Entrepreneurs – Then and now

Entrepreneurship may be the eldest profession in the word. It is enough to think of the people who had to work on their fields or do livestock farming in order to earn money for their families. They acted like entrepreneurs. However, the first definition of entrepreneurship appeared only around 1800 as mentioned by Jean-Baptiste Say. Throughout the years, the concept of entrepreneurship has changed a lot, for example, nowadays it is totally accepted by society, if a woman manages her own business, but it was not always like this. In an article, which was issued in 1986, it seems the gender question was not in focus yet, as the specification of personality traits of entrepreneur starts like ’He is…’.

At the beginning of entrepreneurial education, universities had to handle the urban myth which says entrepreneurs cannot be trained, they are born for this role.

This contradiction came from two different approaches: trait-based against competency-based approach. Luckily, this myth was disposed of, and more and more universities and other schools have created programs in the past decades in order to train entrepreneurs. In 1975 there were ca. 100 formal majors, minors and certificates in entrepreneurship, in 2006 there were five times as many. Furthermore, the increase in numbers seems to accelerate as there were more than 2000 on-campus entrepreneurship programs registered in 2014 only in the US.

The content of these programs has had to change a lot, and this was not only because of the technological changes, or the expanding knowledge about our environment, new kind of skills requirements have appeared, and universities have had to incorporate the developing of these skills into their curricula. There are some differences between what kind of skills were important in 1985, and which skills are must haves today, in 2020. There are some skills, which are golden oldies like the ability to take risk and tolerance for ambiguity. It seems that these are the ones which entrepreneurs must have -irrespective of time and any other kind of changes in the world – because they came from the basic qualities of being an entrepreneur.

On the other hand, there are personality traits, which have changed a lot. As Sexton and Bowman in 1985 mentioned an entrepreneur must have low need for conformity and support. This means, entrepreneurs had to face challenges all alone, or at least that is what society expected from them. Additionally, dominance and independence were also mentioned there, which are not completely true in the 21th century. Nowadays teamwork approach is essential to being a successful entrepreneur.

It seems the profession has gone through dramatic changes, in which entrepreneurs became team players from lonely wolves.

Only a few changes were highlighted, but it can be seen entrepreneurship is a constantly changing and adaptive profession. This is the reason, why it is important to pay a lot of attention to entrepreneurial education at universities. Creating a detailed entrepreneurial university program is the easy part, upgrading curricula as regularly as the environment requires means the real challenge for higher education.

Eszter Szendrei-Pál


  • Sexton, D. L., & Bowman, N. (1985). The entrepreneur: A capable Executive and more. Baylor University. Journal of Business Venturing I, pp. 129-140.
  • Peschl, H., Deng, C., & Larson, N. (2020). Entrepreneurial thinking: A signature pedagogy for an uncertain 21st century. The International Journal of Management Education. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijme.2020.100427
  • The Infographic.ly Team. (2017.01.26.). Infographic: The Growth Of Entrepreneurship Around The Globe. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/288286
  • Morelix, A. (2015.10.29). The evolution of entrepreneurship on college campuses. Exploring the evolution of entrepreneurship on college campuses — a timeline. Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.kauffman.org/currents/the-evolution-of-entrepreneurship-on-college-campuses/