Dick Palmer: Entrepreneurs can be made as well as born.
It is a commonly-held view that entrepreneurs are born, not made – that what leads someone to become a successful entrepreneur has more to do with their personality and innate qualities than anything learned through formal education.
The biographies of entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and Theo Paphitis, all of whom left school at 16 to make their own way in the world of business, add to the impression that entrepreneurs are born not made. The idea that certain entrepreneurial traits – such as being able to spot opportunities, think differently and take risks – may be inherent has even led to a whole new area of genetic research.
So, is it really that simple? Do entrepreneurs pursue their path because of a genetic predisposition to do so? I am not convinced. Having met many successful entrepreneurs in the course of my work, I can safely say that they have included an enormous diversity of individuals and personality types – a mix of introverts and extroverts, natural risk-takers and those with a more cautious outlook, each exhibiting their own particular strengths in their entrepreneurial endeavours.
There isn't one single type of entrepreneur, just as there isn't one single type of business opportunity. The talent of many entrepreneurs lies in their ability to align their skills and passion with potential oppor-tunities – and, as the next stage on, to develop the skills and attributes they need to maximise those opportunities.
A survey last year by Ernst & Young of 685 entrepreneurial leaders found that experience is key to people becoming entrepreneurs. Fifty-eight per cent of the respondents were 'transitioned' entrepreneurs who had previously been employees. Many cited their experience in a corporate environment as an important training ground for their subsequent entrepreneurial career.
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As well as those gained through work, another type of experience relevant to entrepreneurial success is the wider set of lifeskills which span both our personal and professional lives. A recent blog by Nischala Murthy Kaushik highlighted the '33 Life Lessons No School Really Taught Me', touching on skills such as; how to deal with change, handling failure, learning when and how to say 'no', how to ask for help, and mastering the art of prioritisation. All valuable lessons for any entrepreneur.
In short, entrepreneurial skills and attributes can be taught and are something that I believe should be part of the educational experience of all young people. That is why City College Norwich is at the forefront of the Gazelle group, bringing together like-minded entrepreneurs and college leaders nationally to create a new generation of entrepreneurial colleges. Using the inspirational environment of The StartUp Lounge, we are giving students opportunities to experience what it is like to be part of a business start-up and to develop the skills of an entrepreneur.
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So, entrepreneurs can be made as well as born… and we can all play our part in helping to make the next generation.
Dick Palmer is group chief executive of Transforming Education in Norfolk and chief executive of City College Norwich.