Crossing the border into entrepreneurship!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the word entrepreneurship and what defines one as an entrepreneur. Recently I attended an event where a panel discussion was set-up for two “entrepreneurs” to have a discussion about their path. As I sat there and listened, the gut feeling for me was that one was an entrepreneur and the other was a small business owner. But what distinguished the two in my mind. I remember a quote from a friend during a discussion that has stuck in my mind:

“An ‘entrepreneur’ in America might be a simple fish monger in Greece. Likewise, a tyrant or tribal leader in Kazakhstan might be considered an “entrepreneur” if he was born and raised in America. My hunch is that there are a blend of factors that can lead to someone who possesses the traits that other people point toward and say, “that person has ‘it’.” ~Evan Tishuk.

Well, let me step back for a second. Over five years ago, I worked with a team to follow a group of “illegal immigrants” crossing the border from Mexico to America. The picture above is a picture of these individuals…crossing the border.

They were leaving their homes, families, and all belongings behind to risk everything to cross the border. Why? Opportunity. Now, let us remove any political discourse from this discussion right now. This is not a platform to discuss whether you agree or disagree with their path of citizenship. I want to look beyond this and understand the motives behind why people who come to this land.

During an interview with one of the gentlemen as we were traveling…I asked him why? (WATCH SOME OF IT BELOW) Why risk everything for an opportunity? He explains, he is willing to do the jobs that no other “Americans” choose to do. He is willing to leverage this opportunity, take on the risk, to generate revenue, to share the revenue with his stakeholders (family back across the border), and grow his claim in numbers for greater return.

You see…I witnessed something in his eyes that I have seen many times since then…the passion most entrepreneurs possess…to go after a vision. You see, this group of individuals crossed the border the night of these pictures. They came from the lower part of Mexico to Altar, Mexico…a small town that was the staging point to cross. This bustling little town was where these eager entrepreneurs would meet a Coyote for the first time, either making passage payment in cash or becoming slaves to their debt for passage. These Coyotes would arrange bus trips and passage.

They would ride in small vans (above) with close to 20 at a time across the desert…unsure what was to come. I rode with them for close to 2 hours along this dirt road, being stopped by the Mexicali asking for money by gunpoint. Mexicali just wanted lunch money and remind those who try to pass, there is “danger” ahead. We rode and were dropped off to be re-herded into big trucks to be taken out into the middle of the desert to cross by night. There are not big tall borders outside the city limits…there are barbed wire fences separating our two countries. After the night crossing, they would be off to find a ride to many destination points across the US: Los Angelos, Tuscon, Phoenix, North Carolina, South Carolina, etc.

This is a story of passion. A story of innovation. They are not creating the next technological break through. They were seeking work, jobs we Americans choose not to do. They generate revenue, and find ways to get the cash back to their families abroad. They might create high impact business that are in many ways the blue-collar backbone of this American Fabric. When the housing markets crashed, they opened restaurants. They leveraged their resources and they are passionate. Passionate to generate revenue.

I have been thinking about this trip for a while. Now, I do have mixed opinions when it comes to citizenship, border crossings, and tax liabilities. But my thoughts processes are focused on the willingness and passion of the individuals I met over 5 years ago, and the innovation in their entrepreneurial spirit.  These individuals assumed tremendous risk for a tremendous opportunity. That risk is shown by the crosses that hang on the border walls, representing those who lost their lives trying to cross. They found a niche in the market place and they became innovative in their passage and how they generated income. They put their lives on the line for a dream, risked it all for financial opportunity. Then they began to create innovative businesses. Regardless of their right to be in this land…they used the entrepreneurial spirit to leverage anopportunity.

Here is an interview from our trip on a path starting at Altar, Mexico to the crossing point in Sasabe, Mexico. One of the many people I met on our trip, one that I remember…it impacts my comprehension and interpretation of the word “entrepreneurship.”

Recently I wrote a blog post about teaching entrepreneurship in the college ranks, entitled: “Bringing Good Ideas to Life – Inside the Academy.” There were many great comments that followed this post, from great thinkers. It wrapped around defining entrepreneurship. I thought I would share these definitions below:

“The problem is in the definition of “entrepreneurship.” It’s too subjective and constrained by cultural and societal factors. Ask a hundred people (in North America) to write a concise definition of an entrepreneur and I think you’ll get about 100 different answers–creating a fuzzy picture at best. Is an entrepreneur someone who takes a risk? Does that risk have to be in a business context? Does that risk have to lead to success? If so, how much success is required? And how are we measuring that? Wealth? Happiness? Utility? Could a doctor who saves 1,000 lives in a war zone be an entrepreneur too?” ~Evan Tishuk

“the word is defined as coming from the French, but if you go way back to old French and deconstruct it, it is not just about managing or orchestrating an endeavor but from 2 words — entre = between and prendre =to seize or grasp — so it was about seeing things that were “between the cracks” or hidden to others, and seizing the opportunity that those hidden clues offered. Not part of the modern lexicon but an interesting foray into how words/meanings come into play.” ~ Virginia Simpson

Two smart people that have me really thinking through the meaning of entrepreneurship.

***I shot all the photos and video during my travels in 2005.