While working on a young entrepreneurs package slated to run on BlackEnterprise.com tomorrow, a co-worker questioned how many of the subjects in the series had a family member who inspired them to venture into entrepreneurship.
She said that a large number of young entrepreneurs she’s come across and business people who started companies at a young age have been influenced by aunts, uncles, parents, or friends who were also entrepreneurs, thus encouraging their foray into free enterprise.
This poses the question: Are entrepreneurs born or made?
My argument: The odds of becoming an entrepreneur are based on a combination of natural talent and learned skill. Successful entrepreneurs are innately creative and innovative people with unparalleled ambition. But the basics of marketing, sales, and bookkeeping are learned.
While I do believe there is likely a high correlation between those who were raised around entrepreneurs and those who become entrepreneurs, how one was raised is not the sole determining factor. Furthermore, becoming a successful entrepreneur isn’t exclusively dependent upon whether mom and dad are their own boss, but more so on being able to execute, recognize business opportunities, and take risks.
The idea is akin to that of child prodigies—musicians, math whizzes, etc. The talent is there and the children, for some reason, gravitate to an instrument or field of knowledge. But that skill must also be nurtured by someone who can teach the child the fundamentals of the craft. In the area of entrepreneurship, a great example is Black Enterprise 2009 Teenpreneur Award winner Jordan Culpepper, the 13-year-old founder and CEO of Buttons By Jordan. The teen’s precocious entrepreneurial instinct was nurtured and supported by family and friends.
A study by Scott A. Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University in Cleveland and author of The Illusions of Entrepreneurship, found that the tendency to be an entrepreneur is heritable—or able to be explained by genetic factors. In a blog written for the New York Times last month, Shane said, “The tendency to identify business opportunities and the tendency to start new businesses have a common genetic source. This pattern suggests that genetic factors might influence the odds of people becoming entrepreneurs by affecting their ability to identify new business opportunities.”
While one could argue that since the study shows a genetic predisposition toward entrepreneurship, having entrepreneurs in the family does matter. But this study also takes into account traits of an entrepreneur that are also heritable, such as extraversion. According to the study, “Extraversion is a personality trait that incorporates several attributes, including sociability, gregariousness, talkativeness, and exhibitionism. Extraversion increases the likelihood that people will engage in entrepreneurship because it facilitates many skills, such as selling, that are important to it.”
While I do believe there likely is a high correlation between those who were raised around entrepreneurs and those who become entrepreneurs on their own, how one was raised is not the sole determining factor. Furthermore, becoming a successful entrepreneur isn’t exactly dependent upon how well mommy and daddy do. But again, it’s based on being able to execute, recognize business opportunities, and take risks.
What do you think? Is entrepreneurship determined by one’s environment or intuitive traits?
Renita Burns is the editorial assistant at BlackEnterprise.com