Business owner or entrepreneur?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Some people say that they are simply two ways of saying the same thing. Or that one leads to the other. But not all business owners are entrepreneurs, nor are all entrepreneurs business owners. The person who inherited a family business from his/her father, or grandfather who originally started the business is not an entrepreneur. Just like many people who, leaving their jobs to devote themselves to their passion and risk their savings for an idea, are not business owners, with a formally set up company.


Some may never set up one, or get lost along the way, but that doesnt mean that they are not entrepreneurs or have the merit of being one.

Undoubtedly “entrepreneur” is one of those terms that has been so abused recently that it makes you yawn just on hearing it. Today in any academic event, professional congress or business incubator, it is called upon with an almost obscene frequency. As if entrepreneurship were an end in itself. Or the only solution to recession. As if those who have voluntarily chosen to work for others should almost apologize. Courageous, optimistic visionaries sought. They are encouraged to think big, to create the next Facebook. To set up companies that grow from one month to the next, that generate so many jobs, that produce enormous P&L accounts and whose ego grows at the same rate as their pockets. In short, it is assumed that for complete fulfillment, the entrepreneur must aspire to becoming a great business owner, which in reality has more to do with being a good manager than a visionary. It’s surprising to see that the best business schools in our country, even those with an international reputation, train so many executives and so few entrepreneurs.

The well-known words that Steve Jobs said to John Sculley, the then-CEO of Pepsi, to convince him to accept a position as CEO at Apple: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” He didn’t offer him shares, or a better salary, or gourmet food. He promised him an attitude. The words of an entrepreneur to a top executive. An entrepreneur who went on to become the main shareholder in the most valuable company in the world, but who opted to go down in history as a visionary rather than a businessman. His on-going need to reinvent Apple, or his first stopoff with Next and then with Pixar, illustrate that. Maybe the secret to being a successful entrepreneur lies there: in never forgetting the feeling of being an entrepreneur from day one.

Joan Alvares is founding partner of Poko and lecturer at Istituto Europeo di Design