Is entrepreneurship in your genes?

All over the world sons and daughters are following in their parents’ footsteps to take over the family business, which begs the question: is entrepreneurship genetic?

It’s an age old debate, whether entrepreneurs are born or made but some would argue the sheer volume of people inheriting businesses from parents and continuing to run them successfully has to count for something.

James Koch, co-author of Born, Not Made: The Entrepreneurial Personality, told in 2013 that, as an academic who teaches entrepreneurship he was “surprised at the scientific literature that suggested heredity has a good deal to do with personality and behaviour”.

He says: “Some personalities are much more favourable for entrepreneurship. It is an important thing, and it really constrains and influences outcomes. As a consequence, if you want to know who's most likely to be an entrepreneur, don't go to a business school and see who has taken entrepreneurship courses. The more important thing is to look at someone's personality and ability to bear risks.”

He adds that he’s not saying genetics is everything but he’s “not sure you can teach somebody to love to take risks”. Short people often don’t make it in the NBA, he says, in the same way that some people are not genetically hardwired to make it as entrepreneurs, while others are.

Scott Shane, an entrepreneurship professor at Case Western Reserve University and author of the book Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life is inclined to agree with Koch. He was involved in a study at Kings College London where they studied the behavioural and molecular genetics of entrepreneurship by looking at a general pool of people, including identical and fraternal twins. They tested the number of businesses a person had stated, how long they were self-employed for, and other factors such as the desire to run a business.

They found that 37 to 48 per cent of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is genetic, and the tendency to identify new business opportunities is in your genes. But not only is the tendency to engage in entrepreneurship genetic, but also the ability to perform it – the study found that self-employment income is heritable too.  

However, Shane acknowledged in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine that it’s difficult to determine which aspects of entrepreneurial learnings are inherited genetically and which come from experience or being brought up by entrepreneurial parents.

So should you consider your genetics if you’re thinking about entrepreneurship as a career? Dr Michael Baird, chief science officer of DNA Diagnostics Center, says genetics plays a part but isn’t everything. “It's well known we get half of our DNA from each of our biological parents. Every day we are learning more about how a person's DNA influences their physical traits and behavioural traits,” he told Inc. “It's certainly possible that a person could inherit the genes to be an entrepreneur – I say genes because it's likely a combination of genes, not a single gene. It could be a combination of genes that makes a person a leader, a risk taker, or other entrepreneurial traits that are potentially inherited from our parents.”

Although there is scientific evidence that shows certain traits that make you more inclined to entrepreneurship can be passed down through genetics, no-one’s really convinced that an ‘entrepreneur gene’ exists. It seems that in fact, it’s a number of factors including experience, environment, upbringing and genetics that creates an entrepreneur.

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