Successful entrepreneurs are “natural born risk takers”

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Over half (53 per cent) of British entrepreneurs put their business success down to their own innate talents which cannot be learnt or taught, according to new research* of 500 entrepreneurs. This compares to 13 per cent who believe that learnt skills or education have been the driver in launching their business idea.

A debate on the research findings by small business insurance provider Hiscox, attended by some of the country’s leading entrepreneurs and business experts reached the conclusion that entrepreneurship is more nature than nurture, although did also suggest that some key business skills can be learnt. The discussion also concluded that the current financial climate presents significant opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Hosted at the Royal Institution by science journalist Vivienne Parry, the Hiscox sponsored ‘nature or nurture’ debate saw Steve Ridgway, CEO of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Max McKeown, business author and strategic adviser, and Daniel T Jones, founder and Chairman of the Lean Enterprise Academy, argue what attributes they believe contribute to entrepreneurial success.

Entrepreneurship as an art

Max McKeown, supporting the nature side of the debate, said that entrepreneurship is an art, something that comes from a set of abilities that cannot be learnt. He also commented that entrepreneurs need innate qualities such as ambition in order to make the leap from having a great idea to actioning it: “Who’s more likely to succeed – someone with high skill and no ambition, or no skill and high ambition? If you’re an entrepreneur, you can hire as many skilled people for your business as you want.”

Hiscox’s research supports that view, with 23 per cent of entrepreneurs questioned stating they were not university educated and just 13 per cent believing business success is down to education or relevant experience. Respondents also listed innate attributes led by an analytical mind (81 per cent), followed by creativity (73 per cent), drive (66 per cent) and good communication skills (63 per cent) as key to business success.

Entrepreneurship as a science

But the research also acknowledged nurture as an influence: 88 per cent of entrepreneurs worked for another company before starting their own business and 30 per cent had studied business and management, showing that gaining competencies and experience within an established company can be an important part of business success. Professor Jones echoed the need for experience when debating for the side of nurture. He argued that entrepreneurs often fail at first, learning from their mistakes, and that some key entrepreneurial traits, for example problem solving, can be taught.

The lively discussion about the nature of entrepreneurship concluded with all panelists agreeing that post-recession is a time ripe for would-be entrepreneurs, citing successful companies Hyatt Hotels and MTV, which were born in similarly challenging economic times.

Professor Jones said that the recent downturn proved the current business model was broken: “Now is the time for entrepreneurs to really flourish”. Steve Ridgway commented that tough economic times always bring out business talent: “Entrepreneurs will go to hell and back if they believe in an idea.” Max McKeown echoed this thought, saying: “Entrepreneurs don’t believe the future is predictable – but they do believe that they can create the future themselves.”

Commenting on the debate, Alan Thomas, SME expert at Hiscox said: “One thing that’s clear is that it’s hard to package the profile of an entrepreneur into a ‘one size fits all’ format. While some people have all the required qualifications on paper, they may lack the innate abilities of a natural born risk taker or vice versa. It’s good to see that despite, or maybe because of, recent economic challenges, the spirit of entrepreneurship remains alive and well in this country.”

Hiscox insures more than 100,000 small businesses in the UK, offering a range of business products including public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance.

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