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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Entrepreneurs in the Media

In the research study I worked on from 2010-2012, we found - as did other researchers before us - that the way entrepreneurs are portrayed in the media helps to shape our perception of how desirable it would be for us to start a business.  Newspapers and television stories about local business owners give us an idea of how others will see us once our new ventures label us 'entrepreneur'.

My preconceived notion was that places where entrepreneurs are despised in the media are mostly developing countries that struggle with corruption or regions with a history of a strong state-run economy. I assumed that in countries where free enterprise had generated a thriving economy and considerable wealth for the majority of the population, the media would be pro-entrepreneurial. I certainly didn't think that Finland would be a place I'd run into local news stories that are heavily skeptical and critical of entrepreneurs.

That's why this article surprised me.
Not too long ago, some hardworking Finnish entrepreneurs had considered selling the wind and solar power company they'd started and built up. They had received some public (TEKES) funds as seed money for their startup, The Switch, in 2005 and by 2011 had turned that into a company valued at 190 million euro by American company AMSC. The acquisition fell through because of financing issues on the buyer's end, but during the negotiation / consideration period entrepreneurs at The Switch were hit with media criticism about the taxpayer money (i.e. the TEKES grants) which had contributed to their potential profits from the sale.

I haven't found any solid euro amount of those TEKES grants, but it seems to me that once The Switch owners would have exited with their sale, the income tax rates in Finland would contribute to pulling back into the public funding pool a sum to counterbalance the TEKES grants. Should the entrepreneurs receive no reward for their hard work and willingness to take a risk in building the company? The media coverage didn't seem to make these considerations.

Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur Steve Blank visited Finland in 2011 and scolded Finnish Editor-in-Chiefs for their outlets' portrayal of the situation:

“Anywhere else these guys would have been treated as heroes in the media. But here they are treated like enemies of the state.”

When we think about the situation in the context of building up the Finnish economy and encouraging other bright, innovative potential entrepreneurs to take the plunge, what might have been a more appropriate media response?


  1. The world around us will always, at some level, denigrate the accomplishments of those who take risks and accomplish something. The Bible (the world's greatest commentary on human nature) tells us, "The acts of the flesh are obvious: ...hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy..." Of course, all of us (entrepreneurs included) fall prey to these, but notice that ingenuity and speculation are not in the list.

    But it is guaranteed that if you accomplish something, someone will envy you for it and claim ownership of your good fortune, regardless of its cost to you (which they don't claim).


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