I didn’t mean to write this article. I was trying to write about innovation types – and I will write about them someday – when I noticed this article will be published on August 4. Today is the anniversary of the founding of Thinkergy, my innovation company. And in the flush of pleasure that Thinkergy is flourishing, I realized I had to write a very different article.

Entrepreneurs are undervalued.

Just a few years ago, a survey in my home country of Germany found most people had a negative view of Unternehmer (“entrepreneurs”). Most German youngsters want to work for large, well-regarded corporations or as government officials when they grow up. Even though most Germans work for small or medium-sized businesses, entrepreneurs are still often seen as greedy, abusive oppressors. As a result, I never considered becoming an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs have a better reputation in Asia, but still those in well-established organizations look down on fledgling entrepreneurs and their ventures. This condescension makes me angry, because I believe entrepreneurs should be respected, even celebrated. After all, it’s entrepreneurs who get things started and drive progress.

Who is an entrepreneur?

The word comes from a French word meaning “to undertake”. Entrepreneurs are willing to undertake the risks associated with a new business venture. In the US, only 30% of startups are still in business after 10 years. Given that, no rational person would start a new business. That’s why we should admire those who are passionate – or crazy – enough to start a new venture and wish them luck.

Entrepreneurs rock.

The American anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Every great corporation owes its existence to a few people who had the courage to start something new and accept the risk. That’s why when we train innovators, we teach the participants about the people who took a risk and created the company that employs them. We do this to reconnect the employees to the company founders and help them appreciate and emulate their creativity, courage and drive.

One entrepreneur named Henri Nestle’ started a company in 1866 that became the Nestle’ we know today. His courage and hard work back then today provides for 281,000 employees and their families or a million people.

Who started the organization you work for? What do you know about them? You owe them gratitude, because your job exists today because of their courage, hard work and vision. Be sure to treat the entrepreneurs you meet with respect, as their work today may provide jobs for your great-grandchildren. Also, pay them a fair price and pay them promptly, lest they be forced out of business.

Celebrate entrepreneurial anniversaries.

Many firms mark their date of incorporation as their anniversary. But a new business does not start with an entry in a government registry. If you ask an entrepreneur, the real birthday was when the entrepreneur had the idea for the venture.

“Everything begins with an idea”, said Earl Nightingale, an American motivational speaker, and the power of an idea gives an entrepreneur the courage to break from the past, begin something new and invest the hard work necessary for success.

We celebrate Thinkergy’s official foundation today, but the real birthday of Thinkergy is February 1. On that day in 2003, I was, somehow, called on a mission to create more innovators. I had this Eureka moment while watching the sunset on the first day of the 4,700th Chinese year, which was a Black Sheep Year. What more auspicious moment could there be for an innovation company full of black sheep whose role it is to be different and think differently?

Conclusion: A healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem is a vital driver of innovation, economic growth and employment. Take a moment today to appreciate the importance of entrepreneurs to the economy and to give thanks for them.


© Dr. Detlef Reis 2011. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on August 4 2011.