seems to apply to the concept of entrepreneurship that underpins so much of our global day to day living.

 Setting the stage


What is it? Why should you care?

A loanword from French, this term is bandied about by guru and non-guru alike and the general definition seems to refer to an owner / manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative.

Why this is an inadequate definition, we’ll see shortly as we’ll get to a more useful one.

There is an ongoing fistfight about whether it can be taught or whether it is an inborn trait. According to some, you either have it or you don’t (more on that in an upcoming post).

Is life on earth possible without it?

 Consider this: entrepreneurial thinking is what got our cold wet ancestors out of the rain and snow and into some cave. It made them plant grain, hunt deer and propelled us forward to right where we are now on earth.

Everything we enjoy, from the bed we wake up in each morning right through to the glass of milk at bedtime and everything in between, is the end result of some entrepreneur taking what was and through innovative thinking and application emerged with a product / service that addressed a need / want at a specific point in man’s history.

So the answer is a resounding no.

 No economic growth, eradication of disease, poverty, homelessness or anything else can happen without it.

 Okay, then where does it all start?

Think it starts with resources like oil, gold and land? Wrong!

It all starts with a problem solving idea.

 The mind of man is the primary resource of entrepreneurial innovation. Every product or service started out as a problem solving idea in the entrepreneur’s mind first. To apply creative innovation to resources like gold, oil and land and turn them into valuable need satisfying artefacts that will benefit everybody, requires…wait for it…entrepreneurs!

Do you now see how important this specie is?

 Yes, but just what exactly is an entrepreneur? You never got to that definition.

 I know. Just wait, getting there…

 Well, I could bore you silly with the fact that, amongst others, these people share a common set of characteristics that include passion, risk-taking, a success drive, are vision and goal oriented, persevere against all odds, are hardworking, listen to their gut feelings or that they have the ability to live with uncertainty etc.

Or, I could launch into endless tales of serial entrepreneurial greats, some of them rags to riches accounts that will keep your butt glued to your chair, your eyes on the screen and hope engulfing you.

But I’d rather show you.

Keep in mind though, all these traits and more, are exhibited by the individual described below. And they are present in the countless other entrepreneurs that grace business case studies, manuals, entrepreneurship studies, history…okay, you get the point.

But what about that freakin’ definition?!

And then, only thén after this, we’ll try our hand at that freakin’ definition. As you’ll see, things are not always what they seem.

The meteoric rise of [ the] Phoen…eh…Virgin

 They said he was dyslexic. Tired of the monstrous effort and waste of time, he dropped out of school at 16 and started a student magazine that sold well.

At 20 he began a mail order music company that catapulted him into an entrepreneurial orbit that would eventually have him knighted for his contribution to free enterprise and billed as the fourth richest man in Great Britain. Included his owning two islands and living on one of them!

Geez! Some people always have all the luck…

(Luck…?… has nothin’ to do with it)

He now has over 200 different companies in over 300 countries that comprise the travel, tourism  and leisure sections as well as the mobile, TV, broadband, radio, music festival, finance and health worlds.

Your phone possibly wears his company name; you might fly in one of his planes some day (or have already), will likely buy music from one of his many stores and might even allow his Virgin Galactic company to ferret you into outer space.

His Virgin Green Fund is a[n] “… independent…firm investing growth capital in the renewable energy and resource efficiency sectors in North America and Europe.”1

In 2007, he announced the Virgin Earth Challenge, a “$25 million prize to encourage a viable technology which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic atmospheric greenhouse gases”2

Virgin Unite 24902, is his proud attempt to unite the peoples of the earth in which “[w]e connect people and entrepreneurial ideas to make change happen. To help revolutionise the way government, business and the social sector work together – business as a force for good.”3 He wrote a book about this. It’s called “Screw Business as Usual”.


 “Our planet is 24,902 miles in circumference. This was the inspiration for Virgin Unite 24902 in our effort to drive an active global community along every one of those 24,902 miles. Using entrepreneurial approaches [emphasis mine] and collaboration, Virgin Unite is employing business-based solutions to tackle problems like youth homelessness, unemployment and health and environmental crises – the 24902 group is joining forces to drive change in the world.”

And all this from solving problem ideas?!  Let me start thinking…let me start thinking…let me start…

The worldwide impact of this man is huge. And yet, for all he is now, Sir Richard Branson started out plain ordinary. Very ordinary. Just like you and me.

So, what made the difference?

 The freakin’ definition

To answer that, we need to whip up that promised definition. Definitions are like pot handles that allow to you can grasp something properly and jostle it into submission.

So let’s have a closer look at that French word now. Coined in the 1800’s by Jean-Baptiste Say, it reads that an “entrepreneur is a person who shifts economic resources out of an area of low productivity into an area of higher productivity and greater yield”4

Myriads of definitions since (good, bad & ugly), built upon that foundation. According to Mauritz Bekker of the Entrepreneurial Business School who teaches entrepreneurship for a living, this is someone who creates something new to his own benefit and that of mankind.

Says he:”…this is a person who manages to develop / create a new solution (product / service) that the market (individuals, organisations, government etc) is willing to buy”.5

Willing to buy…?

Sounds like Thomas Edison, who after patenting a vote-recording machine and marketing it to the Massachusetts legislature who showed no interest in it whatsoever, vowed he would “never waste time inventing things that people would not want to buy.”6

He immediately grasped the importance of sales appeal as a prerequisite to success. Not like selling sand to Bedouins. Don’t expect to make a killing.

The key ingredients

 It really all starts with a problem solving idea. Okay, so where do you get them?

Look for problems other people might have and try and solve them. Business, at heart, is just that; solving existing problems and getting people willing to pay for those solutions.

That’s what Sir Richard did when he started each one of his myriad companies. And what every other entrepreneur on our lifelong list did.

 Even a mom, who makes a novel sandwich for her 5 year old, displays entrepreneurial activity with monetary spin-offs. The sandwich is so yummy that Tommy no longer nags her to go out and buy the hamburger he craved.

In short, there is an entrepreneur hidden in all of us. And if we hope to solve mankind’s problems, that hidden entrepreneur must be developed in all 8 billion citizens!! And there you were, thinking only the Bransons of this world are entrepreneurs!

Just shows you, things really are not always what they seem!

Okay. Now you’ve got that fantabulous problem solving idea. Package it in the set of characteristics mentioned above (all of them) and you’re golden. And if that one doesn’t work, find another one even if you have to keep on and on and on…

Says Sir Richard…”Screw It, Let’s do It”.

That’s entrepreneurship.

© Elmarie Bouwer


  1. Virgin Green Fund.  Accessed 7 march 2012.
  2.  Virgin Earth Challenge. Accessed March 2012.
  3. Virgin Unite 24902.Accessed 7 march 2012.
  4. Gem, 2009:11

5.     Bekker, Mauritz. Entrepreneurial Business School. Thank you Mauritz. You know more about entrepreneurship than anybody else I know.

6.     Thomas Accessed 8 March 2012.



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