Cracking the Entrepreneurship Code
By Tom Gold, PhD., VP, Research & Evaluation, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) October 08, 2014 12:41 PM
This post is part of a series inspired by Pathways to Progress, a Citi Foundation initiative that works with community partners, city officials and Citi employee volunteers to help low-income urban youth develop the leadership experience, professional skills and the workplace know-how they will need on their path towards college and careers. Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #Pathways2Progress
Over the past few decades, a number of researchers have been searching for what makes a person an entrepreneur - what skills, experiences or character traits entrepreneurs have that make them special. After years of research and gallons of spilled ink, here are the findings: there is no one single answer.
We do know there are traits that can help someone be successful in entrepreneurial endeavors. Some of them, such as ambition, are personal characteristics. Others, like the ability to present an idea clearly and with passion, are skills that can be taught. And other qualities that can help an entrepreneur succeed are harder to control - such as their access to resources and support networks.
But all these are what makes an entrepreneur succeed. What makes an entrepreneur in the first place is more complex.
It's not necessarily what you might think. There's some evidence to suggest that certain character traits of young people that would test the patience of even the most patient of parents, may be important. Studies have shown that young people who buck the confines of societal trends were in many cases more likely to undertake entrepreneurship ventures as adults.
But simply going against the grain may not be enough. Based on similar research, entrepreneurs also tend to be intelligent and highly self-confident. It takes a great deal of courage to share an idea and overcome obstacles that may arise in the path towards success.
This means another key factor may be what researchers in education and psychology are calling non-cognitive abilities. These are skills like perseverance, determination, and grit that cannot be tested, but are important for success in school and life. For an entrepreneur, it's about sticking with an idea and following it through - and it's also about knowing when to shift gears and adapt.
When the right set of character traits come together with the right set of skills, entrepreneurial action can begin to take shape. We care and think about what makes an entrepreneur because we teach young people how to begin to think and act like entrepreneurs.
We believe that developing an entrepreneurial mindset is a great life skill, which will bring strong rewards throughout life whether someone goes into business or not. Like some leading management theorists, we also believe the skills and characteristics it takes to be an entrepreneur can be taught.
Firsthand, we have seen how young people learn to recognize opportunity or make good decisions. We have watched our students learn presentation, marketing, and budgeting skills. We know that when some students apply the lessons of entrepreneurship, they take ownership of their futures and can achieve great things.
That is why it is so essential to share the entrepreneurial mindset with as many young people as we can. It is also why we are excited about the companies and organizations that support us and help us reach more people. This year, the Citi Foundation - through their new Pathways to Progress initiative - funded the development and expansion of our summer entrepreneurship camps in ten U.S. communities, where we taught hundreds of students about the power of thinking like an entrepreneur.
You could say the Citi Foundation is helping us create entrepreneurs. In some cases that's true - some of these students will go on to form their own businesses by building on the ideas that they learned over the summer. But we also taught them skills that go beyond starting up a business - life skills that can be applied to almost anywhere and help young people meet future personal, community or global challenges.