"Who is an Entrepreneur?" is the Wrong Question

Posted: 17 Nov 2009

See all articles by William B. Gartner

William B. Gartner

Clemson University - College of Business and Behavioral Science; Copenhagen Business School

Date Written: 1988


Despite researchers' attempts at defining the entrepreneur, no common definition exists. Much research in the field has focused on the person of the entrepreneur, searching for characteristics that make one so -- the approach that this analysis labels as the trait approach and deems unfruitful. A behavioral approach is offered as an alternative; this analysis suggests that, since entrepreneurship is the creation of organizations, the research should focus on what the entrepreneur does, and not on who the entrepreneur is. The two approaches are presented and contrasted. In the trait approach, the entrepreneur is assumed to be a particular personality type, a fixed state of being (once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur). The behavioral approach focuses primarily on the organization, and views the individual in terms of activities (behavior), or a role undertaken to enable the functioning of the organization. The flaws of the trait approach are presented through the example of the study by Carland, Hoy, and Boulton (1984), "Differentiating Entrepreneurs from Small Business Owners: A Conceptualization," which attempts to distinguish the two categories by identifying and defining their characteristics. The present analysis shifts the emphasis from the question "Who is an entrepreneur?" to broader, more contextual research questions such as: How do organizations come into existence?; What are the specific organization creation skills that an entrepreneur needs to know? How are these skills acquired? What is the political process (the strategies) that the intrapreneur undertakes to gain internal assistance? What are the features of successful business plans? Research on entrepreneurial behaviors should be based on field work similar to Mintzberg's study of managerial work (1973); entrepreneurs should be observed in the process of creating organizations, and the process of team formation should be studied. (AT)

Keywords: Entrepreneurship research, Behavior (individual), Individual traits, Startups, Research opportunities, Organization theory, Firm characteristics, Psychological traits, Firm gestation

Suggested Citation

Gartner, William B. and Gartner, William B., "Who is an Entrepreneur?" is the Wrong Question (1988). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1505236

William B. Gartner (Contact Author)

Copenhagen Business School

Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy
Porcelaenshaven 18B
Frederiksberg C, DK - 2000

Clemson University - College of Business and Behavioral Science ( email )

345 Sirrine Hall
Clemson, SC 29634
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.clemson.edu/cbbs/faculty-staff/profiles/profile.html?userid=GARTNER

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