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In the past, entrepreneurs were the few people who took risks to start their own business. Sometimes they were successful; sometimes they weren't. In the 21st century, the definition of an entrepreneur has expanded to include people who create their own Internet-based businesses, home-based companies, and even freelance workers, who are predicted to compose more than 50 percent of the workforce by 2027, according to a report by Upwork and the Freelancers Union. Still, the basic idea of entrepreneurship hasn't changed dramatically since the Industrial Age dawned in the 1800s.

A person has an idea for a product or service that will fill a specific niche in a market. They gather the financing necessary to produce the product or offer the service, and depending on whether it's an e-company or one that requires a physical location, the company launches as soon as it has all resources and systems in place. While the rate of failure of new businesses is traditionally high (more than 50 percent fail after five years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), with the advent of e-companies, which often require much less upfront capital, a growing number of people are willing to take the risk. Some entrepreneurs become business owners because they're looking to escape corporate life, and their goal is simply to earn enough money to live comfortably and retire. Other entrepreneurs seek to grow their companies over the years and become wealthy.

The most important ingredient to business owners is independence: They have the freedom and ability to make their own decisions, set their own working hours, and not have to answer to anyone else.

Entrepreneurships first started in the United States as colonies became cities and settlers needed to purchase goods to keep them clothed and fed. Retail store owners were the first entrepreneurs and were the most prevalent for many years. In the Industrial Age of the 1800s, entrepreneurs launched manufacturing facilities that employed local workers.

It was in the 1900s that a new type of entrepreneur, the consultant, first emerged, hired by manufacturers to survey their methods and make recommendations for improving efficiency. As the economy in the late 20th century and early 21st century has transitioned from one based on manufacturing to one of service-based companies, manufacturing companies downsized, laying off thousands of employees, who then had to either begin new careers or start their own businesses, as many did.

The dawn of the Internet age has also resulted in the onslaught of e-business owners, who are able to start home-based businesses, making goods and selling them online for minimal start-up costs. In addition, many companies in the 21st century are recognizing the financial benefits of hiring more independent contractors or freelance employees. These workers don't receive costly health insurance benefits, and often start work with the skills necessary and so need minimal training. They also use their own home offices, and companies don't have to invest in equipment or lose valuable office space. In the 2010s, entrepreneurships consist of a mixture of traditional businesses, e-businesses, home-based businesses, consultants, and freelance workers.

The coronavirus pandemic that spread around the globe in 2020 presented both challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs—and awakened an entrepreneurial spirit in many small business owners. Lockdowns, business and school closures, and social gathering restrictions meant to slow the spread of the disease dampened the economy and closed many traditional doors for entrepreneurs. At the same time, business adopted new practices and offered new services to better serve consumers during the pandemic. Apps such as Grubhub and Instacart experienced surges in new users as people looked for ways to avoid leaving home, offering new employment opportunities to many who lost traditional jobs. Of course, the down economy made it more difficult in general for entrepreneurs to find funding for new ventures.