If You Don't Think You Were Born to Be an Entrepreneur, Fret Not. You Can Learn to Be One, New Study Says.
Is the drive to become an entrepreneur the result of our nature? Or is it something that we are nurtured to develop a hunger for? According to a new study, the answer is both.
Where you go to school and what you study has an impact on how inclined you are to become an entrepreneur, according to new research from the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“Cultivating innovative entrepreneurship appears to involve both nature and nurture, both personality and experience,” said Matthew Mayhew, associate professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt, in a statement announcing the release of the research results.
As the interest in entrepreneurship has increased over the last decade, so, too, has the presence of entrepreneurship coursework on college campuses.
There are more than 220 colleges and universities around the world that offer a major in entrepreneurship (or small business), according to a list compiled by the John Cook School of Business at St. Louis University.
“With the expansion of opportunities to study entrepreneurship comes important theoretical and practical questions,” said Mayhew. “Can innovation be taught? Or is innovation something that a student just has?”
To be sure, not everyone thinks that entrepreneurship is encouraged in the classroom. For example, the Thiel Fellowship, established by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, gives students under the age of 22 $100,000 to work for two years developing their ideas, provided they drop out of college.
“College can be good for learning about what’s been done before, but it can also discourage you from doing something new. Each of our fellows charts a unique course; together they have proven that young people can succeed by thinking for themselves instead of competing on old career tracks,” says the Thiel Fellowship website.
The research did find some correlations between certain characteristics and a proclivity to tend toward entrepreneurship. Male students, those students who identify as Asian and politically conservative, and those who come from families with an entrepreneurial history are more likely to be entrepreneurial.
But, also, the new research from Mayhew dispels the notion that entrepreneurial education is unproductive in encouraging entrepreneurship.
“This study disrupts the position that higher education may not be conducive to fostering innovation by suggesting that both personality and structured higher education experiences contribute to cultivating innovation potential among college students,” said Mayhew. “The good news is that innovative entrepreneurial intentions can be influenced by educators, regardless of the many differences in traits and experiences that students across cultures bring to college campuses.”
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.