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Are Entrepreneurs Born Or Made? Those who are starting their own businesses are often driven by a quest for a real sense of purpose that goes beyond the day-to-day operations of a business.

By Dr. Kieran Mervyn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Promoting an entrepreneurial culture and supporting small to medium enterprise (SME) development is embedded in government policies across the Middle East, with policymakers recognizing that sustainable economic growth and stability correlates to the number and diversity of SMEs. There is no question there has been success, with talented business leaders paving the way such as Mohamad Bitar, founder, Just Falafel. In the UAE alone, and have capitalized on the technology-savvy mindsets of the young population to create thriving online businesses. In addition, Bahrain's chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) has 37 members whose companies generate more than USD $200 million annually through their business ventures.

Although compared with other parts of the world, lower levels of early-stage entrepreneurial activity were reported in the MENA region in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2013 Global Report. The Middle East remains a region ripe with innovation and emerging markets and is therefore poised to produce the next crop of business leaders. However, without a long history of entrepreneurship, there are few role models and mentors to help new ventures. In contrast to areas such as Silicon Valley, where risk is applauded and failure is celebrated as learning, the Middle East approaches business development with much more caution. That said, entrepreneurship has been boosted by popular culture, and people are increasingly excited by the notion of owning and running their own business, helped by TV shows like Dragons' Den. Culture aside, there is also a question as to whether entrepreneurs –no matter their country of origin and contextual situations– are simply born with a natural gift or whether they have a skill that is nurtured and learned through education and work experience.

While not everyone is born with the entrepreneurial spirit of Mohamad Bitar, or even of Richard Branson, when we are considering what makes a great entrepreneur, it's best to look at the roles innovation and leadership play. Certain personality characteristics are commonly associated with the entrepreneur: perseverance, resilience, patience, curiosity and a craving for knowledge.

There's a host of literature around this subject matter and, in the context of a successful entrepreneur, creativity and being an innate risk-taker are often core traits. With the oil-based step-change transformations of the Middle East's economies and associated changes in lifestyles, individuals' once-natural appetite for risk-taking (such as seafaring and desert caravans) and spotting of opportunities appears to have faded in line with expanding oil production. It is the very spotting of opportunities (and the ability to structure their exploitation effectively and efficiently) that sets entrepreneurs apart. The notion of entrepreneurial cognition considers how we develop the skills of these leaders and whether we can actually teach the skill of spotting opportunities and understanding the innovation pipeline from end to end.

Entrepreneurs are extremely valuable to society. Those who are starting their own businesses are often driven by a quest for a real sense of purpose that goes beyond the day-to-day operations of a business. While some businesses magically become successful overnight, most entrepreneurs need to have developed a range of technical, managerial, financial, decision-making and interpersonal skills in order to grow their company and develop. For example, according to the 2013 GEM UAE –Entrepreneurship – An Emirati Perspective, 10 out of every 100 Emiratis can be considered early-stage entrepreneurs. Emiratis have positive attitudes toward entrepreneurship, with nearly 80% perceiving it as a good career choice and 60% seeing good opportunities to start a new venture in the short term. However, only 50% of Emiratis believe they have the necessary skills and knowledge to start a business.

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Like leaders, entrepreneurs require the skills and knowledge to be able to command complex, evolving and diverse business environments, and online learning can be extremely beneficial in helping them achieve this goal. Not only does it allow access to a range of expertise in the learning environment; the online learning experience also has built-in flexibility so time-constrained entrepreneurs can conveniently shape their learning of essential new skills around the daily needs of developing their companies. While the acquired skills not only improve their effectiveness as business leaders, the earned degree also enhances their professional credibility with customers and investors alike.

Online programs with strong international communities allow students to benefit from best practices, perspectives and unique learning techniques shared among other professionals from various backgrounds in geographically diverse regions of the world. Online Masters of Business Administration (MBA) courses can help build highly competent entrepreneurs, essentially closing the gap between those who are born with more expressed entrepreneurial characteristics and those who aspire to develop themselves as successful business owners.

We're living in a global community where e-commerce and social media have opened new, beneficial channels for the learning experience. The notions of perseverance and being able to deal with obstacles are critical for entrepreneurs, and online education allows students to deconstruct complex theories, concepts and frameworks within carefully managed discussion forums to gather expert feedback prior to implementation. This valuable peer feedback also provides an important opportunity for reflection on one's business model and tends to spark innovative approaches to nurturing ideas for future development.

Entrepreneurs ultimately are born with certain core traits, but it is also true that those who aspire to own their own business can do so by gaining the necessary knowledge and skills to allow their entrepreneurial talents to flourish. Online learning provides an excellent opportunity for budding business owners to do this, and they can learn as they immediately transform their ideas into reality.

Dr. Kieran Mervyn currently teaches courses in leadership in the online MBA program at the University of Roehampton, London. He is the leader for the Learning and Leading in a Dynamic Era module, where Roehampton Online students examine skills and best practices relating to leadership in contemporary organizations. He is also co-director of AM2 Partners Ltd, a focused team of management and research consultants.
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