It’s an age-old question. Are entrepreneurs wired in a different way to the rest of us? Or can we all be taught to think differently? In other words, is entrepreneurship contagious? The debate about whether entrepreneurs are born or made is a hot one.
Entrepreneurship is most definitely in vogue – with swathes of people wanting to be an entrepreneur, to be involved in entrepreneurial initiatives or to partner with an entrepreneur. Never before has the word had such kudos. Whether it’s nature or nurture – and a lot of entrepreneurship comes from a natural innate drive that can’t easily be taught – once you’ve had a taste of it, and even small success, there’s no looking back. I’ve definitely caught the entrepreneurial ‘bug’, and undoubtedly those creative start-ups, which are trying to change the world and solve issues, are great for communities and the economy.
Michelle Wright, Chief Executive for Cause 4
This human propensity for imitative behaviour has been seen and studied repeatedly, from childhood development, to learning languages, to product and service purchases, to the decision in a crowd to check e-mail on one’s phone. In all of these cases, humans are heavily influenced by what they observe (literally or virtually) others doing. We recently carried out a survey to establish whether entrepreneurship was contagious and discovered that an individual who had been exposed to entrepreneurs — and to growth entrepreneurs in particular — was more likely to become one. The implication? Entrepreneurship can be viral, but must be introduced early and often in environments where it is least often seen. In particular, growth entrepreneurship is a narrow phenomenon, one that requires much more effort to introduce it to susceptive populations and drive overall economic growth.
Paul Kedrosky, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit foundation based in Kansas City, Missouri
Entrepreneurship is absolutely contagious. Once you are surrounded by motivating and innovative entrepreneurs, and get the taste for life outside of big corporate America jobs, where your efforts can have a direct impact on the company’s success and see the real-time fruits of your labour, there is no turning back. That is why many universities are scrambling to launch Masters of Entrepreneurship programmes, as the appeal of MBAs are starting to lose their luster for the next generation of workers.
George Deeb, managing partner of Chicago-based Red Rocket Ventures
Is entrepreneurship contagious? Think about it, and consider this: Obesity is contagious, so is quitting smoking, and so is divorce. So why not entrepreneurship? Think of how people infect (or so it seems) each other with ideas, fashion, eating habits, and customs. Doing something, even something hard, is easier to do when it feels like a lot of other people are doing it. And isn’t entrepreneurship a combination of ideas, fashion, customs, and like that? So if I start a business and make it, aren’t my friends more likely to do the same? They have a changed risk perception.
Tim Berry, American founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software, Eugene, Oregon
Entrepreneurship has nothing to do with genes. It has everything to do with the political, economic, educational and social environment people find themselves in. And that’s why it’s contagious. All the economic evidence today points to one simple truth: the entrepreneurial spirit is the best tool ever invented for creating growth and prosperity for individuals, companies and entire countries. Companies that gave us the pin-striped ‘organisation man’ are today promoting a culture of ‘corporate entrepreneurship’ as the best way to compete and survive in the global economy. And government leaders of all political stripes have also discovered that developing a more entrepreneurial economy is the best way to create jobs and achieve sustainable economic development. Entrepreneurship has become a global phenomenon because it works better for more people, for more companies and for more countries than any other business or economic model around. Of course, none of this could be happening if the age-old myth ‘entrepreneurs are born not made’, were true. In fact it’s never been true. The reality today is that millions of new businesses are being started each year by all kinds of people from all walks of life. Entrepreneurship happens because of circumstances – a circumstance of opportunity like coming up with a great product/ service idea – or a circumstance of necessity like being poor, or full of frustration, or getting fired. Ninety-nine per cent of the 3,000 entrepreneurs I’ve met and researched are indeed, ordinary people who simply found themselves in extraordinary situations.
Larry C. Farrell, founder and chairman of The Farrell Company, a worldwide organisation that researches and teaches entrepreneurship to university students, corporations and governments. www.TheSpiritOfEnterprise.com
When an entrepreneurial spirit permeates every corner of an organisation, the entrepreneur lurking in each of us awakens. Think about what characterizes successful entrepreneurs. They have tremendous belief in their abilities and in their vision for their business. Now, imagine that every person in that organisation shares that same belief. How powerful would that be? Anyone who has worked in a business that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit knows how exhilarating it is. You can feel a buzz in the air. The action on the shop floor and in the hallways is so intense that coming out of your office is like merging into rush¬-hour traffic. Decisions are made on the fly without the need for formal meetings or approvals. The esprit de corps is palpable. The whole team pitches in to do what it takes to succeed.
Martin O’Neill, author of The Power of an Internal Franchise: How Your Business Will Prosper When Your Employees Act Like Owners