I started my first business in the 5th grade when I convinced a neighbor to allow me to cut her grass with her electric lawn mower. That project ended in immediate failure. The mower was powered by a long extension cord — a cord I ran over and sliced in two shortly after I began mowing. Such is the life of the entrepreneur, a life typically filled with lots more failure than success.
According to The Balance Small Business, an entrepreneur is someone who develops an enterprise around an innovation, manages the new enterprise and assumes the financial risk for its success or failure. My definition of an entrepreneur is an independent business person who creates a service or solution that the world didn’t know it needed — and who has the passion and drive to continuously perfect that service or solution.
Walt Disney was a failed animator whose never-give-up creative vision filled my childhood with wonderful stories. Steve Jobs established an inventive approach to computer technology that now makes it incredibly easy for novices like me to shoot and edit funny videos of my dog (#ThurbersTail) and have a blast doing it. My favorite entrepreneurs, though, are the millions of restless Americans who can’t stand to report to a “boss” and simply want to create their own products or services and rise or fall financially based on their quality and salability.
People like my beloved carpet cleaner, who has refined his technology and technique to get spots out of rental property carpets and furniture nobody else can remove — all while doing zero harm to the environment. People like the daughter of a fellow I know who, as a high school sophomore, started a business in her basement creating custom protective phone cases for smartphones — a business she turned into a successful career.
The entrepreneurial bug has captivated me for many years. When I was 17 I decided I was a stonemason and was soon making a significant chunk of money by rebuilding stone and block walls all over hilly western PA. I got a great offer to join the corporate world after college, but at 27 I jumped at a chance to start an advertising business with a long-time pro.
We risked it all to start an IT support business with a few others, but that entrepreneurial digital dream sent me to the poor house. For many years now I’ve been self-employed providing communication services. But I’ve also had solid success with a venture in real estate rentals and, since I got my puppy, Thurber, I’ve had several ideas for pet-related innovations.
Much to my surprise, nobody has invented a solution to end the annoying problem of pet hair. So am decided to find a solution. I expect to soon launch a clever innovation that will help me and a few million others dog and cat owners. I’ve long believed — and the data backs me up — that the entrepreneur is the lifeblood not only of our economy but of our quality of life (dishwasher, automatic transmission and on and on).
So why aren’t we doing all we can to support our entrepreneurs? Why are patents still so hard and costly to get? Why do we impose so many unnecessary rules that make business startups harder and costlier? The United States ranked 6th among 190 economies in the ease of doing business in 2019, but we should be No. 1.
We must remove the regulatory roadblocks to unleash the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurs, because in the end we all benefit from their dreams.
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.