Developing Entrepreneurial Thinking

Developing Entrepreneurial Thinking

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There is wide debate around the definition of an entrepreneur, and whether entrepreneurial thinking is innate, or can be taught. I’d contest that it is clear that entrepreneurship can be taught, with mentor relationships often cited as a key source of learning.  The more important question here is “what are the most effective ways in which entrepreneurial thinking can be taught and developed?”

Nearing the half-way mark of my Arts Fundraising Fellowship, I am able to reflect on how the programme has supported my development of entrepreneurial thinking (and doing!). To do this, I must frame my learning within discussion of the key traits exhibited by entrepreneurs. Without wanting to descend into difficult definitions and semantics, I’ll keep this simple. I believe entrepreneurs exhibit five key traits: inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude*.


An entrepreneur is often described as someone who identifies an opportunity and develops a vision to exploit it.  Through this logic, entrepreneurial thinking isn’t necessarily drawn from an innate talent – it can be developed as a result of changing external conditions and the need to be more effective to survive.  And if it is change we are looking for, the arts funding environment displays ample opportunity.

Before embarking on our Fellowship, we all had an interest in sustaining the arts and developing more effective funding models for arts organisations. This interest is extended to a true understanding of the external context through regular ‘In Conversation’ events with leaders in the UK’s arts sector – leaving us well-poised to develop solutions.


In their recent article “Public Arts Funding: Towards Plan B”, Three Johns and Shelagh urged arts organisation to “be as creative and innovative in their organisational life as they are, or as they should be, in their artistic endeavours”. Entrepreneurial ideas often require substantial change and creativity – an overhaul of practice rather than minor tweaks and alterations.

The value of Fellows is that we are new to our host organisations, and fairly new to arts fundraising. We can provide an external perspective, fresh eyes and new ideas that guide arts organisations towards a financial revolution rather than evolution.

Direct Action

Entrepreneurialism is not just about “the idea”, but practically implementing your vision. This is a hurdle often faced by graduates - they are not trusted with the responsibility to enact action. As Fellows we are supported in making things happen this through our central placement within our organisations. I also find the mentor relationship very useful – it is a space to discuss career progression, taking responsibility and developing leadership skills.


To manage risk during a situation of decreased funding, arts organisations may limit new projects and new funding methods. In contrast to this, entrepreneurial thinking involves taking risks and being brave enough to do so! The important question here is how do we give development professionals the confidence and courage to take risk? Sharing best practice is valuable, with LinkedIn groups a great resource for this. There is also the question of government involvement – both in increasing knowledge of entrepreneurial approaches (social innovation bonds being a good example) and genuine support and nurturing of these initiatives.


Entrepreneurs are often described as such when they are successful, rather than simply individuals whose ideas never see impact or successful fruition. Fortitude is therefore important in driving towards a conclusion and goal, even in the face of adversity. A key element of value of the Fellowship is the supportive environment – we have the support of our team, our mentor and our peer group who are invested in our ideas and their success.

A joint venture with 21 Hospitality Group The Broad Chare invests a proportion of its turnover back into the work of the Live Theatre.
A joint venture with 21 Hospitality Group The Broad Chare invests a proportion of its turnover back into the work of the Live Theatre.

What I have found most useful in developing entrepreneurial thinking is exposure to ideas. On that note, here are a few interesting examples of entrepreneurial approaches to arts funding:

  • Live Theatre’s Gastropub: located next door to the theatre is The Broad Chare Gastropub, which invests £80,000 of net annual profit into Live Theatre
  • The Albany: through tendering for contracts The Albany secured a pioneering partnership with Southwark Council to manage Canada Water Library’s Culture Space

*This definition is drawn from the following article -  Martin, R. and S. Osberg (2007) ‘Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition’, Stanford Social Innovation Review. Available here.