Entrepreneurs: Born or Self-Made?


This question has been asked time and time throughout countless eras. Whether entrepreneurs are born or made is a hot point of contention within the business world and it often brings polarising opinions.

On the one hand, there are people who believe ardently that anyone can become an entrepreneur providing they put in enough hard work and effort. They believe that an entrepreneur is self-made and that it is a skill and career path that can be learnt. This group of believers may accept that there are certain genetic traits that can improve your ability to prosper as an entrepreneur; but by and large, this is an inclusive discipline that even the most down-trodden of society can achieve.

On the other hand, there are others who firmly believe that certain people are predisposed to become an entrepreneur. They believe that entrepreneurs are born and that they inherit a certain set of traits and genetics that almost pre-determine their success. This group of people may accept that a person can improve their business knowledge, but they also believe that knowledge can only take you so far in the business world.

This article dissects these two extremely different opinions and provides insight into the thought process and beliefs behind the creation of an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs are made – it is a case of hard work and determination

Let’s start by looking at the traditional viewpoint – that anyone can become an entrepreneur and that it is not something that is a pre-disposed trait. For many years it has been a firm belief that anyone can achieve anything if they put their mind to it.

This train of thought is comforting and it inspires hope, self-confidence and belief. We take solace and strength from knowing that one day, with the right attitude, work ethic and determination, we could achieve greatness.

This argument of nurture over nature aligns easier with our aspirations and goals as humans. We do not like the thought that our success in life is pre-determined by our genetics and that only certain people can achieve their dreams. Ideologies such as the American Dream are prime examples that support the argument that entrepreneurs are made. Americans are instilled with a firm belief that they can achieve anything. They see their country as a land of opportunity and a place where hard work pays off.

So what actual evidence is there to support this argument? What can we look at that shows entrepreneurs are self-made? We in fact see this in everyday life. In today’s modern society, we have waves of self-taught entrepreneurs who are excelling in their area of business. Hundreds of businessmen and women are creating their own success stories and each of them will have a totally different set of characteristics, genetics and personal traits.

Furthermore, we only have to look in our schools and colleges to see how education can have a positive effect on an individual. In most cases, entrepreneurs will have benefited from a stable education and training in some field of business. Education helps improve our knowledge of the world and practices required to become an entrepreneur.

We can learn about finance, accounting, marketing and employment management for example – these are all hugely important processes we are not born with an understanding of. There are of course success stories where an individual has succeeded without a perfect education (Mark Zuckerberg anyone?); but in most cases, an entrepreneur has improved their own skill set through learning and hard work.

Case studies and sources in favour of this argument

We have gathered several different sources of information to support the argument that entrepreneurs are made. These sources offer a variety of opinions and should help you understand the research and studies that have been formulated around this argument:

1. Huffington Post provides an interesting but short article containing survey data relating to entrepreneurs. Their findings revealed that a large percentage of entrepreneurs did not have entrepreneurial parents, and didn’t have any aspirations to become entrepreneurs at school.

2. This article from Business News Daily discusses research involving interviewing a large number of entrepreneurs. A recurring theme found from the research was that a large portion of these business types initially started out as a corporate employee, and they did not become entrepreneurs until they gained experience in the field of business.

3. Lets Talk About Work shows that there are many different qualities an entrepreneur needs and that much of what happens in their life can shape their prospects. Their work and life experience shape their future – in short, what they do and how they act helps them become an entrepreneur, not their genetic traits.

This is just a small snippet of the case studies and articles relating to this opinion, but you can at least gain an idea of what the common arguments are. There is also an interesting article on Entrepreneurs.com which shows research and opinions from notable professor Julian Lange – he states that there is a plethora of evidence to show that aspects of Entrepreneurship can indeed be taught.

Entrepreneurs are born – it is a case of good genes

In recent years a new train of thought has developed. As our understanding of the human body improves and advancements are made in genetics, we now have a clearer understanding of how we are made. Scientists and researchers have access to a plethora of information about genetic traits, hereditary personalities and how DNA affects our behaviour and attitude. Many decades ago we simply didn’t have this type of understanding and this is possibly why the previously discussed notion of nurture has always been so prevalent.

As our genetic knowledge improves, so does our understanding of what traits and features we are born with. Due to this, and an increased understanding of what it takes to become an entrepreneur, there are many people who believe that you are born with certain traits that give you a pre-disposition to entrepreneurship. Using scientific research and studies, they have determined that certain traits are recurring within entrepreneurs and that these are traits that you are born with.

This does not mean that if you do not possess these traits that you cannot become an entrepreneur. Alternatively, they believe that certain people are better suited to succeed as entrepreneurs due to their genetics and traits and that regardless of how much studying you expose yourself to, some people will simply always be better. This is not an inspiring thought and it is extremely divisive – as we mentioned before, many people do not like the thought that they may not be able to fulfil their dreams due to their inherited genes and personality traits.

So what research is there to show that this train of thought has any basis in truth? In recent years, many scientists and professors have actually performed research and case studies to test this belief. Some research, in particular, shows that a large percentage of traits entrepreneurs carry are hereditary (up to 60% in some studies). These traits include the willingness to take risks, the ability to cope with uncertainty and the ability to cope with ambiguity. These are traits you cannot learn – you may be able to improve your coping mechanisms over time, but some people are naturally able to cope with the unknown and thrive in risky situations.

You can see the reality of this research when looking at a typical entrepreneur – in most cases, an entrepreneur will have a certain type of personality. They may be self-confident and trust their own intuition. They may be filled with optimism and brimming with an insatiable energy that they must concentrate on business and new ventures. This type of personality is not something you can learn from a book – this research states that entrepreneurs are simply hard-wired to succeed and to excel at this path.

Case studies and sources in favour of this argument

We have gathered several different sources of information to support the argument that entrepreneurs are born. These sources offer a variety of opinions and should help you understand the research and studies that have been formulated around this argument:

1. The Next Web’s article cites various arguments such as that an entrepreneur is born with certain traits that predispose them to this line of business. Furthermore, they provide research showing that many of these traits are hereditary and passed down through generations.

2. Academic work from the University of Glasgow expands upon the above points and shows that entrepreneurs are usually born with an ability to take risks and are achievement orientated. This work also shows that up to 75% of recurring characteristics in entrepreneurs result from genetic influences.

3. Tiny Pulse puts forward an interesting idea that other qualities such as passion, resilience, self-motivation and creativity are also partially learned and ingrained into our personalities. To be fair, it also shows several traits that you can actually learn too.

There are other meaningful studies to be found but from the above, you can see what research there is to support this theory. Many reputable academics have analysed the genetic makeup of entrepreneurs and have gathered some convincing data to prove the argument of nature over nurture.

So which argument is correct?

We do not think that you can simply say one argument is correct and the other is false. When looking at the evidence and considering the research, it is clear to see that both arguments have some basis in fact and truth. On the other hand, it is also clear to see that both arguments also have their flaws.

You cannot teach every aspect of entrepreneurship for example. No matter how much education you receive, there are simply some things you cannot learn. You cannot learn how to take risks, how to be creative or how to generate fantastic ideas to excel in your business. These things come naturally from within a person and no amount of textbooks, essays or videos will improve these traits. In short, you can make certain aspects of an entrepreneur, but some things you are born with.

On the flip side, we believe that your own personality and genetic traits will only get you so far too. You can use your creative nature to find inspiration. You can use your impulsiveness or risk-taking nature to make snappy business decisions and seize an opportunity. But can your traits and genetics help you manage a businesses’ finances? Can your personal qualities help you make investments, contact suppliers and create a production facility? Some vital skills and traits an entrepreneur requires can only be learnt and perfected over time – regardless of your personality and genetics.

From what we can analyse, we feel that to become a successful entrepreneur, you need a balance. You need to have the right temperament and personality, but you also need education, understanding and business acumen. We feel that both arguments have merit, but that neither should be taken as gospel. Anyone can accomplish their dreams and become an entrepreneur – yes there may be certain people that are better suited to business, but with enough hard work, determination, grit and inspiration, dreams can come true!