The startup renaissance has fueled a culture of entrepreneurship along with abundant resources and ecosystems to support this activity. The kernel of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is innovation. Inventors create new solutions for existing or anticipated problems. Entrepreneurs create economically sustainable businesses based on these solutions. Both inventors (who create new products, services, and processes) and entrepreneurs (who create businesses) are essential to a dynamic ecosystem.
Two of my HSE colleagues, Roy Miller and Joe Fleming, referenced in their articles recently, that in previous generations, if you were exploring the path of entrepreneurship you were considered to be an outlier. Fast-forward to today where entrepreneurship has become so mainstream that any aspiring entrepreneur can easily add a relevant elective to their course load or get involved with a group like Northeastern’s Health Sciences Entrepreneurs Program. Both of which are examples of valuable resources designed to help the next generation of entrepreneurs succeed in a highly competitive space.
The first lesson that any entrepreneurship course or program should convey is that in order to be a successful entrepreneur you must be able to leverage an invention into a profitable, sustainable business. Every day, talented inventors generate new ideas. If an idea cannot be converted into something of value to a critical mass of users, then a sustainable, repeatable business model will not be created. Entrepreneurship is the act of aggregating and allocating resources to create a business enterprise that offers a solution that consumers are willing to pay for.
Inventors & Entrepreneurs
When I discuss this distinction with people, 2 questions immediately arise:
- What’s the difference between an Inventor and an Entrepreneur?
- Is one better than the other?
This is worthy of discussion because the proliferation of the topic of entrepreneurship in industry, media, and academia can create confusion around the contribution, skill set, orientation and expectations of these distinct roles.
At first impression, it almost sounds as though being categorized as an Inventor is somehow not as esteemed as being labeled an Entrepreneur. Quite the contrary. In fact, the entrepreneurial ecosystem depends on the contributions of both, and each are needed to successfully push the boundaries of possibility, explore new ways to solve our problems and effectively deliver solutions that improve the quality of our lives.
Based on my experience, and watching the entrepreneurial ecosystem evolve, I have identified 3 general areas and characteristics that might differentiate an Inventor and an Entrepreneur, or the activities of invention and entrepreneurship
- The inventor is focused on building a product, service or process that solves a user’s problem
- The entrepreneur is focused on building a business and creating shareholder value
- The inventor wants to do “cutting edge” research
- The entrepreneur identifies and builds networks that can be monetized
- The inventor establishes proof of concept
- The entrepreneur establishes teams, channels, and markets
- The inventor typically has a high degree of technical expertise
- The entrepreneur is versatile and adaptive
- The inventor is laser focused on solving a problem
- The entrepreneur is flexible and nimble, responding to changing priorities and data
- The inventor prefers an autonomous environment
- The entrepreneur thrives on collaboration
- The inventor is a visionary, but can be single focused
- The entrepreneur is coachable, humble, and actively solicits input from those who have already been down this path
- The inventor creates
- The entrepreneur leads
These are general descriptions and by no means mutually exclusive or all inclusive. As you can see, there is a symbiotic, synergistic relationship between the inventor and the entrepreneur when the objective is to build a sustainable business.
In fact, one individual can encompass the qualities of both, or varying degrees of these attributes. A successful venture depends on the appropriate acquisition, application and deployment of these talents, skills, and styles at the optimal time.
An inventor without an entrepreneur is not likely to attract investors, and an entrepreneur without an inventor may be lacking a scalable solution. When working in concert however, an inventor can generate a robust pipeline of ideas and an entrepreneur can identify the most promising commercial prospects that can be translated into economic success.
In summary, there’s so much more to entrepreneurship than simply having a great idea. It requires the collaborative efforts and skills of both the inventor and entrepreneur profiles to turn an idea into a business.
Not all inventors are entrepreneurs, and not all entrepreneurs are inventors, but for a venture to be successful, the contribution of both is required.