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SERIAL ENTREPRENEURS

Is Entrepreneurship in Your Genes?

Research suggests that entrepreneurial qualities are heritable, but does DNA determine your ability as an entrepreneur?
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If you made your first sale while still in diapers and your lemonade stand was a substantial contributor to the family income, you've likely been called a born entrepreneur. But just how heritable is the ability to work hard, take risks, and seize opportunities? According to research conducted at the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College in London, 37 percent to 48 percent of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is genetic.

Researchers tested a number of indications of entrepreneurship including running or starting a business, the number of businesses a person had started, and the length of time they were self-employed, but for all of these factors there was the same strong genetic component.

As a field, "studying aspects of business from any biological perspective is really young," says Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University, who has been conducting these studies.

Shane cites studies on the physiological and emotional impact of ads and the hormones of financial traders as other examples of work going on in the field, but in the study of entrepreneurship, the most enticing findings are still in the future. Some of the possibilities that Shane foresees include honing business education, discovering what environmental factors set someone on the entrepreneurial path, and figuring out whether being a good entrepreneur is as heritable as simply being an entrepreneur.

"We're very unsophisticated because we don't have targeted treatment with education," Shane says. Teachers assume if "everybody read[s] this chapter on venture capital it will affect [them] all exactly the same way." If scientists knew more about which genes hold the propensity for which entrepreneurial qualities and what environmental stimuli bring those qualities to the surface it would open a world of possibility.

Other professionals try a psychological rather than a genetic approach to detecting entrepreneurial qualities. Troy Tate is a success personality analyst who tries to help people choose a career path by discovering their strengths and weaknesses. Though Tate calls his method "DNA," which stands for drives, needs, and aptitudes, he actually identifies people's nature by attempting to strip away the nurture, or the influence their environments have had on them. 

"How they see themselves is not necessarily the answer, how others see them is not necessarily the answer," says Tate. "Both of those can be skewed." Instead by asking a battery of questions that highlight discrepancies between current and childhood behavior Tate tries to isolate his clients' abilities and inclinations from the background noise of their environmental inputs. Another way to put it is the piece of advice Tate passes along to his clients courtesy of Oscar Wilde, "Be yourself, everybody else is already taken."

Last updated: Oct 20, 2009




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