Embracing Entrepreneurship

Five days into the first week of AC4D’s second year, the six of us new students have been through orientation, a two-day Design for Impact Bootcamp, a great kickoff party, and our first official class. Already we’ve done a lot of learning, already our mindsets are changing, and there’s a lot still to process.

For me, the biggest shift in mindset has been centered around how I’ve defined myself as a new student entering the program. ‘Interaction Design & Social Entrepreneurship’ is what we’re studying here, which pretty clearly includes dual roles as designer and entrepreneur. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to hold the latter at bay through all the run-up to starting at AC4D. You see, I’ve spent the past couple of years learning to be (and to think of myself as) a communication designer. I went through all the angst and struggle common to design students wondering, “When do I really become a designer? Is it when I graduate? Get my first client/job? Might I be one already?” In design there’s neither test nor license that neatly and officially bestows the title on new inductees and pronounces them ready for the job. Even the title itself is nebulous, covering a broad range of definitions. Ultimately, I decided for myself that I would start calling myself a designer when I felt like a designer, and more importantly when I began to think like a designer. It wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized the same rationale might apply to being an entrepreneur.

That word, entrepreneur, has been a bit scary to me all along. It sounds bold, intrepid. It conjures images of stakes being hammered into unbroken ground, dice rattling onto a table, and impeccable, tailored business suits. Of course, what’s really intimidating about it is that clearly I don’t really know what it involves in a practical sense. So when we were told on our very first day at AC4D, “You’re all entrepreneurs now,” I was reluctant to really believe that. The vague images of entrepreneurship that I had in my head did not mesh with the image I had of myself.

What helped change my mind was an essay I came across, helpfully titled “The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship” (pdf). In it, Greg Dees proposes a definition of social entrepreneurship by first unpacking the word ‘entrepreneur’ itself. I had never considered it etymologically before, although its original meaning is a direct translation of the French: one who undertakes. It’s that simple. An entrepreneur is a person who undertakes a task. Usually an untried venture, and usually to produce an economic impact, but most simply, someone who has something they want to achieve or an idea they want to realize in the world, and sets out to do it. That, I can get behind. That meaning resonates with me, and with my image of who I want to become through the course of this program.

Let me be clear; it’s not that easy. I can’t say that thanks to this deeper understanding of the meaning of the word, I’m now just fine with calling myself an entrepreneur. Like calling myself a designer (which, for the record, I still tend to do only with qualifiers—’fledgling’, ‘budding’, just plain ‘new’), it will take a lot of learning and a little more confidence before I feel like an entrepreneur, and certainly before I think like one. But I feel ready now to embrace the idea, and that seems like a good place to start.