, Social Entrepreneurship
30 November 2012

The Etymology of the Entrepreneur

In order to find the answer to this question, we should take our spyglass and peer deep into the annals of history. The word entrepreneur originally comes from the combination of two Latin words entre, to swim out, and prendes, to grasp, understand, or capture. In the year 1800, French-Irish Economist Jean-Baptiste Say combined the two words to popularize the term, entrepreneur. 
Jean-Baptiste Say was a big fan of Adam Smith's 1776 book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, but he noticed a serious flaw in his idol's magnum opus: the omission of enterprising businessmen. Say rectified this in his 1800 Treatise on Political Economy, where he wrote, The entrepreneur shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield. In Say's mind, the entrepreneur was something of a resource hacker, able to use scant resources to create innovative products. 
However, further investigation reveals that Irish economist Richard Cantillon, in his 1755 Essay on the Nature of Trade in General, was the first writer to use the word in a more modern context. Cantillon stated that entrepreneurs are non-fixed income earners who pay unknown costs of production to earn uncertain incomes. Cantillon established the entrepreneur as a risk-taker.  
It wasn't until Austrian American political scientist and economist Joseph Schumpeter that we get to see entrepreneurs as the drivers of change and progress. In his 1934 Theory of Economic Development: An inquiry into profits, capital, credit, interest and the business cycle, Schumpeter championed the idea that entrepreneurs were wild spirits, and that innovation and change in a nation only come from entrepreneurs. They are innovators that shatter the status quo of existing products and services and set up new products and services. For Schumpeter, innovation inspires others to innovate and high-impact markets are markets driven by innovation and entrepreneurial activities.
Schumpeter's definition most closely fits with the MassChallenge definition of entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have the potential to create an inspired and creative society, where everyone recognizes that they can define their future, and is empowered to maximize impact. We seek to catalyze a startup renaissance to power a society driven by entrepreneurial activities. We believe strongly in the entrepreneur and are dedicated to helping them win! 
The word entrepreneur is a rapidly evolving and organic term, and it means so many things for so many different people. Babson has done a great job crowdsourcing multiple definitions, and now that you're equipped with the etymology of the word, try comparing them to yours!
Have a great week and be sure to come back to the MassChallenge Blog for more advice, insights and startup profiles from the Startup Accelerator every M/W/F!


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