Cape Town - One of the many questions that usually pop up
when entrepreneurship is discussed is whether entrepreneurs are born or made.
Like most things in life there is no simple answer, but our experience of
working with entrepreneurs has given us a few insights into this debate,
incorporating arguments from research in the USA, which we share with you in
In the past, research has highlighted many successful
entrepreneurs who dropped out or barely graduated from college to start their
companies. Some of these success stories have no formal business background
whatsoever, but have succeeded in spite of this.
Such data suggests that at least in part, entrepreneurship
is an inherent trait, like athletic prowess or artistic ability. However,
before we get carried away or come to any conclusion, let’s explore in a bit
more depth the argument as to whether entrepreneurial thinking can also be
Research has provided records proving entrepreneurship as
being innate. A study conducted by the Northeastern University’s School of
Technological Entrepreneurship in Massachusetts (showed that only 1% of
entrepreneurs believed that higher education played a role in forming their
entrepreneurial mind-set, while 61% credited their innate drive.
A post extracted from a business blog, cites a book ‘The
Hypomanic Edge’ by Psychologist John Gartner, who agrees with the notion that
entrepreneurship is innate. He says that successful entrepreneurs have a
distinct personality trait. In his book, John discusses some characteristics
embedded within ‘hypomanics’ such as brimming with infectious energy,
irrational confidence, and really big ideas. They think, talk, move, and make
decisions quickly, writes John.
Business Week also had a post by Karen E. Klein, (Are
Entrepreneurs Born or Made?) supporting the notion. According to Business Week,
Klein got out the books and researched experts such as EQ guru Daniel Goleman
and Scott Shane, a fellow columnist and the A. Malachi Mixon III Professor of
Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
Shane says that the tendency toward entrepreneurship is
about 48% "heritable," meaning influenced by genetic factor.
Given the findings above along with numerous other research,
there is a strong case for believing that entrepreneurial skills come
naturally. However, it appears that many believe they can also be taught.
The Way Forward
Allen Gannett, an
entrepreneur and partner at Acceleprise, an enterprise technology accelerator,
says that the first step to having a generation of skilled entrepreneurs is to
start by educating our kids to become entrepreneurs. This is especially
relevant here in South Africa, where our entrepreneurial activity ranks
dismally when compared with other developing nations (GEM Report 2012).
says that encouraging entrepreneurial activity is largely in the hands of our
educational institutions and our policy institutions. ”When we talk about
supporting entrepreneurs, we need to ensure that regulations are sensible, that
the immigration system allows for hard-working entrepreneurs to stay here, and
that the government provides sensible incentives for entrepreneurship”, he
explains. From educational institutions we need programmes that will train, support
and offer mentorship to budding entrepreneurs, adds Allen.
Unfortunately, we still have a way to go in South Africa
before we can say that government has succeeded in creating a truly enabling
environment for entrepreneurs – SA remains one of the most difficult, expensive
and legislatively onerous places in the world to start a new business, which
makes programmes that support budding entrepreneurs, and teach people to be
better business leaders, so crucial to our collective future success.
Programmes such as the Legends programme, a national SMME
and non-profit business incubator sponsored by Old Mutual, which offers
mentorship, business support, workshops, e-learning and other resource, as well
as other business incubators such as Raiz Corp have proven in the past to have
contributed to the growth and success of many entrepreneurs and their
CEO of enterprise development specialists Fetola and founder
of the Legends programme, Catherine Wijnberg, says effective business support
programmes provide support mechanisms for entrepreneurs which include
assistance in developing the ’hard’ skills (business systems/processes &
administrative methods) and the ‘soft’ skills required to respond to changing
environments (increased confidence, better customer relationship management,
stronger understanding of market-research and product development etc).
development specialists (management consultants who specialise in helping small
businesses to succeed) our role is to use a range of support mechanisms to help
the entrepreneur through this tricky minefield, by providing a secure
safety-net and sounding board from start-up through accelerated growth to
“The programmes we run look at entrepreneurs and their
organisations in a holistic way, and seek to address all the common challenges
they may face as they grow and progress. Interestingly, some of our biggest
successes have been with non-profit leaders, who have benefitted hugely from
increased entrepreneurial thinking and better business skills,” she adds.
Wijnberg cites the example of Legends beneficiary Neftaly
Malatjie, Founder of Gauteng-based non-profit Diepsloot Youth Projects. The
organisation managed to increase their donor funding from R54 000 in 2011 to
R1.1m in 2012, an increase Malatjie credits squarely to the support and
business know-how he was able to access through Legends. “Thanks to a better
understanding of how money works in my organisation, as well as a mindset shift
of seeing my potential donors as clients who also have needs and requirements,
I was able to close deals that in the past simply never happened. I do not know
where we would be without the support of Legends,” he explains.
Another example is that of Molefinyana Seqhala, Founder of
Seqhala Open Projects. This fast-growing electrical consulting and construction
firm was started by Seqhala, a qualified electrician who worked as an employee
for over ten years before he identified a gap in the market for a multi-service
provider of electrical, building, maintenance and security services, in
response to what he saw as domination of the market by one or two established
In the past four years, Seqhala has grown a promising
business – he has purchased several work vehicles, increased his turnover by
over 800% and currently employs 15 people, with plans in place for expansion
into manufacturing of building and related materials. He too credits his
success to programmes like Legends and the support of a long-time mentor, who
has taught him how to cost a job properly, manage materials and get the most
out of his staff.
It is evident that not all of us were born natural
entrepreneurs, however there are organizations that have stretched out a
helping hand to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in cultivating
entrepreneurial growth and success.
For individuals wishing to learn more about entrepreneurial
thinking and how to develop their entrepreneurial skills here are some links
and articles to help you: Entrepreneurs Are Born, (Are Entrepreneurs Born or