What does entrepreneurship mean and who should seek that title? Personally, I always struggled to see myself as an entrepreneur. I didn’t identify with the “founder” types like Bezos or Gates. However, I have come to realize that entrepreneurship holds a broader definition than simply starting a business or inventing a product.
Entrepreneurship is really about having a vision to improve something and combining that vision with action. To make this definition more concrete, this post uses examples ranging from 19th century France to 21st century USC.
For 20 years, I never looked at myself as an entrepreneur. Last month, I joined a club for entrepreneurs on campus. The reason for this change has to do with Spark’s unique mission and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Let’s back up a bit...
The word “entrepreneur” never felt right for me. It felt like the shirt that was neither too big nor too small, but one I would have never tried on in the first place. That shirt belonged to the likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos - genius technologists who could code the solution to any problem and start trillion dollar companies.
Even on a smaller scale, the other entrepreneurship clubs on campus seemed mostly geared towards students with coding, engineering, or design experience - none of which particularly suited me. What were my ideas if I couldn’t design a prototype on Figma? What were my ideas if I couldn’t put them neatly into a pitch deck? What were my ideas if they wouldn’t be used to start a company? So, I continued to brush off the possibility of being an entrepreneur. A leader. A change-maker.
And that’s where Spark and Napoleon came in.
Napoleon Bonaparte, Leader of newly liberated France and…entrepreneur?
When I came across Spark’s website, I was struck by their mission statement. To Spark, being an entrepreneur could mean inventing a product or starting a business, but it could also be a “political vision, a clothing line, [or] a senior thesis”. It described entrepreneurship in a way I had never considered before.
But even after reading Spark’s mission, I didn’t fully believe the idea that any type of idea could give anybody the potential to be an entrepreneur.
Surprisingly, some reading on Napoleon Bonaparte for one of my International Relations classes changed my perspective.
Bonaparte changed the course of war, society, and history by disrupting the status quo of motivation, organization, and processes. By implementing widespread drafting and meritocracy within armies, he built passionate and plentiful troops. By breaking up the infantry into a corps system, he made troops more agile and deceptive. And by teaching men to live off the land, rather than relying on complex supply chains, he enabled his army to move with greater speed and adaptability.
Bonaparte didn’t start a business. He didn’t build an invention. And he certainly didn’t code. Instead, he changed how something was organized and how people thought. Instead of drawing on design, engineering, or computer science, his entrepreneurship drew on psychology, politics, and leadership.
And Bonaparte isn’t alone. All throughout space and time the concept of an entrepreneur has been different from what many people think of now. Google “entrepreneur” in the Western 21st century, and you’ll see the likes of Bezos, Musk, Gates, and Zuckerberg. However, if you were to ask a lad from 18th Century England, they might muster up someone along the lines of Locke and Montesquieu. Probe a fellow from 20th century Louisiana, and they might answer with “Louis Armstrong”.
I wanted to shed light on some of the different conceptions of entrepreneurship that exist right here on USC’s campus. These students have a vision for a better world (in a less war-mongering fashion than Napoleon) that can be achieved through a change in ideas, programs, priorities, and approaches.
What Entrepreneurial Thought Looks Like Across USC Students’ Majors and Passions
Daisy Qiu: Reimagining the workplace
Within the workplace, there are often harmful effects on mental health, productivity, and relationships because leaders do not take the time to understand differences in human behaviors and psychology.
“Many leaders don’t understand that people have different work styles and don’t know how to accommodate them, leading to issues in communication, expectations, and motivation”
This issue eventually translates to high employee turnover, a lack of innovation, and a mismatch in employee skill and labor.
Vision for the future:
“I would hope to see employees who are more engaged at work, more satisfied with their jobs, and less employee turnover.”
Action to be taken:
There needs to be a complete overhaul or intentional improvement in leadership training to include compassion and understanding for different work styles. There also needs to be a better way for leaders to be held accountable for the consistency and fairness of expectations they set on employees. Additionally, improvements in feedback systems should be implemented so employees can easily communicate when they feel confused or concerned about their positions.
Ariana Deng: Reimagining Health Equity
There is still food insecurity within the nation, even in wealthier areas such as the Bay area.
“Many still do not have easy access to affordable or sufficient grocery stores and oftentimes do not have a dependable inflow and stock of food. There is also currently not a lot of wide-scale initiatives, even in large urban cities, to address the problem of food insecurity.”
Vision for the future:
Everyone has confidence in their ability to obtain their next meal. Food insecurity is eliminated as well as the generational handicaps it tends to impart. Additionally, there should be greater community awareness, compassion, and involvement for members across the income distributions.
Action to be taken:
“Changing health policy at a local level is the most important action.”
Policy change is notoriously slow and difficult, but a few key aspects can be considered in innovating success. Those enabling policy change need to start prioritizing and systematically bridging together different people in the community. Organizers need to actively develop relationships between public press (those with information), local politicians (those with legal power), the wealthy (those with financial power), technologists (those with the ability to scale anything) and more. Press, as well as local and international organizations, can and should also be used to increase transparency and accountability of government actions, funds, and promises.
Grace Toyonaga: Reimagining Women’s Motorsport Representation
“Not enough women are participating in motorsport. There is also a lot of social pressure for women to not be interested/try out the sport and for men to create an unwelcoming and masculine-heavy environment.”
Additionally, motorsport is extremely expensive and controlled by wealthy men who will support, train, and hire people like themselves...meaning other men. The result is that women do not stay involved in the sport, are less supported if they do stay involved, and have a higher personal expense with lower pay.
Men and women should be competing with each other at the same level and in the same numbers.
“The end goal would look something like an equal ratio of male and female identifying racers starting races and finishing races in pole positions, which are positions one through three.”
Action to be taken:
Initiatives to hire more women in high-level positions within motorsport need to be made to prove that it is a viable career for women. Additionally, there also need to be intentional efforts, either through internal programs or additional personnel, in gauging interest from females for the sport as well as supporting and sponsoring female drivers. The programs and initiatives must also live across departments, involving HR, marketing, event coordinators, as well as the C-suite and sponsors.
Why it matters who we call an entrepreneur
The importance of the word “entrepreneur” is less about a label and more about identity. Whether you use “entrepreneur”, “leader”, “innovator”, “disruptor” or any other label, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is your ability to see yourself as capable of enacting change.
Take care of your ideas, collect them, go back to them, and one day, even seek the resources to make them a reality. If you want to build/code a tech product and sell it, that’s great. But understand that if you want to design a program that changes workplace culture, strategize policy change to eliminate food insecurity, build initiatives for gender equity in motorsport, or anything else - that matters, and you should treat it as such.
P.S. — Convinced you can be an entrepreneur? Let Spark help you get there. Follow along our blogs, newsletter, and events for inspiration, advice, and resources in going from ideation to execution, from vision to action, from the potential to be an entrepreneur to being one.