Entrepreneurs in modern times: Born or made?

Richard Branson and friends when they were students
Image from Virgin.com
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 23 January 2019

All my life I’ve been surrounded by entrepreneurs. My granny Eve embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and to this day, she encourages everyone to stop talking about their dreams and just go for it. As soon as her own children could make use of their hands, she had them involved in her money-making schemes. They were then packed off to the local village to sell the wares such as baskets. The rest as they say is Branson history. My dad, and his sisters Vanessa and Lindy, embody the same entrepreneurial spirit as their mother. If you ask my dad, he’ll say it’s in his DNA and he was absolutely born that way – I’m pretty sure my aunties feel the same way. 

Richard Branson hugging Eve Branson ahead of a hot air ballooning expedition
Branson family

But are entrepreneurs born or made? It is a question that has puzzled many business academics over the last few decades. I’ve been reading around it a lot lately and have met many entrepreneurs who all have different stories and ideas.

During my reading binge, one quote by Paul Hudson gave me pause. It said: “The truth is no one is ever born an entrepreneur; no matter how genetically-inclined you may be to become one, you still have to choose to become one. You still need to put in the work and choose the struggle as a lifestyle. Most importantly, you need to have the right character traits. Otherwise, it’s impossible to become a successful entrepreneur… a person who can’t successfully run a business isn’t an entrepreneur.”

But does this take into account the inherent risk factor that goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship?  The very nature of the beast is to not fear risk. To learn from failure and move on. If, after five years of struggling to grow your own business, you have to admit defeat – have you also lost the right to call yourself an entrepreneur?  

Paul, along with many other academics and business writers, also claim that even if you are not born with perceived entrepreneurial traits that it is not necessarily a barrier to becoming a successful entrepreneur. 

Holly Branson listens during a panel on female entrepreneurship
David Watts

I think anyone can be a successful entrepreneur if they have the passion and the drive. My dad says the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who solve a problem and make the world better – I couldn’t agree more.

 As an entrepreneurial brand, Virgin tends to employ and work with thousands of entrepreneurial people. Many of whom, we are very proud to say, go on to set up their own businesses. With this in mind, at the end of 2018, I decided to go out and pick the brains of some wonderful entrepreneurs. 

Holly Branson and Freddie Andrewes talking to Jamie Oliver in a crowd of people
Image from Alex Rumford

I wanted to get a true sense of what made them tick, the lessons they had learned and hear about their successes AND their failures when setting up and growing their businesses. I asked them about the best business advice they’ve ever been given - and the best advice they wish they had listened to!  And ultimately, whether they believe they were born an entrepreneur or if life has simply pushed them in that direction.

I found the whole experience unbelievably rewarding and I hope you find my entrepreneurial series both inspirational and informative. I’ll be kicking off the series with the wonderful Catherine Salway who has set up Redemption Bar as “the world’s healthiest bar restaurant.” Catherine shares the journey of building her restaurants, spotting trends, raising funds and issues with the ‘witching hour’!

The Redemption Bar with Green seating areas an marble effect tables with copper accessories and hanging lights
Image by Sofia Yang Martinez/Redemption Bar

Over the next few months I’ll introduce you to other entrepreneurs from many different sectors, all with different life experiences and from diverse backgrounds. The one thing I learned is that - whether born or made - the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and kicking in 2019.

Sitting beside them in a bar, chatting to them at the school gates or in line at the supermarket, you may not immediately think of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Sara Blakely - but that’s the wonderful thing about how entrepreneurship has evolved over the last decade. Today, the most inspirational entrepreneurs are the normal people doing extraordinary things.