Are Entrepreneurs Made—or Are They Born?

Are Entrepreneurs Made—or Are They Born?


Recent research has delved deeply into the question of what makes an entrepreneur—pure drive or genetics? In other words, are some people predisposed to become an entrepreneur because of their genetic makeup? Or does this disposition grow from external influences? It’s the age-old question of nature vs. nurture, but specifically with small business owners.

Research has revealed that, generally speaking, entrepreneurs are made—but there’s a small catch.

The Research

One study conducted by Scott Shane, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, looked specifically at hundreds of pairs of twins, and found that the identical twins among them had much higher rates of “shared entrepreneurial tendencies” than their fraternal counterparts in the control group. The study also found four core entrepreneurial traits, each of them genetically heritable.

  • The likelihood of starting a business
  • The ability to identify new opportunities
  • The tendency to become self-employed
  • Extroversion

The research showed that your genes can directly affect the probability of starting a business. Similarly, both your ability to identify business opportunities and to become self-employed are heritable traits. While extroversion by itself isn’t enough to motivate starting your own business, extroverts in general have an easier time making connections, leading others, and engaging in their community.

A similar, but less formal, survey of entrepreneurial beliefs found that only one percent of entrepreneurs involved in the study believed that higher education played any role in their starting a business. 61 percent said that their tendencies had arisen from a drive they were born with.

The Catch

The thing about these studies is that none of them paid much (or any) attention to how successful these genetically predisposed people were or are. The takeaway is that, while your genes may play a role in the probability of you actually starting your own business, there’s no indication that you’ll end up a successful entrepreneur.

With significant drive and practice, you may even be more likely to succeed than someone genetically predisposed—especially with more real-world experience.

A study from Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Kathryn Shaw looked at data from 2.8 million small businesses to analyze the rates of success based on previous experience. Surprise, surprise—those with previous experience owning a business were much more likely to succeed. This may seem obvious, but it reinforces the important idea that, in the end, experience trumps genetics.

So, are entrepreneurs born or made? Research says born.

Are successful entrepreneurs born or made? Research says made.

To connect with other local entrepreneurs, contact the Entrepreneur’s Organization of Birmingham today!

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