Is entrepreneurship a business discipline?

Entrepreneurship reflections from the UK. From early June through until late August the ECIC Academic Director for post graduate Innovation and Entrepreneurship programs, Allan O’Connor, will be on study leave. During his time away (mainly at the University of Edinburgh, UK), he will from time to time post observations, challenges, new insights and reflections encountered across his travels.

Is entrepreneurship a business discipline?

Recently, I have been challenged to think deeply about how entrepreneurship is distinguishable from business management. Here are some thoughts and I invite your feedback.

Entrepreneurship seems to explicitly contrast from business management primarily in three ways; by objective, by economic contribution and by management practice.

First, the objective of business management is to maintain the continuation of the business entity and as such the study of business management requires one to learn how to best meet that ends. This means that threats to a businesses’ survival are treated as hostile. Firms need to outcompete, lobby for self preservation, protect their market and generally maintain profitability to survive. The discipline of entrepreneurship on the other hand is concerned with bringing a new venture into being. The success of a new venture depends upon its ability to meet market needs and the creation of a business becomes a means to that ends. The means – ends relationships between business and entrepreneurship management would seem to differ.

Second, the primary contribution of business in an economic context is to maintain efficiently and effectively productive capacity to meet the demand for goods and services. A business manages and copes with shifts in existing demand and supply patterns. By contrast, if one takes a Schumpeterian view, entrepreneurship is not concerned with sustaining that which exists but rather disrupting business, technology, social, political and even personal patterns. Entrepreneurship inherently challenges and stretches boundaries beyond the routine and status quo; innovation is often at the heart of an entrepreneurial opportunity. The contribution of business is wrapped up in its ability to meet and sustain market demand while entrepreneurship contributes by disrupting established patterns of demand and creating new and rival economic contributions.

The third point would seem to flow from the previous two in that business management manages a formed organisation’s resources, processes and systems etc to meet its objective of survival and maintaining economic contribution. Entrepreneurship management (if there is such a thing) manages disruption or, as Schumpeter put it, ‘creative destruction’. Entrepreneurship management often operates without the context of established business organisational systems and structures and therefore the unit of organisation has no established (real or perceived) boundaries. Management in this context means dealing with resources, systems and processes that are outside of the entrepreneurship team’s control and interfacing with other people, organisations and institutions to muster resources and actions without the reward systems and structural aids provided by a formed and functioning business. Furthermore, if the team is truly being innovative in its entrepreneurship mission, they will undoubtedly face opposition from the established systems, hierarchies and market dynamics with only meagre resources and limited support. There is good cause for terms like ‘enterprise’ and ‘venture’ to be used in the context of entrepreneurship when one considers the inherent challenge in the nature of the task.

There are certainly differences in the nature of management between business and entrepreneurship and therefore one would expect that the curriculum and learning design encountered in these domains of practice would also be different. A final point is that these two forms of management are not mutually exclusive and business management to some extent will need the skills of entrepreneurship and vice versa. There is a yin and yang type of relationship that cannot be easily deconstructed but at the same time one should not be confused for the other.

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