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entrepreneur (änˌtrəprənûrˈ) [Fr.,=one who undertakes], person who assumes the organization, management, and risks of a business enterprise. It was first used as a technical economic term by the 18th-century economist Richard Cantillon. To the classical economist of the late 18th cent. the term meant an employer in the character of one who assumes the risk and management of business; an undertaker of economic enterprises, in contrast to the ordinary capitalist, who, strictly speaking, merely owns an enterprise and may choose to take no part in its day-to-day operation. In practice, entrepreneurs were not differentiated from regular capitalists until the 19th cent., when their function developed into that of coordinators of processes necessary to large-scale industry and trade. Joseph Schumpeter and other 20th-century economists considered the entrepreneur's competitive drive for innovation and improvement to have been the motive force behind capitalist development. Richard Arkwright in England and William Cockerill on the Continent were prominent examples of the rising class of entrepreneurial manufacturers during the Industrial Revolution. Henry Ford was a 20th-century American example. The entrepreneur's functions and importance have declined with the growth of the corporation.


See J. Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development (1934); J. W. Gough, The Rise of the Entrepreneur (1969); O. F. Collins, The Organization Makers (1970).

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any owner of capital who is engaged in the management of an enterprise for the sale of goods or services for profit. Classical economics focused on entrepreneurial activity as a factor of production in which risk taking was the key attribute of the entrepreneur. Classical microeconomic theory of the firm also assumed the existence of an individual entrepreneur as the basis for decision making in terms of profit maximization. In contrast, sociological study of entrepreneurs has been concerned in particular with their position within the class structure, their values and their relations to other class groupings (see also MIDDLE CLASS). Features of entrepreneurship variously include: values of independence, innovation, competition and a belief in enterprise and profit making (see also PROTESTANT ETHIC, ENTERPRISE CULTURE). Recent organizational research has identified the phenomenon of intrapreneurship: the development of entrepreneurial attitudes and behaviour of employees within the enterprise.

Empirical research into entrepreneurs has indicated that they do not comprise a homogeneous category, but include the self-employed, small employers, owner-controllers and owner-directors (Scase and Goffe, 1982). Sociological analysis of the self-employed – small proprietors, artisans and tradespeople – has occupied a problematic place in the study of the changing class structure of capitalist societies in terms of their position between large-scale capital and the working class (see PETTY BOURGEOISIE). Interest in the self-employed has been renewed recently with the proliferation of small businesses and research into the INFORMAL ECONOMY. The class position of owner-controllers and owner-directors has figured prominently in the analysis of the separation of ownership from control, and of the RULING CLASS in advanced capitalist societies. See also MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, POSTCAPITALISM AND POSTCAPITALIST SOCIETY.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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