Entrepreneurship or family business…or both?

Recently, I posted a note about an upcoming family business event on the Cornell entrepreneurship listserv. The reply that came back to me within minutes was “Hey Daniel — not sure that this is entrepreneurship really, right?” I paused for a moment, and then replied.

I’d argue that family business and entrepreneurship are inexorably linked. Especially in the case of Chinese family businesses, where 80% of the next generation have no plans to return to the enterprise and instead look to utilize their vast family resources for their own entrepreneurial pursuits.

In the US, entrepreneurship and family business are also closely linked if not joined at the hip. 77% of all new business ventures established in the United States are founded with significant involvement of the family in the business, and another 30% engage family members within the next two years. For any enterprise to survive beyond the current generation, entrepreneurship is a key factor in creating new opportunities within the family (for additional family members) and for sustained business growth to remain viable and competitive.

As one successful business owner shared with me recently, “I never considered myself an entrepreneur in the pure sense of creating a new business, but the family business provided me an existing system to be an entrepreneur within and create something needed and new that has allowed our family business to survive for over 100 years now. I can only hope the next generation is given the same freedom and room to be entrepreneurial.”

In the United States, a recent count found nearly 4000+ courses and programs in entrepreneurship at schools and universities. By contrast, there are slightly more than 100 in family business, although that number is growing. It’s alarming that the message that leaves one with it that starting a business is sexy, but sustaining a business is not so sexy.

Family business, which is a broad term that generally includes business, family enterprise, family wealth and even entrepreneurship, aims to understand many of the human elements associated when family and business overlap, regardless of whether that business is a one-person start up, or a multi-national juggernaut. Entrepreneurs can learn from family-owned businesses as much as families should always be reminded to remain entrepreneurial. While not all entrepreneurs may involve family, and many family businesses fail to be entrepreneurial, they are also not mutually exclusive of one another either.

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