Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
Vivek Wadhwa et al.
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Small Research Projects
The modern entrepreneur that dominates popular thinking is exemplified by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page. As portrayed in the media, the stereotypical entrepreneur starts off as a young, unmarried workaholic; hails from an upper-class background; and drops out of an elite college to follow his grand vision. But this paper finds that the true portrait of a successful entrepreneur is very different than magazine covers suggest: The typical entrepreneur, in fact, is middle-aged, middle-class, and married with children.
The authors surveyed 549 company founders in a dozen high-growth industries — including health care, aerospace, defense, and computers — and found that their average age when they launched their business was 40. Contrary to popular perception, most entrepreneurs came from middle- or upper-lower-class families and were married with two or more children, in addition to being highly educated (less than 5 percent reported having a degree below a bachelor’s). The primary motivation cited by the entrepreneurs was to “build wealth,” along with the desire to own their own company, work for themselves, and capitalize on an untapped business idea.
The authors recommend that those seeking to invest in successful entrepreneurial endeavors look beyond the young and ambitious, and instead consider the value of entrepreneurs who have developed ideas based on previous business experience and who understand the steps involved in bringing a product or service to market.
In contrast to the common media portrayal, the majority of successful modern entrepreneurs come from a middle-class background, are experienced in business, have a family, and are entering middle age.