Time to lose the labels

Words are so important: they can motivate, inspire and explain. Yet words can also build barriers. In our latest blog, Claudia Cavalluzzo, Executive Director of Converge, argues that the label ‘entrepreneur’ is one such barrier and that it’s time for an update.

Every government – including Scotland – wants more entrepreneurs in their economy. They are the trailblazers who can grow GDP, create employment opportunities and promote social change. At Converge, Scotland’s premier company creation for the university sector, we’ve given hundreds of Scotland’s seedling organisations a launchpad for growth at a pivotal time in their existence – several of which have achieved considerable external investment and success including Current Health, Novosound and Elasmogen.

However, for a whole host of reasons, the reality is that entrepreneurs make up just a tiny fraction of our economy. Women entrepreneurs are particularly under-represented with men outnumbering women 3-to-1 when it comes to business ownership. Understanding and addressing these barriers is absolutely essential and one barrier that we’ve come to recently understand is around the label “entrepreneur”.

We asked our alumni about the words they used to describe themselves and, surprisingly, many avoided the term altogether, choosing instead to describe themselves as “founder” or “chief executive”, with the American “chief executive officer” or “CEO” also becoming common.

Other popular choices included “innovator”, “inventor”, and “creative”. This is about more than semantics though as our research found that the label “entrepreneur” has many negative connotations too.

For many women, it can be completely off-putting. They don’t think of themselves as “entrepreneurs”, nor do they describe themselves as “entrepreneurs”. Also, for people focused on impact, the term feels too closely associated with money, in other words, profit over purpose.

It’s a story that we hear again and again at Converge. The staff, students, and recent graduates from Scotland’s universities who want our help to start businesses aren’t simply motivated by money, they also want to use their ideas to improve people’s lives.

For some, that means starting a social enterprise instead of a traditional business. For most, it means creating a company with a purpose that goes beyond the financial bottom line to take into account other factors, such as the best way for its innovation to reach and improve the lives of the widest number of people.

That’s why we’re moderating our use of the label ‘entrepreneur’ for this year’s Converge programme. Our four challenges – Converge, Create Change, KickStart, and Net Zero – are looking for future “founders”, “innovators” and “creatives” – not necessarily people who see themselves as “entrepreneurs”.

With a strong track record training more than 600 students, graduates and staff, we’re already Scotland’s go-to platform for university-born innovators. But we want to reach an even wider circle of people with great ideas.

Converge is currently open for applications and looking to help anyone with innovative ideas and ambition to deliver impact. If this sounds like you, then get in touch before our deadline on 29 March – and you don’t need to call yourself an “entrepreneur” to do that!