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Are Entrepreneurs Born or Taught?

A Babson College study says if you can lead a student to entrepreneurship courses, he'll start his own business.

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Professors at the Wellesley, Massachusetts-based college found that two entrepreneurship classes strongly affected students’ decisions to pursue start-ups.

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Is being an entrepreneur in your DNA, or can it be taught? A new study from Babson College finds the evidence is "overwhelming" that if business students take at least two core entrepreneurship classes, that can "positively influence" them to go on to start up a business.

Professors at the Wellesley, Massachusetts-based college analyzed a survey of some 3,755 alumni and found that two ("or better yet three") entrepreneurship classes strongly affected students’ decisions to pursue start-ups, and that writing a student business plan also had some influence, though not as strong.

"It's time to cast off the prejudiced question, 'Why teach entrepreneurship?,' because we now have excellent empirical evidence that it makes a difference.  We think that entrepreneurship should be taught not only for the production and training of entrepreneurs but also to help students decide if they have the right stuff to be entrepreneurs before they embark on careers for which they may be ill-suited," the professors wrote in the study, called "Does An Entrepreneurship Education Have Lasting Value? A Study of Careers of 3,775 Alumni."

The study found no effect on students of having parents who were entrepreneurs. It also found that men were more likely to become entrepreneurs than women, and that "there was a hint that the higher their income, the less likely that alumni intend to become entrepreneurs."

Another finding: The greater their job dissatisfaction, the more likely that alumni have intentions to become entrepreneurs.

"At a more abstract level, we believe that entrepreneurship should be taught to every business student because it is the very origin of all businesses—after all," the professors wrote, "there would be no business schools if there had never been any entrepreneurs!"

A 2002 Harvard Business School study also showed that if you can convince college students that they have what it takes to run a business, they'll take to entrepreneurship.

Said Harvard professor Howard H. Stevenson: "If you presume that the vast majority of our students are opportunity-driven and achievement-oriented, smart and hardworking (traits they've demonstrated to get here in the first place), then what we do is to give them some tools and techniques to improve their odds of success."

What do you think: Can entrepreneurship be taught? 

Last updated: Jul 5, 2011

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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