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Jumbo Shrimp

Is “Government Entrepreneur” an Oxymoron?

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When I teach my “Government Entrepreneur” class, I start by asking students to raise a hand if they think that the words ‘government’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ don’t belong together. It never fails that a few hands go up in the air. Usually their objection is that there is a fundamental difference between government and industry — and they are certainly right — and that there is no place for entrepreneurship in government. That’s where I’d have to politely disagree with them. More now than ever, entrepreneurial skills and behaviors are essential in government service.

Why are these skills essential? Glad you asked. Here are three reasons (and there are many more):

  1. Many government agencies are operating with reimbursable budgets. I have worked with agencies that had reimbursable budgets in excess of 90% of their total budget. With an annual budget of $450 million, this means that government employees were competitively bringing in over $400 million each year. This is an extreme example, but shrinking budgets are forcing agencies to eliminate duplicative capabilities and share resources via reimbursable funds.
  2. Our society faces big challenges. These big challenges are going to require coalitions of public and private institutions collaborating on big solutions. Climate change is not going to be solved by one lone scientist in a lab. It will be addressed by a coalition of people from diverse organizations working together.
  3. Entrepreneurship skills build bridges — between teammates, units, agencies, and governments. In short, entrepreneurship skills help public servants better serve the public.

In our next post we’re going to share some examples of great government entrepreneurs.

*By the way, Jumbo Shrimp IS an oxymoron.