When most people think of a leading entrepreneur, the likes of Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos usually spring to mind. But this notion of who an entrepreneur is perpetuates damaging misconceptions, according to Louise Nicolson, a business coach and consultant at Global Women in PR.
In her book, The Entrepreneurial Myth, she analyses 30 years of media references to consider what it means to be a business founder in the 21st century. The image they consistently paint is that of a determined independent spirits – usually white men – who are, creative and highly energetic. Nicolson claims that, through “exaggerations, distortions and lies”, entrepreneurs are depicted in the same light as Greek gods.
The truth is that, while your average business founder may share some traits with the “greats”, they differ widely in many respects. Nicolson, an IoD member, defines the entrepreneurial myth as “the chasm between the puffed-up, all-powerful, economic saviour found in business schools, media and enterprise policy, and the gritty reality of launching and running a small business”.
The book explores the ramifications of this myth in the UK, the US, India and China. Mental health is one area where the impact has been the clearest, with 49 per cent of entrepreneurs in the US reporting mental health conditions to a 2015 study led by Michael Freeman, professor of psychiatry at the University of California.
Nicolson argues that the myth has been damaging not only for individuals, but also for the wider economy. Investors often hold a stereotypical view of what a business founder should be, for instance, meaning that entrepreneurs who don’t fit the mould tend to struggle to attract funding.
Nicolson’s commitment to promoting a more realistic representation of what it takes to start and lead a business will provide hope to the many founders who operate in the shadow of the mythical hero entrepreneur. She invites readers to reconsider what it means to be an entrepreneur and think of business founders as “men and women with a patchwork of skills and a fallible flash of brilliance”.