Dialogue Q3 2019

Page 47




Nobody is born into business

Who wants to be an entrepreneur? Vivek Wadhwa is distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and author of Your Happiness Was Hacked

Maybe she’s born with it? Actually, it turns of American business founders. They out she isn’t. And nor is he, or them, or discovered that, just like me, most came any of the other millions around the world from modest, non-entrepreneurial who have made a great living as successful backgrounds and had demonstrated little businesspeople. Research from Duke and or no prior interest in striking out alone. Harvard universities reveals that anyone What most did share was the academic and can be an entrepreneur. lifestyle foundation of a college major. Many The old myth ran that entrepreneurship had tired of working for someone else; some was in the blood. Like business Jedis, if your had a great idea and didn’t trust others to father had it, you had it. Yet in reality there commercialize it; or they’d simply woken is no bloodline: familial business success up one day and decided they needed to turns out to be a poor indicator of one’s rapidly build wealth before retiring. own success. Moreover, prior interest in The final point speaks to another entrepreneurship – even extreme interest important finding: age is no barrier. in it – show similarly low correlations. Indeed, being over 40 at the point of entry So what does point the way? Attending was a strong indicator of success. The university, it transpires, points a clearer average founder of a high-growth company path to business excellence than your launched his venture at 40, was married father’s footsteps. and had two or more Anybody can be an children. These family entrepreneur. Yet the men (and women) To start a business: world does not see had several years of have a great idea, it. The myth is that work experience and pursue your passions tech innovation is the understood the real rightful province of a world, having worked handful of genetically in it. They had simply entrepreneurial types in Silicon Valley. The had enough of grafting for ‘The Man’ and simple truth is that tech entrepreneurs lack wanted to rise above a comfortable, salaried anything special about them – they merely middle-class lifestyle and into real wealth. saw an opportunity and grabbed it. And as for my fellow Indians? Don’t I became an entrepreneur at the tender believe what the graduates of the Indian age of 33, having developed a revolutionary Institutes of Technology (IITs) say, they technology at investment bank First don’t dominate Silicon Valley. A college Boston. IBM offered to invest $20 million in degree is a major factor, but it need not it – provided that we spun the technology be from an IIT – those august institutions into a new company. I was a living, are the alma mater of only 15% of Indian breathing exploder of the myth. My father immigrant tech and engineering company was an official for the Indian government; founders. A much less elitist public my mother, a teacher. I had precisely zero university, Delhi University, graduates entrepreneurial ambitions, no particular twice as many Silicon Valley founders. This interest in becoming a businessman, nor is the same all over the world: graduates any uncles or aunts hidden away who had of elite schools don’t have any advantages themselves been innovators. Yet I thrived. other than the designer university label. Years later, when I eventually hung Time at college is very useful. But the up my entrepreneur’s hat, I moved into oldest lessons about going into business academia and set out to discover what prevail: have a great idea, pursue your factors in individuals’ lives predicted an passions – and ignore anyone who says you entrepreneurial life. My teams at Duke have the wrong background. In business, and Harvard began researching thousands the apple rarely falls close to the tree. Q3 2019 Dialogue