Are Social Entrepreneurs Different?

Posted: 20 June 2011, in Blog

What is an entrepreneur and how are social ones different?

The work of Jeffrey Timmons is often used in entrepreneurship teaching because of several “core” insights into new venture creation and the mind of the entrepreneur.

He created a set of themes of entrepreneurial characteristics and behaviours although he agreed that not every entrepreneur possessed them. The list is:

Commitment & determination

Tenacity and decisiveness; discipline, persistence in problem solving, willingness to undertake personal sacrifice and total immersion

Opportunity obsession

Have intimate knowledge of customer’s needs; market driven and obsessed with value creation and enhancement

Tolerance of risk, ambiguity and uncertainty

Calculated risk taker; risk minimiser, risk sharer, tolerance of uncertainty and lack of structure, tolerance of stress and conflict, and ability to resolve problems and integrate solutions

Creativity, self reliance and ability to adapt

Non conventional; open minded, lateral thinker, restlessness with status quo, ability to adapt, ability to learn, lack of fear of failure and ability to conceptualise and “sweat details”

Motivation to excel

Goals and results orientated; drive to achieve and grow, low need for status and power, interpersonally supporting (vs. competitive), aware of weaknesses and strengths and having perspective and a sense of humour


Self-starter; internal locus of control, integrity and reliability, patience, team builder and hero maker, experience and not a lone wolf

I was wondering how many of us would recognise (bits of) ourselves or our peers from this list. I also wondered if we need to add a few bits to the list to cover “us”. Personally, I’d add this stuff.

“Social entrepreneurs ought to be able to understand, demonstrate, “do” and articulate the following”:

v  Be driven by a social mission.

v  Have the capacity to express that social mission in one sentence.

v  Know how to make money through trading and treat free money as seed capital.

v  Love profit and abhor the restrictions of the not for profit mindset and any accompanying anti business structures and restrictions on the ability to raise investment.

v  Give investors a return on their money.

v  Use the Jerr Boschee Strategic Marketing Matrix to analyse their activities and take the appropriate decision(s) to expand, harvest, nurture or kill part(s) of their operations – see

v  Invest in being an employer of repute.

v  Network like the most “promiscuous” person you can be.

v  Keep the State at arms length unless your and their goals align.

v  Love “doing deals” with anyone but especially with other social entrepreneurs and private sector entrepreneurs.

v  Be able to justify every major decision on the basis of how the social enterprise’s members/clients/beneficiaries will benefit, not how this will impact on or benefit the Directors or senior staff.

What would you add or delete from these lists?


NOTE: This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition or endorse any political position.