Sometime in April this year, I was invited by the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) Ogun State branch to train a class of retired and about-to-retire people on entrepreneurship. Obviously, that would be a class filled with elderly men and women.

When I arrived there and my profile was read out to them, they were surprised that a young man could have done so much in business as being read out in my profile. They were more surprised when the Centre Director mentioned that I am a regular external trainer there on entrepreneurship and business development and past attendees were all motivated with my lessons enough to kick-start something and most of them are doing fine now.

At the end of the day, it was a great session with them but something funny happened towards the end of my training.

One of the participants stood up just when I was about to round-up my session to assert:

“Sir, I think you are just simply a born entrepreneur, some of us are old and may not be able to achieve up to what you have achieved in entrepreneurship even as a young man”

This led to a round of storytelling about the founder of KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Colonel Harland David Sanders who was only able to found KFC successfully at the age of 65 (according to the most widely circulated reports) after failing at several times and same KFC today is the fourth-largest fast food restaurant chain by number of locations in the world (20,404) –

This then eventually led to a debate on actually what it takes to be a great entrepreneur and whether entrepreneurs are born with entrepreneurship traits or they are made by learning.

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In reality, the question of whether entrepreneurs are made or born is an age-long question and one that always turn out to become a serious debate in which no one wins with those arguing for and against raising cogent points to convince the audience.

This topic does not only lead to a serious debate among ordinary people, it does even among established entrepreneurs, researchers and academics.

Two prominent and opinionated researchers, James V. Koch and Julian Lange, were asked to weigh in on the question and below are their two widely-opposing responses;

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James V. Koch

James V. Koch is the president emeritus at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. He’s also co-author with James L. Fisher of the 2008 book – Born, Not Made: The Entrepreneurial Personality – which argues that many entrepreneurs are simply wired that way, giving them a natural advantage in the business world. So, to him, entrepreneurs are born and he has very convincing reasons to support his claim.

Julian Lange

On the other hand, Julian Lange is a senior professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA. His research in the past years indicates that exposure to the ideas and lessons of entrepreneurship through teaching and learning can have lasting effects on students, even if they are not “natural” entrepreneurs. Meaning, entrepreneurs are made.

So, who is right? Let’s discuss!

Firstly, why should this topic be really important to anyone? The answer can be found in what people say about themselves when you give them an option of starting a business as a way to earn a living or earn more income. They simply say – Me? I don’t think I am destined to be an entrepreneur o. So, you begin to wonder whether entrepreneurs have really been destined to be one from heaven…lol. That statement implies that entrepreneurs are a special kind of people with special traits probably different from other people.

In reality, some personality traits are much more favourable for entrepreneurship and human personality traits are often scientifically linked to the genes. If this confuses you, let me use a metaphor – short people don’t make it often in basket ball, just like certain kinds of genetically hard-wired individuals don’t make it as entrepreneurs and others do. It is that simple!

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Let me give you an example. I have a friend who is a professional business and data analyst. He is really good. In fact, I run to him when the numbers and market data start confusing me. That’s what he does for big multinational corporations. He runs the data and makes business projections that work. So, the firms he works for take decisions based on his recommendations.

He is also a big supporter of entrepreneurship, especially in the SME level and he has also tried his hands on some businesses before – made little profit in some and lost in some.

However, this guy hails me each time we see for my doggedness as an entrepreneur for years now. It amazes him that I live only on the income from my businesses because he is also aware of the losses we do incur some times, the challenges and the uncertainties which for him might be too much to bear.

So, he knows his limit. He has decided to be under a paid employment, invest when he can, advise entrepreneurs with market and data analyses but cannot be a full-time entrepreneur himself. He simply beliefs and agrees he is not wired to be one naturally.

Here is my point about my friend, while he helps companies take business decisions, he is wise enough that the ability to run the numbers and take decisions does not determine success in business. It requires so much more than that.

Obviously, some significant portions of human personality traits critical to entrepreneurs, like the willingness to take risks and the ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty are genetically-linked. Some people just possess them naturally and therefore are referred to as born entrepreneurs.

I am probably one of these people. Not like I don’t feel sad when I lose money, when customers don’t just buy and so on but giving up doesn’t just occur as an option to me. Rather, I will still try something else. You will agree with me, this is not something that can be taught or learnt!

In reality, you can’t take someone into the classroom and change their appetite for risks or help raise their tolerance level for uncertainty.

However, if you ask me, are the abilities to take risks, tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty alone enough to succeed as an entrepreneur? The answer is a BIG NO!

There are far more qualities needed to succeed in business than the traits/qualities anyone can be born with.

Maybe, simply put, you can’t teach someone to be passionate about entrepreneurship (or even about anything generally) because that is in-born. On the other hand, I’ve been training for years now and in my experience, people can definitely discover their passion for entrepreneurship in the classroom and become really great.

In terms of general skills, if such people start out with interests or endowments that make them more likely to be entrepreneurs or less likely, you can enhance their ability through teaching.

In some ways, we can say there are certain elements about entrepreneurs that are born, not made. But some entrepreneurs can be made better through teaching.

One of the things we teach in entrepreneurship and give exposure to is opportunity recognition. This is a trait that can be taught and developed in people and it is as well a very important success factor in entrepreneurship.

Humans have an enormous capacity for change. As we grow and undertake new tasks in life, we become more confident. There is also a significant amount of information that can be learnt through lessons. And as that knowledge expands, other intangibles such as the ability to calculate risk, perseverance, resilience and desire also grow.

In conclusion, there is not going to be an end to this debate. As with many of these types of questions, the answer obviously lies somewhere in the middle. It’s a matter of nature versus nurture.


What you need to take home from this is that if you think you are not a born entrepreneur because you lack the traits you see in successful entrepreneurs around you, you may be relegating yourself.

Some of the most important success traits for entrepreneurship in this 21st century can really be taught and learnt. If you think you cannot learn them, partner with or hire someone that has those traits.

The most successful brands in the world today are developed by partners who came to the table with what other person(s) in the team lacked to make the brand successful. Whether you are born or made entrepreneur, it wont matter at the end of the day. What really matters is your success.

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I hope this has enlightened you a bit. Do not hesitate to share it with others that may benefit from it too.

Also, I will like to hear from you – what’s your own thought about this topic? Drop it in the comment box below and let’s discuss.

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Ibraheem Tiamiyu (Plan B) is a parallel entrepreneur, the founder of Plan B Group, a YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative) Fellow and a highly sought-after speaker and trainer on business, investment, leadership, youth and organisational development.

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