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Can entrepreneurship be learned

Can entrepreneurship be learned?

Can entrepreneurship be learned? This is a thread of the timeless argument of nature vs nurture. Can someone be taught how to start and grow their own business, or are entrepreneurs just born this way? A scan of founder bios suggests the latter.

Afterall, Shopify was started by a photographer, a coding guy, and a jock. Also, Airbnb was founded by two industrial designers and a software engineer. Not one business degree between them. But the answer is not so clear-cut. Because though someone may have entrepreneurial qualities in their nature, it is often due to nurturing that they achieve success.

The Entrepreneurial Nature

First, what does it mean to be entrepreneurial, or to have an entrepreneur mindset? Academics have studied what is different about entrepreneurs, and what they all have in common. Many psychologists use the 5-Factor model to explain personality traits.

Usually known by the acronym OCEAN, it’s Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. The idea is that all personalities can be expressed as a blend of these 5 factors. As shown below, the key behaviours of being an entrepreneur can be explained by the OCEAN model, which supports that the entrepreneurial nature is hard-wired into our personalities.

Risk Taking

All entrepreneurs have a high tolerance for risk. After all, there is never a guarantee of success when putting up cash and capital to build an offering and a team. Being comfortable with a constant level of uncertainty is just part of being a business owner.

According to the OCEAN personality model, this requires a high level of Openness and Agreeableness. Additionally, accepting risk requires a high level of emotional security, which means entrepreneurs tend to score low on Neuroticism.

Self-Motivating

Entrepreneurs make things happen. Especially in the early stages of growth, there is no external force or set of expectations. Businesses are built driven by the motivation of the entrepreneur. This aligns with a high level of Consciousness. Also, with Extraversion, since the process of setting up a business requires getting out there to communicate with new people.

Creative

Most of all, entrepreneurs are creative. After all, entrepreneurship has been defined as “a creative process of identifying and pursuing value-creating opportunities, often in the face of uncertainty and risk.” That involves being curious and coming up with ideas that fill consumer needs and market gaps. As a result, according to the OCEAN personality model, entrepreneurs have a high level of Openness.

Successful Entrepreneurs Who Never Went to Business School

Also making the case for nature vs nurture are the success stories of these entrepreneurs who never went to business school. Clearly, success in business doesn’t require training in business.

Anita Roddick

At one time, she was the wealthiest woman in Britain due to the global success of The Body Shop. Previously, she ran both a hotel and a restaurant. Unsurprisingly, she grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her mother owned a little cafe in their town, where Anita worked many hours as a teenager.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

Not everyone knows that Martha was a Wall Street broker with a degree in history and architectural history. Her first company was a catering business, and her entrepreneurial nature leveraged her skills in cooking, decor, and design into a global empire. From the first book in 1982, Martha developed a brand identity which is now synonymous with style and good taste.

Jeff Bezos

Back in 1994, Jeff left his career as a hedge-fund manager to open an online bookshop in his garage. Obviously, this grew to become the global marketplace Amazon. While he studied computer science at Princeton University, he clearly had what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Particularly, his ability to be creative and tolerate risk. He kept expanding Amazon even though it didn’t make a profit for the first 5 years.

Mentoring and Entrepreneurship

Clearly, it is possible to be successful in business without training in entrepreneurship. However, many high performing entrepreneurs credit mentoring for their success. For example, Y Combinator runs programs which bring expert advice and connections as well as cash to high-potential new businesses. AirBnB, Stripe, and DropBox were once just fledgling startups until the support of Y Combinator nurtured them.

Also, as we’ve seen from shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, it takes more than cash investment to scale up a business. The input and guidance of someone more experienced can shortcut a path to success. Clearly, mentoring and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. 

Can entrepreneurship be learned?

In my view, entrepreneurship can be learned. Specifically, it can be nurtured and developed. However, there must be a foundation of an entrepreneurial nature and mindset. It’s the same with any set of skills and abilities. For example, a vocal coach can help someone become a better performer, but only if they have a good voice to begin with.

Afterall, even with all the vocal coaching in the world, I can’t carry a tune. Similarly, with training and practise individuals can win Olympic medals or sports championships, but only if they have a baseline of athletic ability. Essentially, any talent can be improved with training. And entrepreneurship is a talent which benefits from mentoring and business coaching.

Further Reading

Famous Introverts
Entrepreneur Dos and Don'ts for a Home Based Business
Community Involvement for Entrepreneurs

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Rebecca Page-Chapman