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What is the difference between a company and an enterprise? The cambridge dictionary defines an enterprise as 'a business', and gives an example, 'a commercial enterprise', Oxford defines it, among other things as 'a business or company', and gives the example of a state-owned enterprise, the EU provides money for 'Small and medium-sized enterprises' (= businesses), yet we would not say: 'my father has set up an enterprise making chocolate bars' or 'the enterprise where I work employs 3 people'. If you look up 'enterprise' on google images, you get pages of space ships, a few aircraft carriers and a car rental firm, if you google image 'company', you get, well, companies.

I am not referring here to the other meanings of enterprise: entrepreneurial activity/ initiative and resourcefulness, but just to 'enterprise' (countable), used as a near synonym for 'company'.

  • If you use "enterprise" as a near-synonym for "company" then there is no meaningful difference. Obviously both words have many other non-synonymous meanings, but you seem to have excluded those differences anyway. – FumbleFingers Feb 24 '15 at 15:37
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    Simple answer: just about any time you want. In the expressions you wouldn't say the words seem quite normally interchangeable to me. Enterprise focuses on the activity, while company focuses on the group that carries out the activity. – ScotM Feb 24 '15 at 16:00
  • I have settled for a solution which points out that 'despite the best efforts of international organisations, including the EU, ‘enterprise’, is not the default term for ‘company’, ‘business’ or ‘firm’. The acronym SME is used, but, significantly, the British press often feels the need to specify that what the 'E' actually refers to is ‘company’, business’ or ‘firm’ . Similarly the British ‘federation of small businesses’ (not enterprises) refers to its members as ‘small businesses’ or small firms’ but never as ‘small enterprises’. – Jeremy Gardner Mar 5 '15 at 8:29
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The following extract helps understand the main differences. Entreprise has a wider definition which actually contains that of a Company:

Company

  • Any business that is conducted with the aim of generating profits is referred to as a company. If there is an economic activity is going on, one can be pretty sure that the outfit carrying it is a company. In general, the word company indicates an organization that engages in activities geared towards earning profits for the stakeholders.

Enterprise

  • An enterprise has several meanings of which one is definitely what is understood by a company. So a business organization is definitely an enterprise according to the dictionary meaning of enterprise. However, a person is also referred to as enterprising when he is seen as one who is willing to take risks to start new ventures. Private enterprise is what is meant by industriousness that is directed towards earning profits. Enterprise class is a phrase that has become common these days, and it refers to a solution or a device meant for use in a large organization. Enterprise seems to be a preferred choice when talking about IT companies as when we hear about enterprise architecture, enterprise security, and so on. ‘Small and medium enterprises’ (SME) is a very common phrase used for small ventures and units in comparison to large companies in an economy.

What is the difference between Enterprise and Company?

  • While a company is typically an organization engaged in an economic activity for the purpose of earning profits for the stakeholders, an enterprise may not be a formal company in many instances.

  • There are educational and community enterprises that do not fit into the definition of a company as they are not set up for the sole purpose of making profits.

  • Enterprise is a word that can be used for a company though it is mostly used in the sense of action and growth as in private enterprise.

  • Enterprise has become common in the context of IT these days with enterprise class and enterprise solutions being commonly used phrases.

  • SME is an acronym that clearly indicates that enterprise is meant to be used for ventures.

  • I don't know what 'differencebetween' is using as its source, but I'm pretty sure that if you started a one-person business, and didn't register it as a company (hint) that would not be called a 'company' by most people. It could be called an 'enterprise'. – DJClayworth Feb 24 '15 at 16:44
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    @DJClayworth - What the extract points out, and I agree with it, is that enterprise has a wider meaning and refers especially to the activities of a firm. See the following just as an example blogs.gartner.com/mark_mcdonald/2009/06/15/… – user66974 Feb 24 '15 at 16:55
  • thanks @Josh61. I had found that too, though I have a feeling that he is talking specifically about the IT context. – Jeremy Gardner Feb 25 '15 at 14:03
  • @JeremyGardner - it actually may apply to other industries. IT is the most popular and a lot of the money is flowing into it, that's why it is easy to find material on that. – user66974 Feb 25 '15 at 14:06
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The fact that the words share an almost identical definition makes them freely interchangeable:

Company

NOUN (plural companies)

1 A commercial business:

Enterprise

2 A business or company:

The fact that they diverge in alternate definitions, means that in certain contexts you would not be able to exchange them:

Company

3 A number of individuals gathered together:

Enterprise

NOUN

1.0 A project or undertaking, especially a bold or complex one:

1.1 [MASS NOUN] Initiative and resourcefulness:

Company has a primary connotation of a group of people that is intuitively consistent with commercial business. Enterprise has a primary connotation of engaging activity that is also intuitively consistent with commercial business:

Company

mid-12c., "large group of people," from Old French compagnie "society, friendship, intimacy; body of soldiers" (12c.),

from Late Latin companio (see companion).

Meaning "companionship" is from late 13c. Sense of "business association" first recorded 1550s, having earlier been used in reference to trade guilds (c.1300). Meaning "subdivision of an infantry regiment" is from 1580s.

Enterprise

early 15c., "an undertaking," formerly also enterprize,

from Old French enterprise "an undertaking," noun use of fem. past participle of entreprendre "undertake, take in hand" (12c.),

from entre- "between" (see entre-) + prendre "to take," contraction of prehendere (see prehensile).

Abstract sense of "adventurous disposition, readiness to undertake challenges, spirit of daring" is from late 15c.


www.oxforddictionaries.com

www.etymonline.com

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    Thanks, scotM. But mine is more a usage question. Would you say something like: 'I have my own enterprise' or 'he owns the glass enterprise on the corner' or, again 'the Windsor tire enterprise'. I wouldn't. Indeed, insofar as I would use the word at all in this meaning, I would use it to refer to large organizations (I would not expect a 'state-owned enterprise' to to be a baker's shop, for example). Indeed, to my ear, a 'small enterprise' (meaning 'small business') sounds something of an oxymoron. – Jeremy Gardner Feb 24 '15 at 17:01
  • Thanks everybody. I am still not convinced that the words are interchangeable, at least in British English. On the BBC news today, the newscaster said something like 'a number of companies were named and shamed today in the xxx scandal. These businesses were among the many firms that ....'. Businesses, firms, companies, yes but we would not say 'enterprises' here. As for SMEs, I interpret this as a bit of eurospeak that has filtered back into English (FR: PMEs); hence expressions like 'SME companies'. I seriously can't imagine anyone in the UK saying 'I have my own small enterprise. – Jeremy Gardner Feb 24 '15 at 19:12
  • I'm inclined to respect the limitation of you sensibilities when you use the words company and enterprise, @JeremyGardner. The smaller the group involved in the business activity, the more likely I am to refer to it as an enterprise, including my own sole proprietorship named SEM Enterprises. I concur with Josh61 in identifying enterprise as a specific small endeavor within large corporations. The shifting sand of individual sentiment is moderated by the conglomeration of public opinion, which routinely rewrites the dictionary. Perhaps the current is moving in your direction? – ScotM Feb 24 '15 at 21:47
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The difference between enterprise and company becomes clearer when they are used as adjectives. They are both very general nouns, and in many cases can be used interchangeably, but as adjectives we see them in specific contexts.

For example:

  • enterprise architect, an information systems architect whose work involves large systems, such as those used by a large business or a group of related businesses, e.g. as might be linked in a supply chain.
  • company architect, an architect that works directly for the company that will use his or her work product, as opposed to an outside architect or consultant.

protected by tchrist Aug 19 '18 at 12:56

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