What Makes an Entrepreneur Tick?

Entrepreneurs provide the majority of jobs in the United States, but not a lot is known about what makes them tick. The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur, a new study released the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, fills in some gaps.


Who are they? Mostly middle-class or upper-lower-class, middle-aged, well-educated and married with children. (By the way, almost 1/5 of high-impact, high-tech firms have at least one immigrant founder, according to a study, High-tech Immigrant Entrepreneurship in the United States, released in July by the SBA’s Office of Advocacy.)

A team of researchers at Duke University, University of Akron, and the University of Southern California surveyed 549 company founders of successful businesses in high-growth industries, including aerospace, defense, computing, electronics and health care.

The survey found that over 90% of the entrepreneurs came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds. 95% had bachelorís degrees, and 47% had advanced degrees. Those from lower-upper-class backgrounds, however, were more likely to have been extremely interested in starting a business than the average entrepreneur.

75% were among the top 30% of their high school classes, and just over half said they ranked among the top 10%. In college, two thirds of the founders were among the top 30% of their undergraduate classes.

More than half of the company founders had some interest in entrepreneurship while in college, and almost 1/2 of those who described themselves as “extremely interested” during college went on to found more than two companies.

Founders † averaged 40 years old when they started their first companies, and 70% were married when they became entrepreneurs. Almost 2/3 had at least one child.

So entrepreneurs aren’t the stereotype young college students working out of their dorms. They’re usually experienced and well-educated people with families that are tired of working for others and want to build real wealth before they retire or want to capitalize on a business idea.

Only 4% said they’d started their own business because they couldn’t find other work.

The full report is available here.

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