Born Entrepreneurs?

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People often use the phrase “born entrepreneurs” when referring to people who seem to have something that makes them innately entrepreneurial. Most of this discussion is casual and doesn’t really consider whether some people are, literally, born with a genetic make-up that makes them more likely than other people to start businesses. But recently, with some colleagues in the UK, I examined whether genetics affects the odds that people will start businesses. I found that the answer is “yes.”

We used quantitative genetics techniques to compare the entrepreneurial activity of 870 pairs of identical and 857 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins. Because the genetic composition of identical twins is 100 percent the same, and the genetic composition of fraternal twins is 50 percent the same, researchers use the degree to which the pairs of twins are the same on various dimensions – personality, religious beliefs, temperment, political leanings, and so on – to look at the portion of the differences between people that is influenced by genetics.

In our case, we looked at different measures of entrepreneurial activity. We found that between 37 and 42 percent of the differences between people in their tendency to have started businesses; been self-employed; been owner operators of businesses; and engaged in the start-up process, is accounted for by genetic factors.

This is only one study. It doesn’t say anything about what genes might affect our tendency to start businesses, or how many genes are involved, or the ways that genes affect our tendency to become entrepreneurs. But, at least to me, it’s fascinating to think that some part of the puzzle of why some people become entrepreneurs and others don’t is explained by our genes.

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About the Author: Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of seven books, the latest of which is Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By. He is also a member of the Northcoast Angel Fund in the Cleveland area and is always interested in hearing about great start-ups. Take the entrepreneurship quiz.

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Scott Shane Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of nine books, including Fool's Gold: The Truth Behind Angel Investing in America ; Illusions of Entrepreneurship: and The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By.

14 Reactions
  1. Very interesting. It doesn’t surprise me that genes are a factor in business ownership. Some people have that extra drive and passion and it is interesting to hear that your genetic backround may have something to do with it.

  2. I still don’t think this makes it OK for people to blame their genes for their lack of courage and enthusiasm to go out on their own.

    I think courage, tenacity, positive thinking, and every other trait needed to be successful as an entrepreneur is developed, regardless of how much you’re born with.

  3. Fascinating article! I definitely believe that our genes contribute to entrepreneurial tendencies, but an even bigger factor, in my opinion, is the way we were raised, or even more importantly, have we had entrepreneurial parents.

    My grandmother and father are entrepreneurs, and it has definitely led me to value the entrepreneurial mindstate and lifestyle much more.

    Now, I’ve got the bug!

  4. Scott,

    So, is it a special gene that is “programmed” to be more entrepreneurial? How about the aspect of free will?

    Best Premies,

    P.S. I have finished reading your book.

  5. Scott,

    Thanks for your reply. I have to “chew” this issue more in the future.

  6. Genes or no genes, success is achieved with focus, dedication, belief and a solid plan. Let’s not overlook these points.

  7. Great genes help, but wanting it bad enough and a lot of believing in yourself is a big plus. It’s called “positive attitude”.

  8. Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe! I’ll go and read some more! What do you see the future of this being?

  9. Not everybody can or should be an entrepreneur all of the time, but we may all be able to benefit from the ability to apply some of the skills associated with entrepreneurship in our working lives.

  10. When you say born I think the people most likly to become entrepreneurs were BORN into the family of a business owner. Having grown up with the mindset of an owner they can’t visualize earning their income any other way. Moving from worker to owner in a persons mind is the most significant hurdle to be overcome and is the one thing least likly to happen. However if it is acheived entrepreneurship becomes the paradigm of their lives.

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