I just arrived home from a great day at the 1st Corporate Venturing and Entrepreneurship Summit, organized by the Corporate Venturing Network. It’s been a fantastic experience! There, I participated at a Oxford-style debate where I defended the relevance of nurture in the making of an entrepreneur. Here my argument.
The question today is: is entrepreneurship intrinsic in the individual (nature) or is it learned (nurtured). Or said differently; are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
I think we can all agree that entrepreneurship requires both nature and nurture. Genes and environment. The question is; what weights more? If entrepreneurship would be a recipe, how much of nature and how much of nurture would you need to add to the mix to make an entrepreneur?
I’d like to argue that nurture plays a way bigger role than nature. In fact, I’d like to argue that nature without nurture, rarely leads to the making of an entrepreneur. It might lead to the making of a great leader, or an outstanding professional, but not of an entrepreneur.
My point is: entrepreneurship is 10% “genes” and 90% acquired.
Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. There are certain characteristics that you’ve to be born with to become one. That is; empathy, persistence, comfort with uncertainty, and risk tolerance. Those characteristics can hardly be learned. Either you feel comfortable with uncertainty or you don’t. I still have to meet someone that learned to do so. That’s the 10%.
Then there’s the 90% related to nurture. But, what is nurture? Nurture is everything that is acquired over the years. And that, can take many shapes.
In early years, nurture it has mainly to do with close roles models and pop icons. When your father/mother, uncle or next-door neighbour is an entrepreneur or business person, you might acquire a way of doing, a language, a way to look at problem-solving and opportunity finding, that others that don’t live in such environment might not.
The same goes for pop icons. When you live in a time when entrepreneurs are popular culture figures, you acquire an interest for such way of doing. I’m thinking of the Gates, Jobs, and Musk of our world. Same goes for pop icons in TV programs like Dragon’s Den and the likes. The fact that you see others being and acting as entrepreneurs, is a first nurturing step.
Later on in life, when studying, both the experiences we have and the courses we attend, clearly add to the mix. Nurture is about being influenced by the surrounding environment, but it’s also about the experiences we go through. If one thing is clear is that in entrepreneurship, like in sex, practice is everything.
And when in high-school, in polytechnic, or in university; it’s time to practice (both). This practice typically comes in the form of small projects, school assignments, but also getting involved in managerial positions at the student union, or running a student club. There, skills like storytelling, team management, project planning, and the likes, are put into practice.
Practice also means to launch several small ventures, and in each of them learn new skills and competences. At this time, the role of entrepreneurial education gains relevance. This can be formal education courses in academic environments, and also less formal and more hands-on approaches like in incubation and acceleration programs.
We now know that entrepreneurship is not a black box, nor a magical thing. We used to think that the entrepreneur is a gifted being (the 10% nature) that happened to be at the right place at the right time. Now we know that this is not true. There will always be genius, but those are extremely exceptional in numbers.
For the rest of the mortals, entrepreneurship is a process, and approach, a method. It can be learned. And the method(s) dramatically help reduce uncertainties, and validate/falsify early on our assumptions. Most importantly the entrepreneurial method clearly help us define if it we should go for it, change course, or simply stop.
At the stage of launching of a venture, mentorship is key. Mentorship is about being guided by those that have been there before you. Mentorship plays a major role in nurturing. For this, you need entrepreneurs that are “mentorable” or as we say at our accelerator, “coachable”. That, be coachable, is a nature thing (10%), but acquiring the inputs and be able to change course, is all about nurture (90%)
The nice thing about nurture playing such a relevant role on the making of an entrepreneur is that you can see it unveil in front of your own eyes. Take our entrepreneurs: at IQS Tech Factory we support science-based/hardware startups. We are talking about ventures in the fields of med-tech, robotics, sports-tech, agro-tech, chemistry, etc. Our entrepreneurs are 99% scientist and technical people. They’re awesome at product development, they build crazy shit.
When they come to us, they are only able to talk about how cool their tech is. Nothing else. Not about customer development, not about value proposition, not about competitive landscape….We look for those that are coachable, that are willing to learn and adapt. Our most valuable entrepreneurs are those that came as scientist, and leave as business people; when they learn that science is a necessary but not sufficient condition to make it happen.
As with the science-based entrepreneur, nature is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being an entrepreneur, and it only represents 10% of the overall. Without nurture, nature would have a hard time to show off.
Without exposure to entrepreneurial roles, mentors, accumulated experiences, and training, most entrepreneurs wouldn’t discover their calling. Is for that reason that I’d argue that in entrepreneurship, nurture makes most of the entrepreneur.