My intuitive response to the question, would be ‘no’; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and conversely, not all innovators are entrepreneurs.   Some entrepreneurs have developed substantial businesses through transferring an existing idea to a new channel.   I’d use the example of the on-line retail businesses that have developed on e-bay & Amazon.  Most of what’s on offer is out there already, so the business owners are very definitely entrepreneurial but not necessarily innovators.  Conversely, I spent 25 years leading innovation development in UK and Global food and drink organisations and was defined as an Innovator in the business, as where my team.  Were we entrepreneurs but in a business?  We didn’t take any personal risk, so I’d say we weren’t.

In their book ‘The Innovator’s DNA’, Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen, detail a study on Innovators.  In their research, they classify an innovator as the person having an original idea for a new business, product, service or process. They classify 4 types of Innovator;

  • Start-Up Entrepreneurs – starting companies that offer unique value to the market, possibly disrupt markets.
  • Corporate Entrepreneurs – starting ventures from within a corporate organisation again disrupting markets.
  • Product Innovators – inventing new product categories and services.
  • Process Innovators – launching breakthrough process.

When they discuss Start-up Entrepreneurs, they classify these people as starting companies based on an original idea (their own idea), that offered unique value to the market and which were ‘game-changing’, and not those entrepreneurs who launched ventures that were not unique or disruptive.  They concluded in the research that only 10-15% of entrepreneurs qualified as ‘innovative entrepreneurs’; an entrepreneur who was also an innovator.  They cited the founders of ebay (Pierre Omidyar) and Amazon (Jeff Bezos) to be ‘innovative entrepreneurs’ along with Apple founder, Steve Jobs, and Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff.

Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen probably come closest to reflecting my own thinking in discussing the question ‘Are All Entrepreneurs Innovators?’, lending a definition to a number of different Innovator roles and distinguishing an entrepreneur from an innovative entrepreneur.  They argue, and evidence, that not all entrepreneurs are innovators, using their ‘unique value’ definition.

aha thoughts