Rhode Island needs to learn how entrepreneurship really works

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Everybody around the table gave me that friendly look that says, “You speak eloquently and seem to care, but we don’t think you really get what we’re talking about, here.” At the “Make It Happen RI” conference, I was seated at one of about a half-dozen round tables with eight to ten people at each, assembled to talk about entrepreneurship in Rhode Island.

In a half-dozen other conference rooms in the Rhode Island Convention Center, similar tables were filled with similar people, discussing related topics focused on how Rhode Island could “make it happen.”  That is, how leaders in the public and private sectors could get the state off the wrong end of every list, and change the state’s motto — “Hope” — from a bitter joke to a reality.

The statement that had drawn “the look” was that we were too focused on entrepreneurship as this exciting process of birthing cutting-edge businesses to make investors rich.  The plumber who identifies flaws in his boss’s business model, applied to the local market, and who strikes out on his own to test the theory is also an entrepreneur; it isn’t just the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.

A recent study out of Pepperdine University specifies that entrepreneurs aren’t just “self-employed” people, but “the starter[s] and owner[s] of new businesses,” with an emphasis on “intense and continuous competition between new products and ideas.”  According to the authors, “The entrepreneur as gap-filler and risk-bearer is especially important to economic growth in developing nations.”

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