History of American Entrepreneurship

 Entrepreneurship has been a defining factor in America’ economy and history. The spirit of entrepreneurship goes back to Christopher Columbus and the Mayflower, seeking new trading routes to the East for tea and spices and the exploration of the frontier by the colonial settlers.

By definition, entrepreneurs are characterized by the willingness to take risks and the early settlers were exactly the kind of people who risked everything and parted with their past in search of better prospects in the New World. In addition, they engaged in bartering/trade with American Indians that resulted in a mutual business association for both parties. This was the start of American entrepreneurship.

The period after the American Civil War needs special mention (1860/1970). This was a time when per capita income doubled, and GDP increased seven fold. An expansion in agriculture and mining also led to the rapid growth of transportation and communication, which was another reason for entrepreneurship to flourish. Indeed, it could be referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution. 

The entrepreneur enjoyed an elite status by the late 19th century. Everyone was interested in the ‘self made man of the times’; he was defined by hard work, grit and ‘stick-to-it-iveness.’ More importantly, the creation of the railroad and farmers moving to western land along with government’ s promotional regulation and subsidies for industries such as banking, railroads and land acquisition led to immense opportunities for profit.

Entrepreneurship during this period in American history needs to be underscored for creating innovators, capitalists, prospectors searching for gold and other metals, financiers providing funds and businessmen creating startups and expanding pre-existing enterprises.

Although some of these entrepreneurs at the time amassed great wealth, a great many of them simply lived on small fortunes. Studies on early businessmen in the U.S. show that most entrepreneurs fell into the middle-class and upper-middle class category. However, an offshoot to the rise of entrepreneurship from.1860-1970 was the ascent of big business.

The advent of the railroad, the typical ‘big business’ sector after WW1, led to trucking becoming the ‘next big business’ after railroads declined.  Indeed, American entrepreneurship has continually seen the decline of one enterprise leading to the success of another company.

More recently, the computer software industry has seen similar changes. Apple is attributed with creating the first operating system for Personal Computers. When Microsoft substituted Apple’s OS with a brand new operating system, Windows, new concepts in entrepreneurship such as anti-trust, monopoly and copyright laws emerged. This suggests that the number of enterprise businesses have saturated many industries, leading to a heightened significance of legislature and court rulings.

Apple’s former CEO and co-founder, the late Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder and chairman, Bill Gates embody the creative energy behind modern entrepreneurship in America.  Currently, more than 75% of PC owners use Windows to make their computers work. Similarly, Apple’s iPhone 4s was sold out shortly after release.

These industry heavyweights represent the hard work and tenacity that are ingredients that go into the making of an entrepreneur. Although these individuals did not value traditional learning, they sought more independent ways of asking new questions and redefining old answers. Studies have shown that the entrepreneurial mind can be intuitive, impulsive, and rebellious. Though some of these individuals can be introverted, they have a strong sense of self and function by an internal compass and direction.

Other well known enterprises in the tech industry include Google, social networking site Facebook, and Twitter. Today’s entrepreneurs have taken advantage of unique ways of connecting, communicating, and accessing information. Their products are custom tailored for consumers with specific demographics in mind. Technology, particularly with respect to transportation and communication was an important formula during the time when railroads were in vogue.

However, keeping abreast of the technology has become even more imperative to today’s entrepreneur. Web technology and online marketing are two other areas where today’s entrepreneurs can keep track of important visitor information that leads to more clicks on advertisements and an increase in product sales. This is valuable information in increasing revenue and profit.

The basis for entrepreneurship is firm formation. People tend to think of firms when they think about entrepreneurship. For instance, Henry Ford founded Ford Motor and Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook. In essence, firms are the central focus of the American economy and its economic activity. This is how capital, labor and technology are efficiently intertwined into a central mechanism enhancing economic productivity.

The role of immigrants also played a significant role in self-employment and entrepreneurship. While some studies suggest that a disproportionately higher number of immigrants are likely to start their own businesses, other research suggests that Americans are up to par with immigrants in forming new firms and enterprises.

Despite the various attempts to classify entrepreneurs, this group of business men and women are not completely distinguishable and cannot be generalized. With entrepreneurs taking on a variety of roles and establishing different types of business models, terms such as non-employer firms, employer firms, or the self-employed are not easily discernible in terms of product, services or growth ambitions. More importantly, entrepreneurs also differ by varying incentives and interests, according to their respective industries. An example would be a comparison of a restaurateur and a software entrepreneur. 

Perhaps, the only way to generalize entrepreneurs is their ability to contribute to the economy and their important place in the American economy. According to research, new entrepreneurships spur a disproportionate amount of new jobs and are largely irresponsive to downturns in the economy such as the one in 2008. Policy makers are looking to small and mid-sized businesses to turn the American economy around with breakthrough innovations and stable economic practices.

Entrepreneurs continue to enjoy great fame and admiration. Some of them such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are the wealthiest men in the world.  Americans still love innovation and the American lifestyle has acclimatized to living modestly as long as they are in touch with the latest trends.