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entrevangelism & The entrevangelist

What is entrevangelism? What do I mean when I say that I am an entrevangelist? What gives me the right to make up words, willy nilly? I’m a PhD, that’s what gives me the right. Well, that and I say so. So there. Who made up willy nilly? You have to admit that entrevangelism sounds way cooler than willy nilly, right? Besides, all words are made up (mind. blown.).

So, let’s wrap our heads around what I’m trying to communicate with this portmanteau. (a portmanteau is a combination of the parts of two (or more) words. Typically the meaning of the portmanteau is obvious if you know the root words.) It is a combination of entrepreneurship and evangelism. It could mean the financial exploitation of the Christian religion, ala Jim and Tammy Fay Baker, but it doesn’t. I’m using evangelism in the more abstract, as a zealous promotion of a cause.  Entrepreneurship, I’d love to say is self-explanatory, but after spending the first year of my PhD program with a small plane load of very, very smart people trying to agree on a definition, I’ve concluded that entrepreneurship means different things to different people, and we will likely never agree on a common definition.

So I guess the next thing is to determine what entrepreneurship means to me. If I am holding myself out as an evangelist for something, it would be pretty useful to know what that ‘something’ is. Before the PhD, an entrepreneur was someone who started a business, so that can be the base of my definition. It’s both more and less than that though. I don’t believe that a business is strictly necessary for one to be an entrepreneur. It is more convenient to have a business, or to be thought of as being ‘in business’, especially if you will be engaging in the same or similar entrepreneurial activities over and over again. But if your activities are varied, but value creating, I could still consider you an entrepreneur without you having an actual business, whatever that means. (And I’m sure you’re super concerned whether or not I consider you an entrepreneur.)

Also, not all engaged in business are entrepreneurs, at least not to the same degree. This is highly subjective, and as with many highly subjective things, probably wrong. But I view the businessperson who runs a Subway franchise as less of an entrepreneur than the independent restauranteur. Risk is part of it, but not just risk. The high stakes gambler is taking huge risks and not an entrepreneur. Creativity is part of it as well, but also not just that, the artist is not an entrepreneur by virtue of creating art. Both to me are less entrepreneurial than someone who creates a new product or service and delivers it. Again, it’s not the creativity or the newness, inventors, just by the act of inventing, do not become entrepreneurs. It is only when they somehow shepherd their products to market, either through forming a company or getting some other company to do it that they become entrepreneurs. The essential piece in this case is that their vision has been delivered to the word, and is now creating value independently in the lives of the inventor’s customers. I could parse this all day, but instead, in the interest of saving words, I’ll say that I have an idea of what I’m trying to bring more of to the world.

So how do I do that? I have several strategies. First, I have placed myself in the academic system. There I get to engage with students who are predisposed to starting businesses. They are taking classes in New Venture Creation and so on. They are soft targets. So I train and encourage them. My office door never closes. I push them to create businesses in class and in their lives that will matter.

Second, beyond my required classrooms, whenever someone is talking entrepreneurship I try to be part of the conversation. Honestly, quite often I’m a silent part of the conversation. If I have nothing to add that will make a big difference, I don’t speak up. I’m not in these rooms to be heard, or to stroke my ego. I’m there to make sure that entrepreneurship happens.  Sometimes these rooms contain University Committees. Sometimes they contain student groups. Sometimes it’s interested members of the community, or angel investors, or some other group that can help make things happen. Whenever I move to a new community I try to find out who those people are, who works well with whom, and how to get them what they want, which is usually what I want, which is more and better new business.

Third and fourth are outgrowths of two. I group them because they involve public policy. Some of the ‘groups’ I join and interact with are governmental in nature. My instinct, and my long held beliefs tell me that the government that governs least governs best. And from a philosophical position, I still think that. But the fact of the matter is that the United States of America has a giant tick on its neck called Congress, and that tick is sucking the life blood (in the form of money) from the country. Unlike a regular tick however, some of that money is fed back into the country, using an arcane process no one understands. Through my participation in these particular groups I try to access that money and put it to the uses I think best. (The best use of this money would be to leave it in the hands of the people it is taken from but that is not an option, and I trust me more than I trust a random bureaucrat.) So, three is participating in the government led confiscation and redistribution of wealth. I didn’t think I’d ever write that sentence. I feel a bit dirty.

And four is doing research and writing about public policy issues. This is where I attempt to redeem myself, at least a little bit, for number three above. I will always report the truth as I find it. But from countless studies I’ve read, and from the research I’ve done so far, it seems to be that the government that does least is in fact best. Lower tax rates promote business. Lower regulations lead to more and better businesses, and so on. So when I write that, I hopefully move the conversation in the proper direction, by being absolutely truthful.

I am always looking to add to the ways I promote entrepreneurship. I’ve considered public speaking, and I’m preparing for when that will be a part of what I do. I’ve considered starting more businesses of my own, and perhaps I’ll do that too. I’ve considered expanding the message to high school and adult populations and that’s a possibility. I’ve considered adding my voice to the growing entrepreneurship podcast community. I don’t know what all I’ll end up doing, but as long as I’m passionate about it I’ll continue being an entrevangelist.

The most important question though, is probably why. Why is this important? Quite simply, I think that this is the only thing that can possibly save first the United States of America, and then the world. It really is that big of an issue. The United States is drowning in debt. The US is fomenting a race war. The US is making enemies all over the world, and could perhaps be involved in a religious war on a global scale. It is my firm belief that satisfied people don’t fight. If we can create a society that is prosperous enough for all, many of our reasons for fighting go away. I do not mean to make light of people’s legitimate (or even illegitimate) grievances. I understand that in the US there is explicit and hidden racism, sexism, and religious bias. I realize that there are huge disconnects in the belief systems of Jews, Muslims, Christians, all other religions, and atheism. But I do find it hard to believe that young men will be willing to die for these causes when they’re allowed to exist unharrased, practice their faiths as they wish, and they have full bellies, healthy wives and children, and prosperous lives.

It is through creating prosperity that we will create peace. And it is through entrepreneurship that we will create prosperity.

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