Are entrepreneurs born or made?

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young leaders

One of the many questions that usually pop up when entrepreneurship is discussed is whether entrepreneurs are born or made. Like most things in life there is no simple answer, but our experience of working with entrepreneurs has given us a few insights into this debate.

In the past, research has highlighted many successful entrepreneurs who dropped out or barely graduated from college to start their companies. Some of these success stories have no formal business background but have succeeded despite this.

Such data suggests that at least in part, entrepreneurship is an inherent trait, like athletic prowess or artistic ability. However, let’s first explore whether entrepreneurial thinking can be taught.

Research has provided records proving entrepreneurship as being innate. A study conducted by the Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship in Massachusetts (showed that only 1% of entrepreneurs believed that higher education played a role in forming their entrepreneurial mindset, while 61% credited their innate drive.

A post extracted from a business blog, cites a book The Hypomanic Edge by psychologist John Gartner, who agrees that entrepreneurship is innate. He says that successful entrepreneurs have a distinct personality trait. In his book, John discusses some characteristics embedded within ‘hypomanics’ such as brimming with infectious energy, irrational confidence, and really big ideas. They think, talk, move, and make decisions quickly, writes John.

Business Week also had a post by Karen E. Klein, (Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?) supporting the notion. According to Business Week, Klein got out the books and researched experts such as EQ guru Daniel Goleman and Scott Shane, a fellow columnist and the A. Malachi Mixon III Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

Shane says that the tendency toward entrepreneurship is about 48% “heritable,” meaning influenced by genetic factor. Given the findings along with other research, there is a strong case for believing that entrepreneurial skills come naturally. However, it appears that many believe they can also be taught.

Allen Gannett, an entrepreneur and partner at Acceleprise, an enterprise technology accelerator, says that the first step to having a generation of skilled entrepreneurs is to start by educating our kids to become entrepreneurs. This is especially relevant here in South Africa, where our entrepreneurial activity ranks dismally when compared with other developing nations (GEM Report 2012). Gannett also says that we need programmes that will train, support and offer mentorship to budding entrepreneurs.

Several organisations are focusing on encouraging entrepreneurship from a young age and equipping youth with business skills: SA Teen EntrepreneurYoung Entrepreneurs and the Young Entrepreneurship Program are just a few.

Programmes such as the SAB Foundation Tholoana programme, a national SME business incubator implemented by Fetola, which offers mentorship, business support, workshops, e-learning and other resources, as well as other business incubators such as Raiz Corp have proven in the past to have contributed to the growth and success of many entrepreneurs and their businesses.

Fetola CEO and founder Catherine Wijnberg said: “I have been working with entrepreneurs for decades and have seen that while business management skills can be taught, those with an aptitude for entrepreneurship, and a love for the challenge, creativity and adrenaline rush of owning a business enjoy greater success.”

A few months ago, we welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s launch of the small- and medium-enterprise (SME) fund CEO circle, which aims to propel economic growth and create employment through the successful growth of SMEs. The CEO circle will focus on funding, mentorship and access to the market for SMEs. The fund, headed by Ketso Gordhan, has pledged R1.4bn to support 10 significant black businesses, 200 SMEs, and five black entrepreneurs over the next five years.

In addition, one of Ramaphosa’s seven priorities at his State of the Nation Address last week was economic transformation and job creation. While we don’t yet know how this will be achieved, we are happy that the strong push for SME growth has again been identified as a priority in South Africa.

It is evident that not all of us were born natural entrepreneurs, however given the many organisations that have stretched out a helping hand to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, the future looks bright.

About the author:

Abram Molelemane was a media officer at Fetola. You can read the full article here.