Innovation, initiative and risk: the mark of the entrepreneur

When I was young, they taught us that; ‘all medicine is drugs but not all drugs are medicine’. “All the aspirin, quinine, ARV’s, panadols are definitely drugs, but cocaine, a drug, is not medicine”. The teacher would say.  Likewise, are all business people entrepreneurs?

When I was young, they taught us that; ‘all medicine is drugs but not all drugs are medicine’. “All the aspirin, quinine, ARV’s, panadols are definitely drugs, but cocaine, a drug, is not medicine”.

The teacher would say.  Likewise, are all business people entrepreneurs? Or  are all entrepreneurs business people?  The answer is ‘no’ to the former, and ‘yes’, to the latter. Business-person and entrepreneur are sometimes used interchangeably although they mean different things

The entrepreneur conceptualizes, initiates and materializes a business process which is entirely unique and original. S/he creates business from a fresh idea and makes it work, or applies an existing idea differently.

An entrepreneur organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. The key words here are initiative and risk.

A business-person, on the other hand, is someone who starts a business on an existing market platform laid by the entrepreneurs. It is in this context that entrepreneurs are business people but not all business people are entrepreneurs.

Truth be told, entrepreneurship is not an easy task. You have to discover your way through the market and get your brand or the product established. A businessman needs to be smart and invest in an established brand at the right time to make money.

A business-person becomes an entrepreneur when s/he injects freshness, uniqueness and creativity in their business.

You have probably seen that each time up when a person comes up with a business idea that works well; everyone wants to have the same business. I call this the ‘sheep complex’. To move a herd of sheep across the road, all you have to do is move the lead sheep and the rest shall follow across regardless of whether it is safe to do so or not!

This ‘sheep complex’ makes it more difficult to survive tough times as a business person. In entrepreneurship, there is less competition because products on offer are unique and easily differentiated. Besides, the qualities of innovation and initiative, coupled with the ability and practice of risk-handling, equips the entrepreneur to deal with such situations.

Take, for example, my favorite sector, banking. It is business as usual all over. No radically new product that responds to customer needs comes up from this sector really. I am not being unfair. Let’s look at the Rwandan society.  Like any other society, we have our unique needs that pretty much define us.

Our need for housing, quality educational institutions, down to little things like our love for brochette. I am waiting eagerly to see a bank that takes up this challenge using homegrown wisdom and chutzpah. Tourism is another example.

The other day, we took our students to Nyungwe forest for a study tour. We were asked to pay the foreign tourist rates and tried to negotiate but did not get very far. 

I have now challenged my students to come up with a viable and profitable domestic tourism package because our tourism policy still targets foreigners per se. Should we be aggressively targeting domestic tourism with the same fervor? Why not both?

Here’s the catch as Delano White says, “Business innovations generally start within small businesses. The greatest innovations are not thought up in corporate boardrooms. They originate in dorm rooms, working lofts and basements (remember facebook?).

Creativity drives business and our society. Without the initiative taken daily by ground business owners, society would be at a standstill.”
What we need to improve our economy and our lives is more entrepreneurs and fewer business-people.

Sam Kebongo is a skills development and business advisory consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College. Comments to: sam.kebongo@gmail.com

 

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