Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?
Feb 22 2010

Am I back to consistently blogging?  I’m not sure yet.  Believe me it’s been hard not to write.  I’m still sorting out a lot of personal stuff.    But I’ve run across a few blog posts on this age old question recently and felt compelled to do a post about it.

Fred Wilson did a post called Nature vs Nurture and Entrepreneurship and he says “WEP is run by Professor Raffi Amit and as we were making our way from one meeting to another, I said to Raffi that “you can’t teach people to be entrepreneurs but you can teach entrepreneurs business.” He replied to me that his research into the topic suggests that “there are no unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs” which leads him to believe that you can in fact teach people to be entrepreneurs.”  Fred lists his characteristics of an entrepreneur.  The post currently has 278 comments.

The topic of women entrepreneurs was raised by Rachel Happe by her comment below and many others had a discussion around her comment.

“At the risk of making this a feminist position… which it’s not really, I would like to add the female perspective because I’ve been a woman on management teams a couple of start-ups and am now starting my own thing. I have to say, I find that the whole VC/young entrepreneur vibe makes me roll my eyes a lot. A lot of older, richer men with money stroking the egos of a bunch of younger men who have an idea and think a lot about themselves. Ugh – turns me off of the entire VC model. So I offer an alternative set of characteristics that I feel more accurately portray me (and I think may be generalizable):

1) A stubborn belief in an idea or alternately a stubborn belief that there is a much better/more efficient way of doing something

2) Confidence (I actually think arrogant people are some of the least self-assured people I know but I digress)

3) A belief that the reward vs. risk of starting a new venture is higher than the reward/risk of working for someone else.

4) An ability to see and articulate a solution

4) An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others

5) A magnetic personality – to attract talent, partners, investors, etc.

Just my 2 cents.”

I left the following comment:

Having taught entrepreneurship myself at the UT Austin McComb’s school of business and falling into the entrepreneur category myself (2 tech start-ups), I tend to agree more with ‘you can teach entrepreneur’s business’ rather than you can teach people to be entrepreneur’s as you define their characteristics. There are many entrepreneurs out there in high-tech, to restaurants, to non-profits, to retail, to motels, to singers, to artists that limiting them to the characteristics as you define them is limiting. I think your characteristics of entrepreneurs tend to define those in high-tech.

Now I think that all of those people in those different industries have a drive to make a difference or an impact on their world and that is, to me, a defining trait. Whether they are confident or arrogant or otherwise doesn’t really matter to me. Confidence comes with practice which helps with one’s belief in oneself.

As for the gender discussion, as I mentioned earlier make it a goal to invest in more women led businesses whether in tech or not. Hire a women venture partner. People hire, work with, and are attracted to people who are similar. Once women were more accepted in the medical profession, there has been a drastic increase in women doctors. In the accounting profession which used to be mostly men, now at the mid manager and lower level it’s almost 50/50 women…women still have a harder time getting to partner because of the lifestyle.

I’ll be interested in reading about your research into this topic.

I then happened upon a post on TechCrunch by Vivek Wadhwa called A Fix for Discrimination: Follow the Indian Trails.   He discusses how Indians have managed to achieve success in Silicon Valley, and he starts the post by saying:

Women, Hispanics and blacks have always been underrepresented in the ranks of the Valley’s tech companies.  A new analysis by the Mercury Newslast post on the dearth of tech women shows that from 2000 to 2008, the proportion of women tech workers in Silicon Valley dropped from 25.3% to 23.8%, and that the national numbers dropped from 30% to 27.4%.  In 2008, blacks and Hispanics constituted only 1.5% and 4.7% respectively of the Valley’s tech population — well below national tech-population averages of 7.1% and 5.3%. It seems that the problem I highlighted in my is actually getting worse, particularly in Silicon Valley.  And it’s not just the women who are being left out, but also important minority groups.”

He later says:

Thirty years ago, there were hardly any Silicon Valley firms with Indian-born founders.  UC-Berkeley’s AnnaLee Saxenian documented that 7% of tech companies started in 1980–1998 had an Indian founder.  A survey conducted by my research team at Duke University found that this proportion had increased to 15.5% from 1995 to 2005. My team also determined that in this period, Indians started 6.7% of the nation’s tech and engineering firms.  These are pretty astonishing numbers considering that according to the U.S. census, in 2000 less than 0.7% of the U.S. population and only 6% of the Silicon Valley high-tech workforce was born in India.

So whether people tell you that you have entrepreneurial characteristics or not, if you want to do something and make a difference…JUST DO IT!  You may make it, you may not but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

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