By Dawna Stone
Senior Vice President
Generally speaking, experts believe any skill can be taught. However, there is a bold debate on the topic ‘can entrepreneurship be taught’, or if it is an innate skill only certain people are born with.
The Entrepreneur Gene
At the John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center in the Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa the faculty teaches critical business skills for today’s entrepreneur. “The reality is, what we try to do is take the blinders off,” said Rebecca White, the Director of Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Tampa. “We can’t give somebody passion, we can’t give them that drive and that resilience.”
Although White believes Universities and educational institutions can provide invaluable skills that can help prepare entrepreneurs for success, she also realizes that passion and attitude is something that flows within a person, and such traits simply cannot be taught. One of the notable examples is the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Inc. and major shareholder of Pixar. Jobs did not graduate from college, but his incomplete education was not a hindrance to founding one of today’s biggest tech companies from the ground up. His curiosity and intuition led him to a legacy filled with bold innovations that established him as a man ahead of his time.
Many people believe genetics play a role in entrepreneurial success, calling it the “entrepreneur gene.” White explained how entrepreneurship programs can help people build on what is already part of their inner makeup. “We can help them build that while they’re students,” White said. “We can show them role models, we can inspire them, but a lot of it comes from within.”
Scott Shane, an Entrepreneurial Studies Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, studied this extensively. He discussed how genetics influences two things: a person’s chances of starting his own business, and his earning potential.
There May Be More to Entrepreneurship Than Genes
Tina Seelig, a Stanford professor and bestselling author on innovation entrepreneurship believes entrepreneurship can be taught, much like other skills people learn in school. While people do have inborn traits, they need to be trained with what to do with those skills.
“There are many who believe that entrepreneurship is an inborn trait that can’t be taught. This is simply not true. As with all skills, from math to music, learning to be entrepreneurial builds upon inborn traits,” she explained. “After years teaching innovation and entrepreneurship at Stanford University School of Engineering, I can confidently assert that these skills can be learned and mastered. I’ve seen thousands of students at Stanford, and at schools around the world, transformed by courses and extracurricular programs. These include classes on creative problem solving and entrepreneurial leadership, as well as cross-campus innovation tournaments and new-venture competitions.”
“There are things about entrepreneurship that can be taught,” said Rachel Fisher, Co-founder of EDTRAININCCENTERand successful entrepreneur. She explained, “Certainly, anyone who does not have a business background needs to understand things about, what do I do when it comes to financing and setting up my corporate identity, and marketing, and how I find people who can help me with that?’”
Desire + Skill = Powerful Equation
Certain people have an innate desire to bring positive impact to the world. This requires not just gumption, but also the knowledge, experience, and skills of adaptability and problem solving—all of which can be learned through entrepreneurship education. Being part of such schools can also help a person build networks.
“We actually get them out talking to the customer right away,” said White. “So they can figure out what’s not working, maybe even fail early before they put tons of money and resources in. Hopefully, when they leave (school), they’re going to be more likely to succeed.”
Fisher agrees. A successful entrepreneur herself, she believes there’s a need for both nature and nurture. It’s a combination of what you’re born with and what you can learn, plus having a connection with the right people and resources needed in order to succeed.
The late Peter Drucker, world-famous management consultant, once said, “Entrepreneurship is not magic, it is not mysterious and it has nothing to do with genes. It is a discipline. And, like any discipline, it can be learned.”
Although some entrepreneurial skill may be innate, the teaching of entrepreneurship provides invaluable skills that can improve one’s entrepreneurial success and ability to create bold impacts.