Entrepreneurship in Theory and History
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Who were the first entrepreneurs?
In a global economy dominated by big businesses, what does the future hold for entrepreneurship? Believe it or not, the first entrepreneurs can be traced back to nearly 20, years ago. The first known trading between humans took place in New Guinea around 17, BCE, where locals would exchange obsidian a volcanic glass prized for its use in hunting tools for other needed goods — like tools, skins, and food. This early type of entrepreneurship continued for millennia. Hunter-gatherer tribes would trade goods from different parts of their respective regions to provide an overall benefit for their tribe.
The first big shift in entrepreneurship took place during the Agricultural Revolution, which occurred about 12, years ago. Instead of having to roam, forage, and hunt for their food in different regions throughout the year, human populations could remain stationary in one location and farm the land. This was a fundamental shift in human history.
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Villages and towns started developing close to fertile lands. There was no longer a need for everyone in the community to be directly involved with food production. By specializing in different professions, members of the community could trade valuable goods for food. These were the earliest entrepreneurs in human civilization. Some common areas of specialization included:. Farmers could grow more food than they needed to support their own families.
Thus, they would sell food at the market to say, a clothes-maker. They could rely on the specialized services within a community to provide for them. Over time, these specialists became better and better at their unique areas of specialization. Tricks of the trade would be passed down through families.
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The pace of innovation sped up. As specialists became better and better at their unique roles, they brought increased benefits for the entire community. Towns and cities grew to include thousands of people. Dependable sources of food encouraged people to build permanent settlements and homes. Different social institutions arose around these permanent structures, including religious centers, courts, and marketplaces. This provided new business opportunity for entrepreneurs to explore.
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As time went on, new areas of specialization began to emerge. Early entrepreneurs would work in areas like:. Standards of living continued to increase. Entrepreneurs were constantly at the forefront of innovation. If a problem needed to be solved, these early entrepreneurs recognized that they could profit by solving that problem. Early areas of civilization were concentrated around rivers, particularly the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, and the Yellow and Yangtze.
The city of Uruk, found on the banks of the Euphrates, was home to 50, people in the same amount of space that would have previously supported just one tribe of hunter-gatherers. As cities sprang up around the world, entrepreneurship took an important turn.
Entrepreneurs were still specializing in all of the areas listed above pottery, carpentry, tool-making, etc. But they began to realize that profits could be made by trading between cities and cultures. Weapons trading was particularly important in these early times. Iron was discovered around BCE, and the civilizations that controlled iron were able to dominate other civilizations.
Entrepreneurs that were able to trade military goods that created empires were justifiably rewarded for their work. Thus, some of the most successful early entrepreneurs traded the means of warfare around the world.
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Of course, trade routes were about more than just raw resources and goods. They were also about ideas and technologies.
In this way, entrepreneurs were responsible for spreading ideas around the world. One of the key developments in the history of entrepreneurship and in human history was the invention of money. Prior to the invention of money, all entrepreneurship and trade took place through the barter system. If John wanted 5 bars of iron, then he might have to sell 1 horse to get those bars. Of course, he would also need to find an iron merchant who needed a horse. Currency changed all that. Some of the earliest forms of currency were found in ancient Iraq in the forms of silver rings and silver bars.
Starting in BCE, early forms of money have been discovered. These forms of money were called specie and changed widely throughout the world: some cultures used seashells, for example, while others used tobacco leaves, beads, or large round rocks. Over time, paper money and coinage would be developed. Currency gave entrepreneurs several important things:. Starting in the medieval period, markets became more and more popular.
Larger populations required larger marketplaces where they could purchase food, clothing, services, and other important things. Here are some of the important developments that took place in entrepreneurship during this period:. Many entrepreneurs had their inventions and innovations stifled.
Prior to the advance of merchants and explorers, many people frowned upon the accumulation of capital. Innovation was often — perplexingly — blocked around the world. The practice of usury, charging interest on loans, was banned by the Christian Church. Jobs were assigned by tradition and caste.
Innovation was stifled and efficiency was forcefully put down, sometimes punishable by death.
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In sixteenth-century England, when mass production in the weaving industry first came about, the guildsmen protested. An efficient workshop containing two hundred looms and butchers and bakers for the workers was outlawed by the King under the pretense that such efficiency reduced the number of available jobs. The period from to gave rise to the philosophy of mercantilism. Followers of this philosophy believed that there was only a finite amount of wealth in the world. Mercantilist ideals combined with a vast New World to discover made early explorers some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs.
During this period, entrepreneurs were known more as merchants and explorers than as entrepreneurs. These individuals would raise capital, take risks, and stimulate economic growth much like the entrepreneurs of today. Many see this period as the beginnings of capitalism. Some of the key advances of this period were related to the goods and materials brought back from the new world. Silver imports from the New World, for example, fuelled expanded trade across the Atlantic Ocean.
Entrepreneurs are leaders willing to take risk and exercise initiative, taking advantage of market opportunities by planning, organizing and deploying resources,  often by innovating to create new or improving existing products or services. According to Paul Reynolds, founder of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor , "by the time they reach their retirement years, half of all working men in the United States probably have a period of self-employment of one or more years; one in four may have engaged in self-employment for six or more years.
Participating in a new business creation is a common activity among U. Entrepreneurial activities differ substantially depending on the type of organization and creativity involved. Entrepreneurship ranges in scale from solo, part-time projects to large-scale undertakings that involve a team and which may create many jobs.
Many "high value" entrepreneurial ventures seek venture capital or angel funding seed money to raise capital for building and expanding the business. Chambers of commerce. Beginning in , an annual " Global Entrepreneurship Week " event aimed at "exposing people to the benefits of entrepreneurship" and getting them to "participate in entrepreneurial-related activities" was launched. The term "entrepreneur" is often conflated with the term " small business " or used interchangeably with this term. While most entrepreneurial ventures start out as a small business, not all small businesses are entrepreneurial in the strict sense of the term.
Many small businesses are sole proprietor operations consisting solely of the owner—or they have a small number of employees—and many of these small businesses offer an existing product, process or service and they do not aim at growth. In contrast, entrepreneurial ventures offer an innovative product, process or service and the entrepreneur typically aims to scale up the company by adding employees, seeking international sales and so on, a process which is financed by venture capital and angel investments. In this way, the term "entrepreneur" may be more closely associated with the term " startup ".