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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Are entreprenurs born or taught? Both.

I was reading through BizInSavannah newspaper and ran across this article by Erwin Williams.  This article raised a good question and I wanted to share it with you and get your opinion.  Tell me what you think.

A few years ago, I mentioned to a top executive that I was an entrepreneurship professor. He looked at me somewhat strangely and said, “You have the audacity to believe entrepreneurship can be taught. Entrepreneurs are born – you either have it or you don't.”

This executive was a smart guy and successful in the corporate world, so I pondered over his comment.

It boils down to this – is entrepreneurship nature or nurture?

His answer was obvious. Entrepreneurship is nature; it is in your genes. He is right in that a high percentage of entrepreneurs are children of parents who operated their own businesses. This fact has led to a rigorous study of the personal characteristics of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs typically have high energy levels; they are driven, restless and hard workers. They take more risk than the average person, but they are not gamblers. They tend to be creative and come up with lots of ideas. Many are bad, but some are real winners resulting in successful products and businesses.

The problem with these person characteristics is they vary in kind and intensity with each person, and we cannot use them to predict who will be a successful entrepreneur.

So academics dug a bit deeper in the study of the entrepreneurship phenomenon in search of commonalities that could be used to explain just what an entrepreneur does.

Six steps of entrepreneurship

Now we know that entrepreneurship can be viewed from tow perspectives – as a person and a process. Is it important to distinguish between the two? Sure, but how? Think of the process as a “dance” and the person, or persons, involved as the “dancers.”

The entrepreneurship process is a series of creative activities that brings about the birth, development and formation of a new business venture.

These are six basic steps in this process:

  1. Discovery of a business opportunity
  2. Defining the business concept
  3. Acquisition of resources
  4. Marketing the product/service
  5. Ensuring business growth.
  6. The real daunting task for solo entrepreneurs is to make the product, sell it and collect the revenue all at the same time. This is why more than 50 percent of start-ups fail during the first three years.
So, our understanding of entrepreneurship has certainly expanded since Harvard University's Miles Mace taught the first academic course in the subject in 1947.

Now, more than 2,200 entrepreneurship courses are being offered in more than 1,600 U. S. colleges and universities, with some offering bachelor's, master's and Ph. D degrees in the subject. Yes, entrepreneurship is an accepted academic discipline that can be taught, nurtured,m supported and enhanced through mentoring and teaching.

We can answer the nature versus nurture question regarding entrepreneurs. It is not an either/or situation. It's both. The executive was right in part. We cannot teach a person how to be an entrepreneur, but we can surely teach them a definitive process that is common to all entrepreneurs when starting a new venture. So, both the person and the process are important.

What are your thoughts on the subject, and which do you think is more important?

Ervin Williams is Entrepreneur in Residence at Savannah State University and the author of “The Global Entrepreneur.” Contact him at 912-634-8225 or at