Behavioral Science

Were You Born To Be An Entrepreneur?

by . April 12th, 2016

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.

Most of you will have wondered at some point if you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. It seems a silly question. “Of course! Anyone can do it!” But as a series of studies concludes, there is a lot more to the question than individual work ethic or culture.

It now seems that entrepreneurial characteristics can be predicted through genetic markers about as reliably as you can use similar markers to predict specific athletic ability or predisposition to certain types diseases.

Yes — entrepreneurial tendencies are partly genetic!


Tim Spector and Lynn Cherkas of the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College, London and Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University compared the behavioral patterns of a pool of fraternal twins against another pool of identical twins, as well as a control group of single-birthed people.

The UK-based researchers researchers examined 609 pairs of identical twins and 657 pairs of same-sex non-identical twins in the UK.  To give context, identical twins have all the same genes while non-identical twins share, on average, only share about about half, like most siblings.

The rate of entrepreneurship among twins was the same when compared with the general population. The researchers observed if one twin being an entrepreneur increased the chance of their sibling becoming one as well.

Researchers found that an identical twin who was an entrepreneur would be far more likely to have their twin be an entrepreneur themselves compared to an entrep with a fraternal twin.

After comparing the entrepreneurial histories and employment of the three groups, they arrived at several interesting findings including:


  • 37 to 48 percent of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is genetic.

  • The tendency to identify new business opportunities is genetic.

  • Extroversion and other related traits that aid entrepreneurship are also genetic.

These aren’t small discrepancies either. If specific populations are found to have the needed entrepreneurial genes in proportions greater than other populations, there may be a host of social and economic issues.

And this isn’t just one study that suggests it, either. An older study by researchers from the  Department of Public and Business Administration at the University of Cyprus that likewise used twins found that genetics strongly influences our predisposition to be entrepreneurs. They also found that self-employment was likely a heritable trait as well. An international study conducted around the same time centered around gender that also used identical and fraternal twins resulted in similar findings.

In an interview with Entrepreneur magazine, James V. Koch, a board of visitors professor of economics and president emeritus at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. and co-author of 2008 book Born, Not Made: The Entrepreneurial Personality says:

Let me use a metaphor. Short people don’t make it often in the NBA, just like certain kinds of genetically hard-wired individuals don’t make it as entrepreneurs, and others do. In reading the genetic literature, we found that up to 60 percent of critical personality characteristics are heritable. Significant portions of personality traits critical to entrepreneurs, like the willingness to take risks and the ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty, are heritable.

No, you don’t need those genes to succeed


But does that mean there’s no hope for the ones of us who aren’t as genetically predisposed to take risks? Not at all. While it might be a stretch to reprogram your personality, education can help anyone appreciate other important factors that are not genetic, like an appreciation of larger systems, or developing an appreciation for the kinds of risks “natural” entreps are predisposed to.

At the end of the day, we are not confined purely to the things we are born with. Most of us are able to acquire hundreds of specific skills that may help us get an equal footing or even an edge against more genetically advantaged.

While it’s very likely true that some people have the hardware to excel at being an entrepreneur, how we use education and experience –our software — is still a critical factor. In any case, there is not nothing stopping any of us from teaming up with someone who is a natural.

 Additional reading

Genes key to entrepreneurs’ drive – BBC News

Science Finds Further Proof That Entrepreneurs Are Born, Not Made – Next Shark

The genetic basis of entrepreneurship: Effects of gender and personality; Zhen Zhang, Michael J. Zyphur, Jayanth Narayanan, Richard D. Arvey , Sankalp Chaturvedi, Bruce J. Avolio, Paul Lichtenstein, Gerry Larsson


photo credits 01-05-2012-4 via photopin (license)When Young Children “Hate” School via photopin (license)



Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.