The Myth of the Entrepreneurial Gene: Craig Early, Scottish Enterprise

Craig Early, Project Manager, Entrepreneurial Support at Scottish Enterprise, discusses how anyone can be an entrepreneur if they’re willing to learn.

Is there such a thing as an entrepreneurial gene?” I think Steve Jobs may have something to do with this myth. While he may have worn entrepreneurial jeans alongside those black polo necks, there is absolutely no such thing as an entrepreneurial gene. Starting and growing a business requires a certain set of skills and like any other they can be learned.

We all have an image of what an entrepreneur should look like. It may be a scruffy young Silicon Valley native, a polished but terrifying dragon or a grizzled old Lord. These stereotypes are entertaining but they buy in to the notion that entrepreneurs are different. That ‘They’ are entrepreneurs, but that we are not.

We are all conditioned to believe that entrepreneurs are mercurial individuals who have a spark that sets them aside from the rest of us. This belief holds back many potential entrepreneurs from going after the Next Big Thing, or even from starting their company in the first place. At Scottish Enterprise we absolutely believe that you can teach someone how to be an entrepreneur if they are willing to learn, and we’re not alone. There are many books, lectures, workshops and education boot camps designed specifically to teach us how to be entrepreneurs and there are many successful entrepreneurs who will tell you that they didn’t get it right first time and learned through the process. Bill Aulet, himself a self taught serial entrepreneur turned educator at MIT, is the author of ‘Disciplined Entrepreneurship’ and is a famous example and advocate of exactly this. Speaking to the ‘Grey Matters’ group in Aberdeen he said:

‘My first company was a glorious failure, but that was really important for me. I was not a natural entrepreneur’

This attitude of trying, failing, learning and ‘earning your stripes’ is something that American’s have embraced and is something that we need to take more notice of. People talk about the importance of failure all the time, what they’re really talking about is the importance of learning. This learning can come from practical experience by doing and possibly failing, but that is risky and time consuming. Many of the lessons learned while failing could have been taught – we all tend to make the same mistakes so why do it yourself when you can hear from someone who already has?

The Grey Matters group in Aberdeen are a fantastic example of learning to be an entrepreneur. They are a group of individuals who have already had a long career in the oil and gas industry and are now looking for new challenges due to the changes in that sector following the recent down turn. Having never viewed themselves as entrepreneurs, they nonetheless wholeheartedly embraced the entrepreneurial training on offer and have been open to the challenge of pulling on a pair of entrepreneurial jeans. The group have blasted through topics like the business model canvas with an enthusiasm that is great to see. Whilst not fitting the traditional mould of start up entrepreneurs; the experience, adaptability, and innovative thinking they bring make them a great example of the possibilities entrepreneurial education can open up.

We are lucky in Scotland that entrepreneurial education initiatives are everywhere. It’s likely that your local Business Gateway will be offering workshops on topics like business finance, ecommerce and recruitment. Scottish Enterprise offer many training sessions including the ‘Entrepreneurial Academy’ workshops on the building blocks of scaling a start-up, from Business Model Development to Branding and Sales to Entrepreneurial Finance. There is the annual Scotland Can Do SCALE summer school in Stirling, led by Bill Aulet from MIT and Noam Wasserman previously of Harvard Business School no less, that aims to raise the ambition of attendees through a week long bootcamp of education seminars, one to ones and networking sessions. Scottish Enterprise and HIE also offer opportunities to attend international executive educations programmes such as MIT’s Entrepreneurial Development Program or the Powering Growth course at INSEAD. Over and above the workshops available to potential entrepreneurs, existing entrepreneurs and members of their teams to attend in person there are online courses such as MIT’s lecture series, Sam Altman’s ‘How to Start a Start-Up’ on Youtube, the Disciplined Entrepreneurship MOOCS, EdX courses and the online course supporting Scotland Can Do SCALE.

Entrepreneurial education has never been so accessible – it’s up to you to take advantage

In my time at Scottish Enterprise I have been lucky enough to attend many entrepreneurial education workshops on topics from product development and strategy to marketing and social media. Every one of them has been valuable – these workshops provide nuggets of knowledge that are the building blocks of a successful entrepreneur whether you apply the knowledge immediately into your business or bank it for future use, strengthening your toolkit of skills for the future. In addition to the core teaching and skill development, the network of other entrepreneurs and supporters you meet, discuss challenges with and learn directly from is immense. Over and above the learning opportunity, workshops like this give entrepreneurs headspace away from the day to day challenges of running their company. Taking yourself out of the office to work on the business can provide a rare opportunity to take a bird’s eye view of strategy or marketing or finances. So make the time, get your entrepreneurial jeans on and check out what is out there that can help shape you into the best entrepreneur you can be. The next training workshop you go to may just be the catalyst for change you’ve been waiting for.

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