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The Talent for Entrepreneurship
Business Journal

The Talent for Entrepreneurship

A Q&A with Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, Ph.D.

Story Highlights

  • 10 talents best explain entrepreneurial success
  • Find partners who have the talents you lack
  • There are many good reasons for entrepreneurs to attend college

The world's countries need to add a collective 600 million new jobs in the next 15 years to maintain current employment rates, according to a 2013 World Bank report. That means getting entrepreneurship right is more important than ever. In America alone, small companies create 64% of new private-sector jobs, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports, and a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 20% of gross job creation comes from startups.

To understand what creates success in entrepreneurship, Gallup studied 4,000 entrepreneurs in the U.S., Mexico and Germany. Under the leadership of Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, Ph.D., Gallup senior consultant and lead researcher on entrepreneurship, Gallup discovered that successful entrepreneurs have a rare set of 10 talents that best explains their success.

But if you don't have all 10 of these talents, is your company a washout before it even begins? And if you do have them, should you go to college, or is it a waste of time? Badal answers these and other questions in this conversation.

Gallup: Does every successful entrepreneur have all 10 talents? Are they just born that way?

Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, Ph.D.: Successful entrepreneurs are definitely born with traits that help them succeed. But it's rare that anyone is born with very high levels of all 10 talents. That's where training, support and talent development come into play. If someone is born without a lot of natural entrepreneurial talent, support and development will help that person.

However, even after all the effort put into developing talent, performance might still be average. It will depend on the base level of talent the individual starts with. Entrepreneurs with higher levels of talent gain mastery and ability faster than those who have less talent. Those with lower levels of talent will still benefit from support and development, but they likely won't achieve that same level of success.

So training in specific areas will amplify the ability of the talented, but it won't create it.

Dr. Badal: Right.

What if you're lacking talent in some of these domains? Is your startup doomed?

Dr. Badal: No, not at all. Say, for example, an entrepreneur lacks talent in the Promoter domain. He or she needs to find a partner who has high talent for sales -- who can be the best spokesperson for the business.

You can look at these 10 talents as the demands of the job, but as I said, few people are born highly talented in all 10. So if you are highly talented in five of these domains and can figure out strategies to take care of the other five -- which are also necessary to grow the business -- you will have stronger business outcomes.

Where would you recommend people go for the specific training they need?

Dr. Badal: There are resources to help entrepreneurs in most U.S. cities. To form a network, check with economic development agencies in your area -- for instance, a U.S. Small Business Administration district office, the local chamber of commerce or a nearby university. If you're figuring out how to manage employees and grow your customer base, there are resources to help with that. With all of the support available, it's essential to know in which areas you most need help.

Speaking of universities, should people with the talent for entrepreneurship go to college? Or should they just get to work starting companies?

Dr. Badal: This is a complex question. If a young person has the financial and social capital to not only start a business but survive the entrepreneurial journey, then college is not essential. But how many people have access to that kind of support? How many young people have family members who can provide resources for a startup, help the young entrepreneur with advice or act as a safety net if the venture fails? It also depends on the type of business one is thinking of starting. In some industries, a college degree may not be necessary, though in others it is essential.

For people who want to start a company but do not have the necessary support readily available, college helps in specific ways. First, attaining a deep level of knowledge, expertise and skill in a particular field could help lead to the start of a more sustainable, high-growth business. We live in a knowledge-based economy, in an era where technology is pervasive. Ninety-two percent of U.S.-born tech entrepreneurs hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Nearly half of these degrees are in science-, technology-, engineering- and mathematics-related fields.

Another reason for attending college is to cultivate a network. Research shows that people who have gone to college are not only more successful in starting a business, but also in growing a business. One explanation is that college allows you to create a network of contacts you can expand on throughout your career. Relationship building is a requirement of successful entrepreneurship, and the bigger that network is, the better it is for the startup. College campuses can connect a nascent entrepreneur to numerous potential mentors, incubators, funders, investors and business partners. This type of support is critical in starting a venture.

The third, less-mentioned reason for attending college is to increase self-confidence. While some entrepreneurs seem born ready to plow into the highly uncertain and unpredictable world of business creation, many are fearful of what it entails. The resources available on college campuses can help to translate fear into preparation and action.

Yet so many incredibly successful entrepreneurs are college dropouts.

Dr. Badal: Right. Well, first, only a handful of incredibly successful innovator-cum-entrepreneurs like Bill Gates are college dropouts. As I mentioned before, 92% of tech founders in the U.S. have a college degree. It is important to note that high-profile dropouts such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Gates each struck a partnership with someone who helped to build the business. Think Steve Wozniak for Jobs, Eduardo Saverin for Zuckerberg and Paul Allen for Gates.

These entrepreneurs had immense natural talent, incredible vision and a strong capacity for hard work, but each also had a partner who complemented his talents and abilities. So no matter how great the idea and how impatient the entrepreneur, college can help build the basic skills, knowledge and connections people need to start something of value. For the majority of entrepreneurs, it's worth the time it takes to finish college before starting a business.

-- Interviewed by Jennifer Robison

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