Who are entrepreneurs?

I think it would appropriate to start with a great article last week from TechCrunch by Vivek Wadwha that asks the question “Can Entrepreneurs Be Made?”

According to the “traditional wisdom,” the answer is no:

Silicon Valley investors often have a picture in their heads of the type of person who is worthy of funding: young, brash, stubborn, and arrogant. They believe that successful entrepreneurs come from entrepreneurial families and that they start their entrepreneurial journey by selling lemonade while in grade school. Angel investor and entrepreneur, Jason Calacanis said as much in his recent talk to Penn State students. And after meeting Wharton students, VC Fred Wilson expressed shock when a professor told him that you could teach people to be entrepreneurs. Wilson wrote, “I’ve been working with entrepreneurs for almost 25 years now and it is ingrained in my mind that someone is either born an entrepreneur or is not.”

I agree that the answer is no – but I have a different theory about why.  You see, the problem is that the “traditional wisdom” comes from Venture Capital folks.  I’ve got some news for these people: the VC model is broken, out, and gone.  New entrepreneurs (entreps, for short) are looking for ways to get their messages, products, and services out without having to sell-out.

Motivation is a great starting point when it comes to learning about entreps.  What do you find?

We found that the majority didn’t have entrepreneurial parents. They didn’t even have entrepreneurial aspirations while going to school. They simply got tired of working for others, had a great idea they wanted to commercialize, or woke up one day with an urgent desire to build wealth before they retired. So they took the big leap.

The game has changed, due in large part because of the Internet – and I’m not talking about a new wave of “dot coms.”  What I’m talking about is a medium that allows your idea to spread, go viral, scale, and generally take you beyond your wildest dreams – provided your idea is solid.

That’s what the Kauffman foundation thinks, too.  They are

investing heavily in an ambitious new program called Kauffman Labs. This aims to dramatically increase the ability of small businesses to become big businesses. The Labs program is built around a novel idea: that highly motivated individuals with “scalable ideas” can be recruited to be entrepreneurs and to be made successful, by surrounding them with a network of other experienced entrepreneurs; sources of money; and mentors.

Today’s entreps are about the idea, about making an impact, and about peer success – not about VC dollars, dotcom dreams, or the things that people typically think about when they think about Internet entrepreneurs.  So what makes the difference?  Wadwha posits that

It is probably education, exposure to entrepreneurship, and networks that led these people to pursue the entrepreneurial path.

I think Wadwha is right.  Many people do not think about entrepreneurship as a viable path until much later in their lives, about the time they start feeling constrained by their job, realize they are smarter than their boss, and decide to put that great idea they had three years ago into action.

As we continue the series on Starting Up we’ll look at what it takes to go from idea to startup, some hurdles, and some enablers.

Stay tuned – this is exciting stuff!