Nurture trumps nature in great entrepreneur debate?

A survey suggests the majority of business owners are created, rather than born. Although they do share some common traits...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 19 Mar 2012
When it comes to The Great Debates of Our Time, the question of whether entrepreneurs are born or made is almost as hoary as the whole chicken vs egg thing. In other words, it’s been raging for a while. But now Ernst & Young has waded in with research suggesting that 45% of entrepreneurs didn’t start their first business until they were into their thirties, while 60% said they’ve ‘transitioned’ from the corporate sector – ie. they learned the ropes in a job before they took the leap into starting their own company. Which is enough to put E&Y firmly into the ‘made not born’ camp. But with some caveats….

It’s surprising that a large group of business owners seem to attribute their success to their time as an employee. Of the 685 entrepreneurs interviewed, a third said their time working for someone else was the period during their career when they learned the most. Another third said they had learned the most from their education, while a quarter said mentors had been their main source of entrepreneurial inspiration.

But the nature/nurture debate aside, it seems that once you’ve caught the entrepreneur bug, it’s a tough one to shake. A whopping 60% of the entrepreneurs E&Y spoke to said they had started three or more companies, while 20% said they’d started six or more and 10% said they had founded at least 10. Now MT can’t help being slightly cynical about those figures – to our uneducated eye, that 60% figure sounds like rather a lot. Still, we suppose that the kind of entrepreneur who’s friendly enough with E&Y to be included in this survey – and thus presumably has enough money to interest a Big Four auditor – might well be more likely to fall into the serial entrepreneur category.

E&Y also found that entrepreneurs tend to share some common traits: for example, three-quarters of those surveyed apparently said all business owners ‘have a vision’, while 73% said they have ‘passion’ and 64% said ‘drive’ (although we’re not sure exactly what the difference is between the two). A third said flexibility is an essential characteristic, while 14% plumped for loyalty.

Anyway, if entrepreneurs really are made and not born, it might shed some light on a separate report from market research firm IFF Research – according to which UK employers are concerned at the lack of entrepreneurial skills around. While 78% think the UK has a proud history of producing ‘great’ entrepreneurs, a third believe that that’s no longer the case. If that’s the case, we clearly need a better entrepreneur production programme…

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