Entrepreneurship – do genes play a part?

Why are some of us entrepreneurs and others not? Is it only the environment we grow up in that matters or do our genes have a part to play as well?

Professor Scott Shane of Case Western Reserve University, is one scientist who claims that people with parents with certain genetic components are more likely to become entrepreneurs.

To what extent do genes matter?

In his genetic research on identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, and fraternal twins, who share 50 percent of their genes, professor Shane concluded that identical twins were more likely to share the genetic factors that enable entrepreneurship. His conclusion is that 30-40% of entrepreneurship is inherited.

“But even when a person has the entrepreneurial innate makeup that makes him/her more likely to be an entrepreneur, genes interact with environmental stimuli”, professor Shane says.

Combination of nature & environment

In other words having proved that genes play a part it is still difficult to determine to what extent they shape an individual to become an entrepreneur. Without the right environment the same person may not have become an entrepreneur? Growing up in an atmosphere adverse to risk taking, creativity and innovation the same person would probably never have become an entrepreneur.

Childhood influences

My father was an entrepreneur and I don’t know how many times my mother told me I’m just like him. But if they had raised me to believe new opportunities and developing projects was wrong would I still have had the mind of an entrepreneur? Or even worse if they had discouraged curiosity, vision and persistence.

According to Professor Shane genetic factors raise the odds of a person becoming an entrepreneur but environmental factors are more crucial, and I tend to agree with him. Not least since we are able to impact what and who we surround ourselves with. It is up to us to determine our future, regardless of what genes we have inherited. Entrepreneurial genes facilitate, but unless we really make an effort and are persistent we will never succeed no matter how excellent our genes are.

The difference between having an entrepreneurial mind and carrying out entrepreneurial activity

Anyone can learn how to carry out entrepreneurial activity.  But how do you learn to have an entrepreneurial mind? Is it really possible to learn to risk everything you have in order to achieve something you passionately believe in? Because that’s what having an entrepreneurial mind entails. One headhunter I know once said to me that when someone tells them he is an entrepreneur he asks him if he is prepared to risk losing his house and everything he ownes in order to succeed? If the answer is no, which it is in most cases, he hasn’t got an entrepreneurial mind but is carrying out entrepreneurial activity which is different.

What your opinion? Do our genes have a part to play or can we learn to develop an entrepreneurial mind anyway? Learn to have the strength and courage to take risks which is crucial for an entrepreneur. What role do our genes play in this? Does a person need to be programed genetically to have the strength and courage to risk everything they have?

Photo: Flickr – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

124 responses

  1. When I think of genes I think of brains and intelligence. So absolutely, I believe they play a part. We can't discount the environment as a key player in the choices we make in our work life and our home. When the right environmental influences and solid intelligence are there, the inherent genes are obvious. Just my thoughts. :-)
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  2. "Is it really possible to learn to risk everything you have in order to achieve something you passionately believe in? Because that’s what having an entrepreneurial mind entails," you ask? I'm grateful for your definition because it describes me. I don't believe someone without a genetic pre-disposition for entrepreneurship can be turned into a successful entrepreneur with the "right" environment. They may develop some ability that they wouldn't have otherwise, but, I think entrepreneurial behavior would ultimately prove too stressful to a person with a more passive disposition.
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    • Seems we have that "description" in common, Michele. The most successful enterpreneurs throught history definitely had the genes. Did you know that most of them lost everything they had on average 3.8 times.

  3. An interesting post. I have thought about entrepreneurs in many different ways, but mostly as people who are compelled by circumstances to start a business. Yet what you say makes perfect sense to me and accurately describes the difference between a natural entrepreneur, that person who not only strikes out on their own, but will continue to start businesses regardless of their failure or success rate, and that individual who starts a business during difficult times rather than go without work. The difference between entrepreneurial activity and an entrepreneurial mind is immense, I wonder how it impacts success rates?
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    • Yes the combination makes sense, doesn't it, Debra. Most entrepreneurs don't have an entrepreneurial mind, which is what makes a difference. But don't forget that the negative aspect of an entrepreneurial mind is losing everything you have, on average 3,8 times, I read somewhere.

  4. I believe both environment & genes play a role. If you have the right environment, then the right genes will take the lead and play their role. You make a valid point though when you say that if a person is not ready to risk it all to make their idea work, then they likely do not have an entrepreneurial mind. You might be able to think like an entrepreneur but still not act on those ideas.
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  5. This is like the nature vs nurture discussions that have been going on for years in regards children. I think genes may lay dormant unless something prompts their use. A poverty stricken person who is interested only in survival may have the entrepreneurial gene but chances are it will never be called into play. On the other hand, a person who has access to the education and support,having entrepreneurial genes and is willing to work hard and take responsible risks will likely succeed as an entrepreneur. It appears to me that in most cases we need the right environment to prompt the nature.

  6. I think the environment and influences one is affected by play a bigger role in entrepreneurial mindset than genes do. It is a matter of fear and how one has been conditioned to handle it as well as risk and how one has been conditioned to manage it. I do not necessarily believe those are genetic issues but more environmental and learnt factors.
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    • Welli, people with the entrepreneurial gene are able to handle fear, are determined and persevere. That's what makes the difference between having an entrepreneurial mind and carrying out entrpreneurial activity. On average successful entrepreneurs lose everything they have 3.8 times.

  7. I think we put so much thought into one thing. Is it environment, is it genes? We are a combination of all things, environment, genes, and also plain simple luck. We look at someone successful and we do not measure how much did just plain luck play in their success.
    I am unsure if we can measure which is more important, we are a collage of all the influences in our lives. One item might be more influential on someone, than it is on another.

  8. Really thought provoking post Catarina. Personally, I think genes play a part in everything about a person! But the most important question you raise, lies in your very astute… "Anyone can learn how to carry out entrepreneurial activity. But how do you learn to have an entrepreneurial mind?" There are many bright minds out here in the world, but not all of them are ambitiously minded. I think that anyone has to learn how to develop any existing good quality
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  9. This is a very thought provoking article. Not sure if you would call it genes playing a part in entrepreneurship but amongst Indians there is a certain caste who are very good at mathematics and setting up their own business and at making money. It could be cultural influences or genes. I am not sure.

    • Call it genes or whatever you like, Mina. Part of how we are is inherited and part is the environment. Why should determination, perseverance and willingness to take risks be the only charachteristics not inherited? Influence and the environment, however determine if we will develop those charachteristics.

  10. well explained theory. even we can express in easy terms like how the coin had two faces just like even entrepreneur would always tend to have two faces. one side of coin is resemble Geneses and another side of coin exhibits environment existence.

  11. I've known entrepreneurs, one was Gerry who started the Comet electrical store which became nationwide in the UK, for him it was the passion of simply being his own boss and a passion to make it successful. My ex husband developed amazing video games back in the 80's, His ideas were usually stolen from him because he always forgot that important element… Patenting! But mention his old company to gamers who have been around since gaming inception and they say "Whoa! Superior Software! That was amazing and groundbreaking!" Still is today to a certain degree although he broke off from the partnership years ago. Having talked to entrepreneurs I don't believe it's genes but a passion and a drive in what they do coming from backgrounds who fathers were blue collar workers.
    So do I believe it's in the genes? No. It's in their passions.. whatever it may be
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    • Claire, of course it's the passion, drive, determination, perseverance and willingness to take huge risks that are the main charachteristics of an entrepreneur. But why should those charachteristics be the only qualities that are not inherited? Having said that, I believe environment has a bigger role to play. By the way, don't forget that not only business owners are entrepreneurs. Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela were successful entrepreneurs.

  12. Very interesting topic Catarina! I believe that genes and mindset play a big role, but it's also important to grow up in a stimulant environment, and to have the chance to access a certain kind of experience or education. A very important thing to be an entrepreneur is not to give up and fight to reach your goal.
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    • Glad you agree with me, Ilaria. It's definitely a combination of nature and environment. Determination, perseverance and willingness to take huge risks seems to be what's embedded in the entrepreneurial gene. Thress charachteristics that are hard to learn. Especially the latter.

  13. By that standard I’m out. However, our world definitely wouldn’t ‘t be the same without entrepreneurs willing to take such chances.

  14. I believe the entrepreneurs raise their children with open mindset and acceptance for new ideas from the beginning. This is my explanation for so many entrepreneurs having entrepreneurial parents.

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