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Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

Chelsea Smith is a Portland based writer, musician, and entrepreneur.

I’m happy to announce the Why Didn’t I Think of That Blog‘s first Guest Post.

The author of this piece, Chelsea Smith, is a good friend and fellow writer. In addition to writing some of our Why Didn’t I Think of That? stories, Chelsea writes for A Shortwave Blog and also heads the Portland based indie-rock sensation Sewblue. She is currently in the process of starting her own small business.


Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?
by Chelsea Smith

Are entrepreneurs born or made?

Living amidst so many millions of people pursuing ‘the American Dream’, the question is a burning one for many. While the definition of the American Dream inevitably varies, being a self-made business owner always seems to top the list.  Despite the market share of large corporations, small businesses remain the backbone of the American economy; a tradition that dates back to the country’s founding. But researchers are looking for other explanations for the success of small business owners. Believe it or not, a preliminary study in 2009 determined that genetics indicate entrepreneurs are 40% born and 60% made.

The study results are compelling, but it remains speculative to conclude that being a successful entrepeneur is anything but cultural circumstances, ambition and good timing.

After all, a genetic predisposition towards entrepreneurship doesn’t do all the hard work for you, not even close. Our career paths are strongly determined by cultural conditioning and circumstance. A recent Gallup Poll found that the entrepreneurial spirit is still the most dominant feature of American culture. Americans ranked themselves as more confident, more competitive and less risk-adverse than their Chinese and European counterparts ranked themselves in the same study. Interestingly, Hungarians consistently rated themselves the lowest in these and similar categories; Leading one to conclude that whether or not you have the hereditary impulse to innovate in business, your cultural circumstances may suppress or affect those instincts.

A culture of innovation is paramount to assist the individual in achieving success in self-employment. But where do you go from there? At WDITOT, we know the axioms for good entrepeneurs are time-tested and we believe it can be applied to anyone with good business acumen and risk management skills. Here’s an unofficial bonus axiom: Know thyself. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is also pivotal to entrepreneurial success. If money management is not your strong suit, then start building your skill set before taking out those small business loans. If you need a second language to build lasting connections with your customer/client base, start looking into adult education classes. Since the science isn’t conclusive on exactly what makes a good entrepreneur, it’s better to move forward and obtain the tools you need, rather then sit around wondering if you’re swimming in the right gene pool.

Here are the top 5 questions you should be asking yourself as a budding entrepreneur according to The Wall Street Journal:

1. Am I passionate about my product or service? The start-up phase is stressful, and you will need great zeal to overcome the first few lean years.

2. What is my tolerance for risk? As Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa puts it, to start a business you must “be willing to jump off the cliff and figure out how to fly on the way down.”

3. Am I good at making decisions? The decision process only gets more complicated as time goes on, and you have only yourself to rely on.

4. Am I willing to take on numerous responsibilities? Prepare to play every role within your company from salesperson and bookkeeper, to head of marketing and bill collector.

5. Will I be able to avoid burnout? Business owners often work 7-days a week, and lose touch with their hobbies and social lives. Be committed to a work/life balance from the start.

Once you feel confident you have what it takes, effective planning and research are the first step in laying the foundation for your organization. Notably there are programs in many states that are helping people with limited resources and great potential get off the ground, and the current economic climate has made these programs more generous than in years past. The IDA program in Oregon, for instance, matches participants $3 for every $1 they save towards a planned goal such as business development. That’s nothing to sniff at, and by any standard an outstanding rate of return. It’s only one example of the many private and public grant programs that exist to support small business owners, and now is a great time to start researching them. With a strong desire to get America’s economy back on track, many big players are looking to help ambitious Americans get back in the saddle, or in some cases, get on the horse for the very first time. Check out these links to find the resources available in your state. Entrepreneurs might be born, but they’re definitely made in America.

Chelsea Smith can be reached through her website, Sewblue.net.

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  • http://www.pdxpth.com Paul Taylor Hess

    Excellent topic and a great post, Chelsea. Guy Kawasaki says ‘entrepreneur’ is a state of mind, rather than a job description. I believe the quote you pulled from the ‘tessa above gets at what I think the heart of the matter really is: not being afraid to try and fail. Liking risk is one thing, but having no fear of failure – and being willing to keep trying through many false starts – is what separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest of the pack. Keep writing – I look forward to reading more.

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  • Robert Andrews

    Great blog! The fact that Americans rank themselves as less risk-averse is (A) understandable (most of us descend from someone who took a leap of faith and left everything) and (B) encouraging. Thanks also for the link to small business assistance in the 50 states. Very helpful!

  • http://thewordanddailyliving.com Earl

    This is a great subject. Wouldn’t it be great if our universities taught its students how to be entrepreneurs. If they would only develop an entrepreneur mind set in the students; one can only imagine what America would become in the very near future. I believe we have more than enough government and corporate lackeys.


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