What makes an entrepreneur? Is entrepreneurial success the result of raw, natural talent and grit, or the result of study and experience? What is it, really, that separates Mark Zuckerberg from Michael Bloomberg?
In this article, we’ll explore three arguments explaining why entrepreneurs are made and three arguments demonstrating why entrepreneurs are simply born that way.
Baby, I was born this way
So many stories of great entrepreneurs begin the same way, with the protagonist attempting to fill market gaps in the school yard. Zappos multi-millionaire Tony Hseih got his start in business selling baitworms at age nine. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had already been approached by Microsoft and AOL to sell his beta version of a Pandora-like music application that he invented while still in high school. Not every kid tries his or her hand managing a lemonade stand – those who do are probably born entrepreneurs.
Some researchers argue that entrepreneurism isn’t merely a personality trait but something of a medical condition. Research finds that a great many entrepreneurs suffer from hypomania (a cousin disorder of both mania and manic depression), which is marked by sustained elation, hyperactivity, and grandiosity. Entrepreneurs self-report hypomanic symptoms as their norm, and their relatives had higher incidence of related diseases, suggesting that entrepreneurial tendencies, like hypomania, are indeed genetic.
We don’t need no education
In a Northeastern University survey of over 200 US-based entrepreneurs, well over half of the survey participants cited “innate drive” as the main reason for embarking on independent business ventures, with only one percent of respondents noting education or environment as influential factors. Indeed, some of the world’s most prominent entrepreneurs (think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and even John D. Rockefeller) never earned more than a high school diploma. For born entrepreneurs, no training required.
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
Necessity, the mother of entrepreneurship
People often become entrepreneurs not because of some inborn desire, but because life’s circumstances compel them to do so. Consider immigrants, who for reasons ranging from language barriers to racial discrimination, are frequently blocked from the traditional job market, leading them to the highest rate of entrepreneurship among any group in the US. When a group of diverse individuals, such as immigrants to the US, collectively achieve a rate of 27% business ownership, it is not likely that they all share common genetic traits, but rather, circumstances that force them to establish businesses. While entrepreneurs of necessity don’t enjoy the same prestige as Silicon Valley’s opportunity entrepreneurs, they most certainly outnumber them, and their endeavors are no less impactful.
The B-School boost
What do Elon Musk (PayPal;Tesla;SpaceX), Michael Bloomberg (Bloomberg L.P.) and Phil Knight (Nike) all have in common? They’re all billionaire entrepreneurs with prestigious MBA degrees behind them. Getting the right education absolutely influences entrepreneurial success, helping people hone their leadership skills and identify viable business ideas. A Kaufman Foundation report found that 95% of founders held a bachelor’s degree, and 48% had higher degrees. Furthermore, higher education, especially in business, provides the kind of robust network that entrepreneurs need to get their ventures off the ground.
The Start-Up Nation anomaly
Dubbed the “Start-Up Nation” by journalists Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Israel, the country with the most per capita venture tech dollars and more combined tech startups than all of Europe and Asia combined, has media and business people worldwide pondering the secret of its entrepreneurial spirit. Answers to this question would suggest that entrepreneurial instincts are an advent of Israeli culture: “chutzpah” (most nearly translated as moxie), leadership training acquired through mandatory military service, and a carpe diem mentality that enables a kind of communal willingness to fail are all reasons cited for the nation’s entrepreneurial fervor. The existence of a nation where a quarter of the population is involved in entrepreneurial activities demonstrates that entrepreneurialism is more about environmental forces than personal traits.
The Bottom Line: While dedicated entrepreneurship programs at top-ranked business schools like Northwestern University and Columbia would have us believe that entrepreneurship is a pie just about any person can take a bite of, Old Dominion University business professor James Koch answers the question of whether entrepreneurialism is learned or inherited succinctly: “Short people don’t often make it in the NBA.” With so many examples of entrepreneurs both born and made, perhaps the only conclusion to draw is that the reasons that drive entrepreneurs are as varied as the markets they serve and the products they invent.