Are entrepreneurs born or made?

​​Photo provided by Rob Aguilar under Flickr Creative Commons​

This is a question that has intrigued many academics, entrepreneurs and business professionals over the years and is something that people tend to feel quite strongly about one way or the other. Some feel that being entrepreneurial is something you are born with – you either have it or you don't.

While most of us can probably think of examples of famous entrepreneurs who seem to have been born with that elusive 'entrepreneurial spirit', is this the case for all entrepreneurs? If so does that mean that there is no hope for the rest of us? If you haven't been blessed with the 'entrepreneurial gene' does that mean you will never run a successful business or display entrepreneurial characteristics? I would argue not.

Viewing entrepreneurial skills or behaviour as a pre-determined trait that you are born with implies that your success or failure as an entrepreneur is determined before you have even said your first word. I personally don't believe in destiny. I don't believe that our lives are mapped out in front of us from the moment we're born. I believe it is our actions and decisions that impact on how our lives pan out. Was Mark Zuckerberg destined to start Facebook? I would argue not. Had he spent all of his time at university partying and sleeping late instead of creating social networking sites for fellow students, Facebook would not exist today.

The point I'm trying to make is that it is our decisions that determine how successful we are in whatever field we choose – whether that's starting a business or working for someone else. I don't really believe in luck or 'being in the right place at the right time'. I believe in making your own luck and putting yourself in the right places at the right time. For me, this is what being entrepreneurial is all about – seizing and creating opportunities and I don't think that this is something people are born with, I think that it's a trait that can be learned.

Having said that, I take the point that some people may appear to have a more entrepreneurial mind-set from a young age. This is often influenced by their families, surroundings or culture. I also accept that like any other skill, some people have more aptitude for entrepreneurship than others but I firmly believe that if someone has the desire to be more entrepreneurial, whether to start their own business or to bring something new to an employer, they can develop their skills.

If you are reading this and thinking that you would like to develop your entrepreneurial skills I have some pieces of advice for you:

1. Surround yourself with entrepreneurial people.

In my job I am constantly surrounded by entrepreneurial people from the students and graduates that I help support to the colleagues within my team. I feel that being around people with an entrepreneurial mind-set has helped make me more entrepreneurial in my every day work. When planning events or working on marketing activities, I try to think of new and innovative ways of doing things. That doesn't mean that I'm going to start a business tomorrow but if in the future I wanted to, I feel that working in this sector has given me the right mind-set.

It makes sense that being around entrepreneurial people can help make you more entrepreneurial. For example, research shows that people whose parents are/were entrepreneurs are more likely to start a business themselves. If you haven't been brought up in an entrepreneurial family there are still plenty of opportunities to surround yourself with entrepreneurial people and university is the ideal time to do so.

Here at the Centre for Student Entrepreneurship we hold monthly networking events called 'Mingle' which bring local entrepreneurs and students together. You could also get involved in our student society for entrepreneurship LaunchPad which will be (pardon the pun) 'launching' again soon. There are also lots of opportunities outside of university to meet entrepreneurial people. Have a look at what's happening in your area and get involved.

2. Dedicate some time

Like any other skill learning to be more entrepreneurial takes time. If you were a runner, you wouldn't expect to do well in a race without putting in hours of training first. Entrepreneurial skills are the same. The best way to learn is to practice. Again, university is the ideal time to do so because you are in a safe environment. You can test out your ideas, you have support available from our department and your lecturers and you can attend our workshops and events to hone your skills. You may not get things right straight away but if you put the hours in while you're at university, by time you graduate you'll be ahead of the game.

3. Look at the bigger picture

Sometimes we talk about being entrepreneurial as if it is one single skill that exists in isolation but the reality is that being an entrepreneur requires a huge number of skills working together. While we may associate an entrepreneurial mind-set with being innovative, having ideas and making things happen in order to run a successful business other skills will need to come into play too. You'll need to be organised, have a grasp of finances, understand how to market your business and be a good communicator. Very few entrepreneurs excel at all of these skills but it's important to recognise your strengths and the areas you need to work on. You may find that you need a business partner to compliment the skills that you lack, in which case read our guest blog post for this month​ from Keiran McGaughey, Director and co-founder of Like An Egg Productions Ltd.

4. Write your ideas down

Lots of people have good ideas throughout their lives. What sets entrepreneurs apart is their ability to act on them and to turn those ideas into viable businesses. Research suggests that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. I'm not sure how true this is as six months ago I wrote down that I wanted to win the lottery yet here I am writing this blog post! Joking aside, writing your ideas or plans down adds significance to them. If you've taken the time to think them through and write down your thoughts it shows commitment to the idea. Writing things down also helps you to rationalise your ideas and work out any potential flaws.

5. In the words of Yoda 'Do or do not, there is no try.'

The Jedi Master's words ring true for entrepreneurship. Being entrepreneurial requires a positive frame of mind. The most successful entrepreneurs focus on what they will achieve not what they might achieve. They focus on doing not trying. When talking about your business avoid using phrases like 'I hope to…' or 'I'd like to'. It may sound pedantic but the way we communicate sends signals to other people. If you use positive and confident language when talking about your business people are more likely to buy into your idea and to view you as 'entrepreneurial'. ​

Blog post by Lauren Davies, Entrepreneurship Coordinator.
October 2015