Born or Made?

entrepreneurruns Are leaders born or made? Are disciples born or made? Are entrepreneurs born or made? Regardless of your industry, you’ve probably wondered about this question.

My thoughts below were inspired by  the article,  Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

Part of the difficulty we have answering this question is the mystique that surrounds the word “entrepreneur”.

“An entrepreneur is an individual who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so. It’s first known usage, by economist Richard Cantillon, was in 1723. Today, an entrepreneur is defined as someone having the qualities of leadership and, additionally, is an innovator of ideas regarding manufacturing, delivery, or service needs (or any combination of these).”  Wikipedia

In other words, an entrepreneur is a business person. So, let’s ask this question, “Are business people born or made?”

Somehow this seems less controversial.  Sure, some people may naturally prefer  the structure of working for someone else while others may prefer the freedom of working for themselves. But, when we substitute “entrepreneur” with “business person” the mystique diminishes.

I began to wonder how many small businesses there are in the United States and visited the Small Business Administration site and discovered that …

  • The 23 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.
  • Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
  • The 600,000 plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people.
  • The small business sector in America occupies 30-50% of all commercial space, an estimated 20-34 billion square feet.

“Furthermore,” the SBA website added, “the small business sector is growing rapidly. While corporate America has been “downsizing”, the rate of small business “start-ups” has grown, and the rate for small business failures has declined.”

  • The number of small businesses in the United States has increased 49% since 1982.
  • Since 1990, as big business eliminated 4 million jobs, small businesses added 8 million new jobs.

Whether entrepreneurs are born or made,  their importance in economic development seems pretty clear.  To those of us who work with leadership development and entrepreneurship,  the question,  “are business people (aka entrepreneurs) born or made?”,  is similar to the question,  “Are leaders born or made?”  My own take is that “history” (i.e. the social conditions that exist) gives rise to leaders.  So an important part of our task  is to develop people of character because we never know who “history” will tap on the shoulder.  And, as the SBA website suggests, when it comes to starting or running a small business, many people will get “tapped”.


Recent research seems to indicate that there are genetic traits that may give some an advantage in leadership and entrepreneurship.  That’s not really news.  We all know “the type” that sells, gets things done, perseveres, and takes risk.  But we also know that environment and opportunity and human choice are also important elements in who can start or run a business.

Next time you drive down the road count the number of small local businesses you see.  You’ll count hundreds,  if not thousands,  of stores and shops of all kinds.  If you’re in a city you may even see street vendors — signs of the informal market economy–  around you.  Ask yourself,  were the people who started these business born or made to start them?

There is a spectrum between pure nature,  nurture,  and pure human choice.  Not every businessperson is an extreme risk taker – a genetic freak of nature. They are usually your ordinary human who finds a need and fills it in such a way that makes them and their customers happier than the alternatives.

What do you think?


What is the relationship of Social Enterprise to Poverty and Charity?

What is the relationship of social enterprise and poverty? Or charity?

Within the IMN we have been chatting about business models.   Rightly so,  business concerns itself with the “bottom line”.   If there is no profit,  there is no business.  Profit is good and so are the businesses that make a profit with offerings that maintain or enhance human life.  Without profit-making business, goods, services,  jobs all go away.

In recent years there has been a lot of attention given to “social” enterprise and social entrepreneurship.  The result has been the creation of a “double bottom line” consciousness.  A decade or so ago when I first heard about this concept,  it was referred to as a “triple bottom line” referring to revenues (gross profit),  net profit,  and social benefit.

The emerging “double bottom line” consciousness concerns itself with both profit and social benefit.   Research suggests that, all things being equal,  consumers would prefer to do business with a company that contributes to the social good.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between what people say they would do and what they actually do. The greed of the average consumer would drive a socially conscious business bankrupt. Times of change are always tempestuous times. The goal is for all business to be conscious of the social impact of their business and for consumers to stop passing the blame for the world’s ills to the corporations.

Tom’s shoes,  which employs a one-for-one business model,  is a popular example of a social enterprise.  For every shoe they sell,  they give a pair away to a poor person somewhere in the developing world.  They make a profit and help better the world.  That’s the theory and intention.

Our hesitation about this model is that,  while it is good-hearted,  it may actually hurt the poor.  For one,  giving shoes to the poor may undercut local shoe makers.  What indigenous shoemaker could compete in a marketplace flooded with free shoes imported from the United States?

poor shoemaker

Another hesitation is that,  while this model “gives a man a fish to eat”,  it doesn’t teach him “how to fish for himself”.   Charity of this sort can create a dependency which hinders the potential economic and entrepreneurial development of nations and families. To it’s credit, TOMS Shoes is also rethinking it’s own strategy.  Give TOMS Shoes credit — and continue to buy their shoes– because credit is due.

At present we’re tweaking TOMS one-for-one business model.  What if,  rather than giving product away for every product sold, we were to give a grant or a “micro-loan” to an entrepreneur in the developing world?   Soon,  through the creativity network called VOXTROPOLIS,  we’re going to release what we call the “MissionT” or the “EnterpriseT”.   For every “EnterpriseT” we sell, buyers will be investing in an indigenous entrepreneur and a locally run business that benefits that local economy.

In time we’ll add more products and we’ll tweak the business model when it doesn’t produce both bottom lines — profit and real social benefit.

Coming soon: Social Enterprise and Sustainability

What do you think?





Who is an Entrepreneur?

A large part of the M network is comprised of entrepreneurs. We have, as part of our network

1) Social Entrepreneurs who start for-profit businesses that have a profoundly embedded social conscience in their DNA. Their concern is not just the “bottom line” but the net benefit they bring to their community.


2) Non-Profit Social Entrepreneurs who start social movements.


3) Spiritual Entrepreneurs who give shape to new communities of faith, hope, and love. A good number of the M network are “church planters”. A church planter is someone who starts a new church. We consider the activity of church planting a type of entrepreneurship that falls within the category we call Spiritual Entrepreneurship.


What is entrepreneurship?

According to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, an entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

The word entrepreneur comes from an Old French word meaning “to undertake”. An entrepreneur is one who undertakes some task –in our usage here we mean a business or cause — with “initiative and risk.”

When we think of entrepreneurship we often think of those people who reach out to venture capitalists and secure millions of dollars of funding for some high-tech enterprise. But the young mom who is busy making and selling jewelry from home, the singer song writer who makes a living performing his music,  the “web guy” who freelances coding and designing are also, whether they know it or not, entrepreneurs. They have launched and are managing a small business. Not every entrepreneur starts with tons of capital. In fact, most don’t.


What is an entrepreneur like?

Entrepreneur and financial guru, Dave Ramsey writes, “Entrepreneurs, as a whole, are natural risk-takers. They are confident and know what it takes to get the job done. Nothing gets in their way.”

William Sahlman of the Harvard Business School says that Entrepreneurs are  not  risk seekers.  They are reward seekers and are more than happy to let others take the risk.

Two smart guys. Opposite ideas. Whatever the case about the psychology of an entrepreneur with regard to risk, all entrepreneurs whether through temperament or circumstance or need venture out into the world to get something done.

I have personal experience with entrepreneurs – people who see opportunities, take a step of faith, and get things done. Everyone in my immediate family (My mother, my two sisters, My brother, my first son) has launched and runs at least one business. Their composite persona has five remarkable traits. Each one shares to some degree or another in each of these traits. Let’s call this composite persona M. M is characterized by (1) the ability to see opportunities beyond the resources immediately available to them. She is (2) willing to work harder, longer, and do what’s necessary to survive and succeed. (3) M loves to create opportunity for others (in the form of jobs, experience, or community). (4) M does not know how to quit. She does know how to redirect. And, (5) M is generous to a fault.

These traits are not necessarily the traits of all entrepreneurs, just the ones I know really up close and personal. But I’d like to think that these traits tend to characterize the kind of entrepreneur that populates M. Let’s unpack these traits a little more.


Traits of an M Entrepreneur

M entrepreneurs see possibilities and opportunities. Their resources, no matter how small, are not a barrier for success but their launching pad. Their greatest resource is their personal energy, ambition, enthusiasm, vision, creativity, imagination, and love. To these there is no limit.  They think BIG and are willing to smart small. The only regret they’ll have is letting opportunities get away from them because they were too afraid to act.

M entrepreneurs are industrious. They know that working for yourself requires as much energy, attention, dedication as working for someone else…and much longer hours and more responsibility. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for those who are looking for an easier way to make money. But an entrepreneur thrives and has fun in the context of relentlessly pursuing opportunity and seeking the rewards of their ideas and labor.

M entrepreneurs are fueled by gratitude. They do not think the world owes them. They do not feel entitled. They feel grateful for the opportunity to express themselves by finding a need and filling it in their own unique and creative way. They work smarter and harder than others and LOVE creating opportunity in the form of jobs or experience or community for others.

Failure is part of life. M entrepreneurs are resilient and relentless in pursuit of their goals. Even when they suffer severe setbacks in life they operate with a knack for starting to move forward from exactly where they are without complaining or whining. They are a perfect example of that old saying, “If life gives you a lemon, take that lemon gratefully and sell and serve and negotiate like crazy until you have lemons to give away to others. After all, where would all those seafood restaurants be without the guys with the lemons? Lemons are indispensable.” It’s all about how you look at it.

M entrepreneurs are generous. They know that the world is connected in ways we cannot imagine. They know that touching someone with kindness and compassion spreads the love around the world. They know that people are more than objects to exploit for building profits, and that profits should be used to make people, families, and communities more human.

Are any of us perfect in these regards? Nope. We’re a mixed bag of obsessions and desires and compulsions. But to become these kind of people in the world is a worthy calling. So whether you’re launching a for-profit, or a social movement, or a non-profit, or a new community of faith, we at M salute you and ask that you embrace and advance these M traits into your world. “May the odds be ever in your favor”.

What do you think?

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