The Real Entrepreneurs Aren’t Discussing Innovation, They’re Busy Defining it

As a journalist immersed in Minnesota’s technology community for the past year and a half, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing countless local technology entrepreneurs – those who initiate and assume the risk of new products or services within the high tech industry.

Probing people about something so personal as the nuances of their own company — from philosophy to finance — often yields rare moments of intimacy which can reveal fascinating insights into the entrepreneurial mind.   I find that every conversation and interaction with an entrepreneur is a learning experience that results in sheer wonder, humility and admiration.

In many cases, the entrepreneurs existence revolves around extreme uncertainty, emotional isolation and painful sacrifice.  Entrepreneurs not only move against the grain of the status-quo and entrenched systems, but often times, their own human nature.

A fine line divides the misfits and the heroes of the tech business world. Only when an entrepreneur has achieved a certain degree of social status (primarily driven by the mass media) do they begin to receive acknowledgment, acceptance and edification.  Too often, this pop-media side of entrepreneurship paints an inaccurate picture of what the experience is all about, for it fails to grasp the realities of the journey. The get rich quick narrative only serves to establish false expectations and misguided motivations, setting aspiring entrepreneurs up for failure before they’ve even started.

The technology entrepreneurs of today embody a rare breed of character traits, most notably — raw passion, risk tolerance, and open-minded curiosity. Win, lose or draw, these entrepreneurs represent an increasingly necessary role in our world; beyond “job creation”, they exhibit intensely creative energy applied to economic impediments and human evolution.

Anecdotally, entrepreneurs are a reminder  that it’s okay to dream. They show us what it means to believe in oneself and can inspire us all to explore our own realms of the unknown. Perhaps the entrepreneurs greatest downfall is that they are too human.

Lately, the notion of “innovation” is all the rage. Yet the term itself has been abused, diluted and rendered semantically ambiguous beyond tangible recognition. Without a working definition and applied context of its relationship to the entrepreneurial climate, we risk losing focus of what matters most (real entrepreneurs) in lieu of what matters least (others talking).  An unintended consequence of the this dangerous trend is a shift in emphasis from the actual entrepreneurs to “intermediaries of innovation”.

In this vein, when I take a moment to reflect on one thing I’ve observed about Minnesota’s technology startup community thus far, I cannot help but think:

The real entrepreneurs aren’t discussing “innovation”, but rather, heads down and heels in the ground, defining it.  Their contributions to our economy and society at large are far more crucial than any panel, committee, focus group, think tank, promoter or policy initiative can ever be.  As we aspire to “win the future”, let us not lose sight of what’s real — those who are actively making, doing and creating new products and services in the market.

~ Jeff Pesek is a guest contributor.