Entrepreneurs: Born or made?

Can you actually teach people to be entrepreneurs? That question is open to debate. But a recent Zogby survey indicates that educational institutions need to do more to support entrepreneurial programs, and the best way to do that is to encourage students to actually create new businesses or take internships at startups.

In other words, you’re better off learning by doing than sitting behind a desk in some classroom. According to the survey, commissioned by Cogswell College, 73 percent of Americans say that the best way to teach a student to become an entrepreneur is to enable them to create businesses or intern.

“Some entrepreneurs may be born while others made, but what is true is that all of them need to develop and hone the skills needed to create and grow a business,” said Douglas Mellinger, a trustee at Silicon Valley’s Cogswell College. “We need to reinvent the way we prepare our students to enter the business world by enabling them to start and run businesses while in school.”

Educational institutions such as the University of Washington have moved in this direction in recent years, supporting business plan competitions and other entrepreneurial offerings.

Nonetheless, only five percent of Americans think that college is where students become entrepreneurs, according to the survey. Among the 18 to 24 age group, only two percent said that the most effective way to become an entrepreneur is through traditional classwork. Sixty two percent said it was through creating a small business or joining a startup as an intern.

What’s at stake?

Ninety-three percent of the respondents said that entrepreneurship is “very important” to the future competitiveness of the American economy.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

  • http://www.jrotech.com/ Jeff Rodenburg

    Small sample sizes and incorrect corollaries apply, but what the heck — it’s Friday, I’ll take the bait. ;-)

    - Five percent of Americans think that college is where students become entrepreneurs- Among the 18 to 24 age group, only two percent said that the most effective way to become an entrepreneur is through traditional classwork.
    - Ninety-three percent of the respondents said that entrepreneurship is “very important” to the future competitiveness of the American economy.

    This is basically saying in generalized terms, a business (education) is creating more product (non-entrepeneurs) that people do not want and less product (entrepreneurs, important for competitiveness) that people would like.  And while not stated in the article, we already know that education is upside-down with cost structures escalating at higher rates than inflation and median income growth.

    Sounds like automaker bailout time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=52302906 Norris Krueger

    Actually, @Jeff – the target market fo UG &MBA programs is the corporate world – my mentor liked to say ” There are only5 schools of business in the US, the rest are academies for corporate middle management” LOL – but you are right in that college students might be entrepreneurial but much of that formatino is outside the university (let alone the b-school). There are great university exceptions of course

  • Guest


  • Bob Crimmins

    Entrepreneurs are born to made.

  • laura

    Wouldn’t the survey be a bit more on target, if they asked entrepreneurs how they got started? 

    I agree that most colleges are in the business to create middle management.  That’s why people send their kits to college, so that they will have a lifetime of wearing khaki’s on casual fridays.




  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=52302906 Norris Krueger

    As for the “made” versus “born” argument – there is some evidence that self-employment has a significant heritability coefficient but the deeper we dig into neuroscience, we see that the developmental psychologists have the right angle.

    No matter what the initial biological conditions, we are remarkably malleable. Beliefs and deep anchoring assumptions that are learned early in life might make you seem to be “born” that way.

    Entrepreneurs appear to have more dopamine receptors but.. being entrepreneurial increases the number of dopamine receptors. London cabbies have to memorize city maps – after 20 years, the spatial reasoning/memory centers are much larger than average.

    The next frontier centers on two questions:
    1) if cabbies’ spatial “muscles” have hypertrophied, what is happening in expert entrepreneurs’ brains?
    2) of more practical relevance: What specific experiences yield specific entrepreneurial lessons? At minimum, we can already show that immersion-type entrepreneurial training enhances entrepreneurial thinking (while biz plan courses do not). But we need to get more fine-grained – eg, what experiences do the best job of increasing, say, tolerance for ambiguity?

  • Victor

     Speaking from personal experience, I am inclined to believe entrepreneurs are made, and they are made during periods of personal and/or societal turmoil. Even casual observers can see we are currently experiencing a major uptick in entrepreneurial activities, and this corresponds nicely with previous major recessions. Of course, it is to no ones surprise that immigrants are major sources of entrepreneurial activities as well. Our deep seeded survival instincts during times of great transformation is what enable all of to be entrepreneurs. The best way to bring this out of anyones is to thrust them into difficult and perhaps even desperate situations with little or no resources. 

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak Joshua ‘Red’ Russak

    “Nature vs. Nurture…Nature always wins!”

  • Maria Dorfner

    Most entrepreneurs have an innate desire to seek better solutions to existing problems. Exposure to such problems comes from being exposed to various work environments. A combination of being born and raised in an entrepreneurial environment, along with exposure to like-minded individuals, various fields of endeavor, along with some solitude, which hones creativity and leadership skills. Many successful entrepreneurs who speak at conferences, which many students can’t afford to attend, would provide a great service by bringing their experiences into grade schools, high schools and college classrooms. I believe the students who would be inspired (not all will) are those born with that desire to build or create new solutions. That innate passion will fuel the commitment necessary to learning and taking steps to realize their vision.

  • Intrigueproductionsltd

     Societies down creativity, ostracizing those who think in any different way from the status quo and such an attitude does nothing to promote entraprenurialism.