In recent times there has been an increasing level of media coverage dealing with the topic of minority entrepreneurship inIreland. The issue has been driven primarily by the influx of immigrants and the subsequent growth in new ventures by non-Irish nationals. The discussions have been startlingly weak in their perspectives of what minority entrepreneurship represents and the cause of such restrictions is born in the limited understanding that people have of the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘minority’.
Entrepreneurship is widely perceived to be the same as establishing a new business, that it is about greed and making money. But that understanding of the term sets extraordinary narrow boundaries on an activity that can be wonderfully broad in its application. Entrepreneurship is not only about new venture creation, it is also about a way of thinking and behaving. It is about people who see an opportunity, gather the resources required, and then build a group of people about them who will help fulfil the ambition identified. People with entrepreneurial characteristics are generally positive in their mindset, individuals who look to make things happen, rather than wait for others to lead the way. Indeed in many ways it is the embodiment of JFK’s notion of ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’.
Entrepreneurship is about wealth creation, but that wealth can also be social or artistic, not just financial. People who are responsible for sports and social clubs are frequently entrepreneurial without ever getting such recognition, while people who establish charities are considered to be social entrepreneurs. What a countryIrelandwould be if we could instil this entrepreneurial spirit in all of our people and how much socially and economically richer we would be if this was our culture.
But the term ‘entrepreneurship’ is not the only term that is misunderstood. Minorities are not just ethnic, they are any group of people who are considered to be outside mainstream society. In modern dayIreland, such minorities not only include ethnic groups but also the travelling community, the gay community, socio-economically disadvantaged, and the disabled. In entrepreneurship terms, minorities also include female, greys (over 50s), home-based, and Gaeltacht entrepreneurs. That is nine different groups that constitute minority entrepreneurs in this country which broadly means that minority entrepreneurship is quite different to the general understanding that the majority of people possess.
‘So what’ is the question that many people are now asking. Appreciating the substantial difference in how these terms should be interpreted can lead people to a greater enlightenment about the unique challenges that minority entrepreneurs endure. The majority of minority entrepreneurs are ‘push entrepreneurs’, in other words they are pushed into starting a business because of the negative experiences that they have suffered in the employment of others. Many will have encountered issues such as racism, ageism, homophobia, or many of the other forms of prejudice that such groups are expected to tolerate. Minority entrepreneurs also face challenges that mainstream entrepreneurs are less likely to have to shoulder. They have particular difficulty in raising finance to get the business started, either due to prejudice or because of a lack of collateral because of their circumstances. They are also less likely to have role models, an element to entrepreneurship that is highly underestimated. Research in other countries has highlighted that minority entrepreneurs also possess a greater lack of experience in managerial capacities and lower levels of educational achievement due to their social circumstances than mainstream entrepreneurs. Obstacles await these minorities at whatever turn they might take on the journey through life.