Derek Newberry

Entrepreneurs: Smart, Social….Taller?

entrepreneur?What Makes an Entrepreneur?? asks a World Bank study released last month. The authors found answers by conducting interviews with 400 Brazilian entrepreneurs, non-entrepreneurs and ?failed? entrepreneurs on a variety of subjects that range from the obvious (Parents’ level of education?) to the somewhat bizarre (Can you justify taking a bus ride without paying the fare?).

The results reveal some fascinating insights through a nature vs. nurture type lens. The authors claim that entrepreneurs tend to have better educated parents and more childhood friends/siblings that eventually became entrepreneurs. In other words, their personal influences and environment play a significant role (nurture).The researchers also note that certain supposedly inherent traits play a role–that entrepreneurs proved to have greater cognitive abilities than non-entrepreneurs, for example. So entrepreneurship is also a product of a person’s very DNA (nature?. Although I would argue that not only is intelligence at least partially a product of one’s upbringing, but that there is a great deal of cultural bias in what even gets defined as ?intelligence?).

Possibilities of an entrepreneurship gene aside, the authors do find compelling similarities between entrepreneurs in Brazil, and even failed entrepreneurs–apparently overconfidence is one common thread for the latter group. Some of the results scream wonky statistician–the study reports at one point that the entrepreneurs are on average one centimeter taller than non-entrepreneurs–but reading the paper got me thinking.

What makes a green/BoP entrepreneur? What would a study on this type of person vs. a conventional entrepreneur reveal? I can?t speak to the nature side of it, but my personal guess as to the difference in nurture is that you would see two camps of people with two different backgrounds.

One group would be sustainability and poverty oriented because of an experience in their life, a defining moment that tied their career goals to the well-being of their community. Maybe agro-chemicals caused multiple disasters in their hometown, and they were spurred to find a profitable and scalable solution. Or perhaps they took a biology class that revealed to them the destructive nature of shrimp farming which then turned them on to organic methods.

The other group wouldn?t even think of themselves as being on some sort of sustainability crusade or involved in a movement–they saw a market opportunity, they used their talents and business acumen to fill that gap, and having a product that serves the poor might be an added bonus. For example, you run a company in China that produces energy efficient industrial boilers. They sell quickly because they cut costs, oh and carbon credits from the resulting emissions reductions are good for your bottom line as well.

At least this is my humble prediction, but I’d be interested to hear other thoughts. More importantly, I hope someone takes on this research agenda (if this hasn?t been looked at already). I think you would find a fair amount of entrepreneurs that are in environmental and BoP sectors because that’s just where the profitable idea happened to be. Or who knows, maybe they were just 1 cm taller than the rest of us?.