I was fascinated recently when someone in Turkey started a conversation by telling me that Turkey was vastly under-represented with entrepreneurs. They quoted some figure of around 1%!
We then entered into a discussion of what we meant by an entrepreneur and decided that the definition was something about a person that undertook a business adventure where they take the risk of making a loss in the expectation of making a profit.
On the basis of that definition, Turkey clearly had significantly more entrepreneurs than the Western world which was dominated by large businesses and where people were more likely to be employed than to start businesses. In Turkey it is almost impossible to travel more than a few hundred metres without coming across one or more entrepreneurs.
Indeed, across the Middle East and Asia, entrepreneurship is endemic and clearly a necessity in many cases. The streets of most cities and towns are defined by their lack of large companies. Even where there is a common named enterprise such as a food outlet, it is likely to be a franchise.
This debate reminded me of when I was once discussing the fact that a town had no entrepreneurs with the editor of one of their local newspapers. It turned out that he had started the newspaper as a weekly publication about three years before. It became so successful that he converted to a successful daily publication. It had never occurred to him that he had destroyed his own argument about there not being any entrepreneurs.
That newspaper editor revised his editorial the next day to praise the entrepreneurs of the area and to question why it took an outsider to point out their entrepreneurial success. The same problem became apparent during the more recent discussion I talked about at the start of this blog.
I think the problem we have is that the entrepreneurs that get all the coverage are the high-tech ones that have amazing success such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Therefore, we measure entrepreneurship by the type of business and the eventual size of the company.
This has two unfortunate effects. Firstly, it implies that the West are the great entrepreneurs and that other nations should seek to emulate them. More importantly, it denigrates the real spirit of entrepreneurship that already exists in so many nations outside of the West.
As a consequence, there is a rush to copy the education systems of the West and, in doing so, putting back the cause of entrepreneurship. The paradox, of course, is that the very people that the developing world try to emulate are often university drop-outs or never even went to university!
Perhaps there should be someone in universities whose job it is to try and persuade students to drop out, or perhaps it would be easier if we started to acknowledge and promote the entrepreneurial spirit that already exists and make it an acceptable route to success.