Who Are You to Call Yourself an Entrepreneur?

03/24/2015 04:22 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2015

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Words are powerful. When words are used as labels, they take on even greater power.

Take the "Entrepreneur" label, for instance.

We romanticized it. We glamorized it. We assigned mystical properties to it and then we starting creating criteria for joining the now-elite ranks of those who qualify for the club.

Who are we to do all that?

I don't know who "we" are to do that, because I'm not part of that "we." Clubs bore me, and rules taunt me, but I'm always curious about labels. So when I started my entrepreneurial path over 20 years ago I looked up "entrepreneur." Because I'm old enough to remember when Google didn't rule, when I say "looked it up" I don't mean I typed it into a search bar. I mean I grabbed my trusty, dog-eared dictionary and looked it up. I studied the etymology, beginning with the French word "entreprendre" which meant "undertake" and going on to the modern definition which, in spite of some variations, came down to "a person who organizes or manages an enterprise, usually a business, through investment and risk."

Granted, I'm a word geek. The kind of insufferable nerd who takes three semesters of college Latin as a non-degree seeking student just for fun and to have a better understanding of the nuances of the language I use every day. But I find that the connotation of words, especially the changing connotation of certain words, holds a gold-mine (or land-mine) worth of clues about the changing culture.

Entrepreneurism has spawned a family of descriptive derivative labels. There's not only the Entrepreneur, there's the Intrapreneur. There's the Solopreneur, and there's the Infopreneur. There's even a Kidpreneur.org. I didn't find a reference for a Gurupreneur, but I'm sure that's coming. And a Canadian company has coined the term Futurupreneur for their brand.

("Preneur," by the way, is a French noun meaning "one who takes." The root is the verb "prendre" which is literally translated as "to take" with a further connotation as seen in "profit a prendre" as a "legal right to take a profit.")

Entrepreneurism is no longer for those who can take a legal profit, or for those who are willing to undertake risk, it is becoming defined as a label only deserved by an elite club. The message we're getting is that it isn't for the Everyman, it's only for the few who meet the criteria set by the successful.

If you want into that club then you'll have to play by their rules. But if you're wondering if you are a "Fakepreneur" then I suggest you go back to the original denotation of the word.

Entrepreneur: "A person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk."

For myself and my clients I accept no guru-speak as criteria for their right to wear the badge of Entrepreneur. When I examine the definition as it was originally used, and as it is accepted in our modern dictionary, I see three requirements:

First, that you have entered into an undertaking. You're involved in the organization and management of this enterprise which is "usually a business." You aren't kinda sorta in it. You're wholeheartedly committed. You own it, you're responsible for it, you're either in, or you're out.

Second, that your undertaking is an enterprise. It's organized, it has structure. It isn't a hobby, and it isn't a fly by the seat of your pants until you're successful. Your enterprise is based on a model, it has a value proposition, it has a purpose for existing.

Third, you're invested. You're putting in initiative and risk. You have "skin in game" and something to lose.

I'm sure that everyone who creates, promotes, or accepts a definition of any word, or criteria for any label, has a personal agenda. I do too.

I accept this criteria because the original definition of entrepreneurship fires me up. Because working with people who are wholeheartedly committed, working with the structure and purpose of an enterprise, working with people who are willing to put up a stake and put a stake in the ground is what drives me. That kind of entrepreneurship is my reason for being an entrepreneur.

You decide your reason. You decide your criteria. You decide your label. Because that is another of my requirements for being an entrepreneur. If you want to be successful you have to be able to think for yourself and not let anyone tell you what you can or can't do, or what you can or can't be.

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