Seabeck: Picture of an entrepreneur differs from stereotype

An entrepreneur. A picture pops to mind when we see that word. We see a person dreaming, inventing, starting, struggling, hustling, leading, and growing a business. We see someone who is dedicated and intensely hard-working; decisive and driven; intelligent and insightful. We see a confident persona.

And the picture often gets filled in with more stereotypical descriptors too. Most of us understand conceptually that entrepreneurial success comes in all manner of diverse packages. But, historically, we have most often seen white, well-educated men in the entrepreneur role. And an entrepreneur is usually wealthy and probably highly educated, or at the very least “good with numbers.” 

Behind the initial picture, who are those people in our community in 2022? And what do they have in common? The common denominator among entrepreneurs in our community today is not a level of education or an alma mater. It’s not all about how much access we have to capital or who we know when we start out (though a strong built-in network sure doesn’t hurt!). And it’s certainly not about what we look like. 

Our community’s entrepreneurs are men and women, artists and athletes, veterans, and immigrants. We have MBAs and we have community college certificates. Some of us are fresh out of school and others are striking out on our own on the backside of an acclaimed professional career. 

We know stories of successful entrepreneurs who are “second-chancers” — they had a rough go early on, made a few mistakes along the way and are building their way back. We know stories of accidental entrepreneurs who fell into their business and are riding a wave of opportunity and timing. Not every entrepreneur knew from grade school on up that they wanted to hustle for themselves and never work for a boss. But some did. 

We know entrepreneurs who are engineers and scientists. We see entrepreneurs whose greatest superpowers are team building and leading people. Some of us are social media mavens. Others are coping with a strong, ingrained aversion to technology. A few of us are confident and self-assured. Others (many others) question ourselves regularly and wonder whether we have what it takes. 

The common denominators among our most successful entrepreneurs are internal factors, not external traits. Here are a few of those internal commonalities: 

Hope. An entrepreneur sees opportunity. We see a problem that needs to be solved and a way to do something better than it has been done before. We believe in a future that will be brighter for ourselves and our families, and — in the best cases — we believe we are creating a better future for some segment of society too. Even stronger than hope alone, entrepreneurs hold on to an expectation they can personally do something tangible to bring the future into existence. And when we have hope, we move toward action.

Passion for action. Our passion gives us a clear sense of purpose and a focused drive to solve a problem. We set goals and work diligently toward them. We muster people and resources to join us in the work. We are thinking about our goals and prioritizing what needs to get done next in all the spare spaces in our minds. Nothing is going to stop us until the goal is met. 

Grit. When roadblocks appear, we figure out a path around them. Or sometimes we just charge straight through anyway. Very few people enjoy being told no, but our passion for action overrides our desire to quit. We adjust and regroup along the way, but we still find ways to forge ahead.

Curiosity. As entrepreneurs, we seek to learn and put our knowledge to use. We want to understand why and how the world around us works. When we are at our best, we ask questions that need to be asked and challenge assumptions in ways that open doors to new opportunities. Entrepreneurs (usually) want to learn from our mistakes. 

Regardless of education or background, entrepreneurs are more than their business. The pandemic and ensuing world events tested our community’s businesses to their core. Those same factors impacted our entrepreneurs as human beings too. Entrepreneurs are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. We make daily decisions about the health and well-being of ourselves and families. We are dealing with childhood traumas, with sick parents, with marriages tested to the brink. We get tired sometimes. We are discouraged and overwhelmed sometimes. 

And, yet, we persist toward a goal greater than ourselves. Entrepreneurs create jobs and generate economic activity for our community. Entrepreneurs build the backbone of our economy. We are fighting for a better life and a better world, in our own particular niches in our own unique ways. 

Allison Seabeck is the executive director of the Warehouse Business Accelerator, Northern Colorado’s scale-up accelerator for technology and advanced manufacturing businesses that have graduated from start-up phase. As an executive leader and business adviser, Allison focuses on building alignment and clarity of purpose with leadership teams, particularly during times of growth and change.