Are entrepreneurs born or made?

What are the key factors for success as an entrepreneur?

There is an age-old question about entrepreneurship: “are entrepreneurs born or made”, and can it be taught? Well, I’ve done a Masters in this field, and after spending years researching this particular theme, it’s still unknown to me.

Whilst, research by Taylor from Northeastern University has shown that 42% of entrepreneurs launched their first venture during childhood (i.e. lemonade stand, swap cards, etc.), it can be argued that no one is born an entrepreneur, (just like no one is born a leader), because, there are certain characteristics that can only be developed through one’s experience and their environment. However, there are certain intrinsic behaviours that are important to be a successful entrepreneur, such as having personal “grit”, risk tolerance, and the ability to deal with ambiguity or uncertainty. Arguably, these traits are most likely discovered through observation and personal experience.

Until 1985, research was focused on personality traits and characteristics, as it was believed: intrinsic psychological factors had a significant influence on the individual’s decision to become an entrepreneur. Subsequently, it has been discovered that: environmental factors also play a contributing role in the decision-making process to start a venture. These include the existence of an entrepreneurial eco-system, cultural factors, and exposure to business in early life, (such as your parents running a business when you were growing up). Furthermore, circumstances such as personal need or access to opportunity are also pivotal.

Then, the question is: can someone study a course in entrepreneurship and become an entrepreneur? Research by Taylor also suggests that whilst entrepreneurship skills can be taught, the desire or drive to be an entrepreneur is usually not. It seems as though the enterprising spirit must be “discovered” within an individual, NOT developed by an individual’s experience. This discovery can be initiated through imagination and “play” activities. Furthermore, risk-taking behaviours can also be taught, through simulation and gaming, where individuals can develop these skills in a safe, “no consequence” environment. Hence, the reason why Gen Z and “Centennials” are the most entrepreneurial generation of our time.

Notably, universities are not adequately preparing students for careers in entrepreneurship. Today’s education needs to be a customized and self-learning experience for students, one designed to enable curiosity, imagination, problem-solving, and game theory, which instills “risk-inclusive behaviours, all in a trial and error, and “failure tolerant” environment.

If you want your child to be entrepreneurial, then schooling will not help, in fact, it’s a hindrance. Yes, you can learn skills that are required, but the entrepreneurial spirit has to be discovered. Furthermore, a child’s curiosity must be stimulated and not shut off as the child gets older. Thus, the earlier your child begins, the less likely that these mental faculties are not disengaged.