Entrepreneurial Spawning, B.C.

Cornelia Wunsch’s chapter on Neo-Babylonian entrepreneurs epitomizes the book’s successful efforts. Wunsch bases her essay (chapter 2) on the analysis of 2,000 tablets from five generations of the Egibis, a prosperous merchant family of the time. Through the analysis of this rich archival data, she brings an extinct world to life by detailing the broader historical context and by giving concrete examples from the tablets that she studies. Entrepreneurship in Neo-Babylonia could take a variety of forms, including farmland investment and leasing, transport and marketing of agricultural products, and “tax farming” for the government (i.e., private tax collection). . . .

Her essay offers a fascinating perspective on venture-backed entrepreneurship as a form of economic organization. The Neo-Babylonian harrānu contracts established a partnership
between senior financial backers and junior entrepreneurs. Young individuals starting a new business in international trade, for instance, would often lack the necessary financial endowment. This was typically true for sons who were not the first born and were therefore largely deprived of inheritance. The harrānu contracts allowed these fledgling entrepreneurs to raise money from senior partners in exchange for division of the surplus created by the venture. If successful, these entrepreneurs often went on to become senior partners themselves, lending money to a portfolio of enterprising young individuals. One can easily imagine the original Sand Hill Road running through Babylonia rather than California!

That’s from Michaël Bikard and Scott Stern’s Journal of Economic Literature review of The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times (ed. David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, Princeton, 2010). An excellent addition to your collection!

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The Gaudiest Entrepreneur?

Luca Baiguini’s description of the famous Spanish (sorry, Catalan) architect Antoni Gaudì makes him sound like an effectual entrepreneur. His unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Família, was a work of great personal commitment, conceived as a multi-generation project, executed under great uncertainty with a lot of trial-and-error.

I had the pleasure of touring the cathedral and seeing other works by Gaudi at the 2005 ISNIE conference in Barcelona, hosted by my friend Benito Arruñada. A magnificent city!

Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship

That’s the title of Alison Kay’s recent book, The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship: Enterprise, Home and Household in London, c. 1800-1870 (Routledge, 2009). The book uses unique data from a London fire insurance company to characterize male and female entrepreneurs during the 19th century. According to reviewer Joyce Burnette,

women were active in business during the nineteenth century.  Women were not confined to a separate sphere, and couverture did not prevent them from operating as entrepreneurs.  Strikingly, Kay concludes that the story of women in business is neither a story of a lost golden age, nor one of emancipation, but a story of continuity across history.  Whatever the rhetoric, businesswomen were consistently involved in business throughout the Victorian period.

Great Example of User-Driven Innovation

User-Driven Innovation is a hot topic in the entrepreneurship and innovation literatures (see, for example, Eric von Hippel’s 2005 book Democratizing Innovation), particularly in information technology but also in agriculture and other applied fields. Here’s a great example from the world of computing devices: How to turn a $200 Barnes and Noble Nook into a full-fledged tablet computer.

A Modern Schultzian Political Entrepreneur?

President Barack Obama, it is reported in the media, has signed an executive order that makes a formal system of the indefinite detentions of suspected terrorists in the military prison at Guantanamo bay. Two years ago the same President, in another executive order, promised to put an end to the detention center established by previous President George W. Bush.

While this is an obvious example of politicians changing their minds (and political agenda) over time, it may also be an example of Schultzian adaptation entrepreneurship in politics. Schultz understood entrepreneurship as the ability to adjust or reallocate resources in response to changing circumstances. Read more of this post

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