Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

Many people believe entrepreneurs are a special breed, born with innate talents and skills. Others believe entrepreneurial talents can be acquired through training, observation and experience. Let’s examine both sides of the argument as well as the importance of environment.

Born Entrepreneurs

 In Born, Not Made: The Entrepreneurial Personality, James Fisher and John V. Koch report “evidence and survey data support the notion that a substantial proportion of entrepreneurial behavior is genetically determined.” Their 2008 study of 234 entrepreneurial CEO’s found that personality and behavioral traits, such as extraversion and risk tolerance, are passed from one generation to the next. 

“REAL entrepreneurs are born and prove out their DNA with hard work,” espoused Gary Vaynerchuk, Founder of Vayner Media, in his blog.  He compares the start-up world to professional basketball where only players with superstar skills and talent are able to compete.  (Not surprisingly, most of us are short on basketball skills.)

Learned Entrepreneurs

 Others argue that nurture is more important than nature. They reason that virtually all entrepreneurs develop entrepreneurial skills through education, observation, mentors, or experience. Some learn these important skills at an early age. Sarah Blakely, Founder of Spanx, credits her success on her parents’ nurturing. Her father would often ask, “What did you fail at today?” She learned that failure is necessary, because it means you are trying to do new and difficult things.

 “Entrepreneurship might be teachable,” expressed the serial entrepreneur, author and educator Steve Blank in The Startup Playbook. “Learning the principles of entrepreneurship could make the process of founding a startup much more efficient.”

I teach entrepreneurship classes at Parsons School of Design. I have seen students with widely different personalities develop into promising entrepreneurs. I teach them to identify and evaluate business opportunities then shape business models and investor pitches. Certainly, some students start with the confidence and risk-taking of an entrepreneur. But I’m often surprised how seemingly quiet and reserved students become passionate about their new business ideas.

The Right Environment

Regardless of where entrepreneurial talents are derived, they need to be nurtured and grown in a supportive and positive environment. One way is for entrepreneurs to interact with like-minded people who provide advice and guidance. Co-working environments such as Spark Labs can provide a valuable support network.

“Spark Labs is more than co-working offices and support services,” explains Christophe Garnier, Managing Director of Spark Labs NYC. “Spark Labs is a club where entrepreneurs and innovators can learn, grow, and help one another.”

The Answer

Clearly, there is no answer to this debate of whether entrepreneurs are born or made. The answer is probably a combination of natural talent, good education and experience, which blossoms in a supportive environment.