Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurs

I tend to be a little suspicious of people who call themselves social entrepreneurs; I personally think it’s for others to use that description. It’s also been, in my opinion, too narrowly defined as someone who starts a social enterprise. I believe a social entrepreneur is someone who mobilises resources and – jargon alert – empowers others to make a difference, often in a community setting. That mobilisation may or may not be around a business idea.

And I think the School for Social Entrepreneurs [currently supporting me through a 12 month Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs start-up programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in Ipswich] would agree with me.

Welldone l1People have written elsewhere about the dangers of would-be entrepreneurs believing the hype that people who start social enterprises have some god-given right to succeed. Some of the blame is laid at the foot of those annual awards ceremonies; the social enterprise sector has its fair share of them. I’m all for celebrating success, but I know of at least one case where a national award winner was out of business less than two years later!

If I sound like a grumpy old git (I’m 58 but not old or grumpy) I don’t mean to and I’m not alone in my views. I was chatting recently about older entrepreneurs with a (much younger) staff member of a social enterprise support organisation. She made an insightful distinction between the views of younger and older entrepreneurs as the difference between new parents and grandparents. The new parent/entrepreneur thinks their baby/enterprise is beyond criticism, the grandparent is equally passionate but tends to be more objective and measured – ‘a different energy’ was how she described it.

Entrepreneurs of all kinds have been around for generations – some are remarkable, most are not.  Maybe it’s time to get our feet firmly back on the ground and get back to basics?

Michael Gerber, US small business adviser and writer, has made a name for himself by coining a concept – the E-myth [where E is for ‘entrepreneurial’]. He has shared his theory in books – I came across his ideas in The E-myth Revisited’ – talks and paid consultancy around the world. Nice work if you can get it, but I’m not knocking his success because I think the E-myth is sound and it’s beautifully simple to grasp.

In essence, the E-myth is ‘Just because you can bake a cake doesn’t mean you can run a bakery’.

Yes – we’ve all heard of people who’ve turned a hobby into a business but this is probably not typical and do we ever hear how long those often home-based (or should that be half-baked?) businesses survive?

Gerber argues that in all his years of studying small business start-ups, the most common factor in determining their success or failure is how quickly the entrepreneur recognises what s/he is not good at, and then takes steps to remedy any shortfall.

He suggests that there are three broad roles in any start-up – the entrepreneur (for vision and ideas), the technician (rolling up sleeves and doing) and the manager (bringing all the different elements of the business together). Assuming the entrepreneur hasn’t got all those skills in equal measure (and unlimited time) they will need to beg, steal or borrow them by bringing in others as soon as they can afford to do so, maybe sooner.

As always, I suppose it’s about balance – being positive and quietly confident, enjoying any sincere praise that comes your way, but seriously listening to and assessing constructive criticisms. How balanced are you?

For more on the cult of the social entrepreneur, see and

6 thoughts on “Slowing the spin about social entrepreneurs

  1. Pingback: Slowing the spin about social enterprise   | Enterprise Essentials

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  3. Pingback: Age and social entrepreneurship | Enterprise Essentials

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  6. Pingback: What makes an entrepreneur? | Enterprise Essentials

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