Entrepreneurs vs small business owners – different, but equally important to economic growth

By Hepsy Mkhungo, CEO at One Linkage

Despite the huge amount of commitment and effort that goes into running a business, there is a fundamental distinction between entrepreneurs and small business owners – from the personality of the business owner to the type of enterprise they run.

Most start-ups are born out of an individual’s desire to be able to manage their time and attain some degree of personal and creative independence. But unlike entrepreneurs, not all small business owners are necessarily pioneers who are driven by the need to make a great deal of money.

As such, small companies tend to focus on refining an existing and established product or service, rather than offering something unique. These types of companies are not necessarily innovative by nature and focus on perfecting/improving existing processes to address the needs of the local networks or environment.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are typically trailblazers who set out to change the world by being innovative, scaling quickly and making a huge social and financial impact. Their ultimate goal is to eventually sell the business for a lot of money and move onto another venture.

Thus, it is clear that from the onset, your approach would be vastly different whether you are an entrepreneur or a small business owner. Small business owners tend to be conservative and risk averse in their approach to business, tending to limit their exposure. This is why most small businesses tend to turn to family, friends or financial institutions for a line of credit to launch their companies.

Appetite for risk

On the other hand, an entrepreneur’s appetite for risk tends to be based on the idea that the higher the risk, the greater the reward. The venture capital market complements this type of approach and provides the right space for an entrepreneur to seek funding to build their own wealth.

While many entrepreneurs fail, those who succeed do so on a large scale. Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to be steady and often grow gradually over generations. These small enterprises grow organically from new client acquisitions and by reinvesting funds from sales back into the business.

Due to their conservative nature, small businesses can succeed without venture capital, yet entrepreneurial ventures – always aiming to be the next big thing – require a huge amount of investment and skills to support the entrepreneur’s vision. Yet, financial institutions are not geared to support entrepreneurs’ risky and untested ventures. Their best option is venture capital, crowd funding or equity partners.

Another potential lifeline for small business owners comes in the form of large corporates that can support their companies through procurement opportunities. As most small business owners would generally prefer to avoid banks to obtain funding, corporates could also be a source of “friendly capital”.

Male-dominated ventures

Unfortunately, the criteria for obtaining funding from corporates is uniformly strict across the board, so this can be a daunting exercise. This means that there is a ‘missing middle’, a part of the small business circle that nobody caters for. What’s more, the market favors male-dominated ventures, with women falling just outside the circle.

This is becoming an increasingly common problem for female small business owners or entrepreneurs who seek  funding. The excuse that often crops up is that the disproportion is due to there simply not being many female small business owners or entrepreneurs. But that is simply not true.

The problem perhaps lies in the many intersectional challenges faced by women versus their male counterparts. It may be that women just have to change the type of business networks that they rely on – but many are perhaps reluctant to do this. At the same time, the qualifying criterion for corporate funding also seems to be at the core of this issue, so there is some work to be done around how corporates could accommodate different types of businesses and how they can provide support. A wider discussion is needed to tackle this problem.

While entrepreneurs and small business owners are very different beasts, both are purpose-driven and goal-oriented. They also share crucial characteristics such as initiative, collaboration, passion, positivism, and self-confidence. Both tend to be quick learners and are willing to take risks in order to propel their companies forward. Most importantly, both should be supported as their success underpins economic growth and inclusivity.

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