Entrepreneurship: Past, Present, and Future

Article excerpt

Interest in entrepreneurship has witnessed significant growth these past five years. A simple count of the number of times the word appears in newspapers and magazines and the number of features on successful entrepreneurs verifies this new development.

Until this new wave of interest, entrepreneurship was a word few had heard and a topic only a few had real interest in. Previously, individuals felt that the economic well-being of the United States-and indeed the worldrevolved around big business and government support. Large corporations were considered to be the driving force behind an economy, as evidenced in attempts such as those of Ireland and Puerto Rico to attract large multinational firms through the use of tax incentives. The perceived key to economic growth for these cultures was to attract as many large corporations as possible. Some corporations did locate manufacturing facilities (but not research and development and marketing functions) in these "tax havens."

Similar incentives were offered by various areas in the United States hoping to attract a plant relocation or expansion as well as the occasional regional or corporate relocation. Each city or county followed the procedure of the less developed countries-offering tax incentives, infrastructure support, and other inducements in an attempt to entice the large corporations' expansion or relocation efforts.

Bigger Isn't Always Better

When it was recognized that large corporations did not create economic well-being, the government was expected to take up the slack. These areas became "quasi-welfare states," with the government playing a major role in providing desired jobs and income. In some areas, this support eventually accounted for more than 50 percent of total expenditures. Big was beautiful, whether in the form of government or business.

Academic institutions, too, were immersed in this trend. Students were prepared to be managers by learning how to mind the store, and to avoid challenging the beliefs and assumptions of the organization. Emphasis was on organizational structure, lines of responsibility and authority, and key management principles--planning, staffing, organizing, directing, and control. Little, if any emphasis was placed on innovation, creativity and "doing your own thing."

The few courses which departed from this approach were generally presented as "small business" courses, whether in management, marketing or finance. Most such courses merely attempted to downsize key concepts developed for the larger organization to a smaller one. There was little discussion and even less career counseling, about starting one's own business.

Instead, the concern of the college or university was to have more of the large and prestigious firms on the school's recruiting list. Graduates were prepared to successfully interview, survive, and (hopefully) succeed in a corporation, partly by building large organizations underthem. Catch phrases were: "don't take any risks," "protect your rear," and "follow the mentoring of someone higher up in the organization, riding on their coattails."

The media, too, focused on large organizations and growth. A new plant locating in a city was heralded-in a half page of coverage--as a great boost to the area's economic well-being, while a new software company received very limited coverage, if any at all. Little attention was paid to technological breakthroughs such as the creation of new breeds of livestock or strains of grain, or to the dynamic growth of chains of pizza restaurants or convenience stores.

GrowingInterest in Entrepreneurship

Within the past decade this thinking has changed-gradually, of course, at first. Countries and states with taxincentive relocation programs began to realize that relocated plants would employ a limited number of workers, and would not develop further employment through the creation of new ventures. …