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What makes an entrepreneur?

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There are many books on the secrets of business success but unless you have the characteristics required to be an entrepreneur it is advisable to go and do something else. The problem is that these traits are difficult to define – and, perhaps, even more difficult to teach.

It is entirely possible that entrepreneurs are born, not made. However, educational establishments are investing time and research money into probing the question of what makes an entrepreneur in order to inform the increasing number of courses which aim to provide training in these essential skills, alongside the theory of business and economics.

Many universities are devoting resources or even entire departments to the cause of creating new start ups and helping them to flourish.

Liverpool John Moores University’s (LJMU’s) Centre for Entrepreneurship is one such example. Benefitting from European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding the centre supports students and graduates who want to set up their own companies. In addition to access to local and national trade fairs and start up competitions, it runs an Enterprise Fellowship Programme which is in its 10th year and has seen more than 200 graduate entrepreneurs start businesses, become self employed or work on a freelance basis.

The programme provides a five-day intensive training course to help local students kick start their ventures and turn ideas into real businesses, tailored business support and advice, networking and introductions to key business people, co-working space and the opportunity to apply for £1,500 in Enterprise Fellowship funding.

There are other examples. Support to help students take the non-traditional route of self-employment is on the rise, but it is likely that, for most, the safer route of working for someone else is preferable to the jump into the unknown associated with starting a business. Becoming an entrepreneur takes something special. It requires certain characteristics, competencies and an attitude that is different.

Academic Catherine Groves, a Senior Lecturer at LJMU’s Business School, is using psychometric tools to look at the personality and motivation of 400 entrepreneurs in two groups – those who are just setting up businesses and have been trading for less than a year and those who have been trading successfully for three years or more and whose companies are VAT registered.

Participating entrepreneurs are offered two psychometric tests, both of which are commercially available to business psychologists and are widely used by large and small businesses in recruitment and coaching for executive positions. Each test is securely administered using a unique username and password that will be emailed to participants and takes between 20 and 25 minutes to complete online.

The idea is not just to produce some interesting research but to help build effective entrepreneurial courses – and provide self knowledge for entrepreneurs themselves. All participants in the study are assured of their anonymity and, on completion, receive their own unique psychometric profile. This will provide insight into their personality and motivational preferences in a work context and might provide a better understanding of the way that they work, helping to better manage their workload and employees.

Catherine explained: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy so anything we can do to help them be more successful is a good thing.

“This study is looking at the personal factors that affect individual entrepreneurs in order to identify the sort of support that would be most useful to them. It could be used by education providers such as LJMU for students and graduates, over and above the academic curriculum, and by business support organisations to provide more personalised support.”

It is tempting to try to second guess the research and define these entrepreneurial traits. A determination to succeed, to be willing to overcome the many obstacles you will find in your way and not fall at the first hurdle, to work incredibly hard and put in long, unsociable hours, to be a real people person even if you don’t see eye to eye with everyone you work with, to be confident, self motivated, organised and efficient – these are all essential things required of an entrepreneur.

However, one element stands out above all the rest. It is a certain attitude to risk, a willingness to take a calculated chance where others would not. That is what marks entrepreneurs out more than anything else.

Words By Phil McCabe, Development Manager, Federation of Small Businesses in Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan, UK.