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Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation

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Abstract and Figures

Entrepreneurs are among the most celebrated people in our culture. Celebrity entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, often grace the covers of prominent publications. These company founders and innovators fuel economic growth and give the nation its competitive edge. However, very little is known today about the backgrounds, life histories, motivations and beliefs of these entrepreneurs. So myths and stereotypes prevail. The commonly held belief is that entrepreneurs are young, lightly-educated, childless unmarried workaholics. They are perceived to come from rich families and graduate from elite colleges. But is this true? This research answers some of these questions. This is based on a survey of 549 company founders in 12 high-growth industries. It finds that most founders came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds, are well-educated and married with children. The strongest motivation for starting a company was to "build wealth". Other popular motivators included capitalizing on a business idea; the appeal of a startup culture; a desire to own a company; and a lack of interest in working for someone else.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1431263
Authors:
Vivek Wadhwa
Raj Aggarwal
Krisztina “Z” Holly
Alex Salkever
The Anatomy of an
Entrepreneur
Family
Background
and
Motivation
July 2009
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1431263
AUTHORS
Vivek Wadhwa
Associate Director, Center for Entrepreneurship
and Research Commercialization at Duke University
and Senior Research Associate,
Harvard Law School
Raj Aggarwal
Dean and Sullivan Professor
College of Business Administration, The University of Akron
Krisztina “Z” Holly
Executive Director, USC Stevens Institute for Innovation
Vice Provost for Innovation, University of Southern California
Alex Salkever
Visiting Researcher
Masters of Engineering Management Program
Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
Special Thanks:
Robert Litan, E.J. Reedy, Bo Fishback
Student Researchers:
Moline Prak, Francisco Regalado, Neeti Agarwal, Savithri Arulanandasamy, Tahsin Hashem,
Swetha Kolluri, Ayoola Lapite, Jeffery Lee, Lynn Lee, Vinay Lekharaju, Aibek Nurkadyr, Rachel
Prabhakaran, Keertana Ravindran, Arjun Reddy, Anisha Sequeira, Karna Vishwas
©2009 by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1431263
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 1
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur
Family Background and Motivation
July 2009
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
2
Table of Contents
Introduction and Findings......................................................................................................................................4
Company founders tend to be middle-aged and well-educated,
and did better in high school than in college ..........................................................................................5
These entrepreneurs tend to come from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds,
were better educated and more entrepreneurial than their parents..........................................................5
Most entrepreneurs are married and have children .................................................................................5
Early interest and propensity to start companies......................................................................................5
Motivations for becoming entrepreneurs: Building wealth, owning a company,
startup culture, and capitalizing on a business idea ................................................................................6
Not important or less-important factors: Inability to obtain employment
or encouragement from others ................................................................................................................6
Most had significant industry experience when starting their companies ................................................6
Early entrepreneurs and those with an early interest in entrepreneurship are different ............................6
Methodology/Industries Surveyed........................................................................................................................8
Figure 1—Type of Business Currently Running or Founded.....................................................................8
Figure 2—Country of Birth ......................................................................................................................8
Definition of founder ..............................................................................................................................8
Detailed Findings ....................................................................................................................................................9
The average and median age of company founders in our sample when they started their current
companies was 40. The standard deviation for this distribution was 7.7. ................................................9
Company founders tend to be well-educated .............................................................................................9
Figure 3—Highest Level of Degree ...................................................................................................9
They tend to do very well in high school......................................................................................................9
Figure 4—How Would You Rank Your High School Academic
Performance Relative to Your Peers? ..................................................................................................9
They also do well, but not as well, in college ...............................................................................................9
Figure 5—How Would You Rank Your College/University
Academic Performance Relative to Your Peers? .................................................................................9
Majority come from middle-class or upper-lower-class families.............................................................10
Figure 6—How Would You Describe Your Family’s Circumstances as You Grew Up? ......................10
The average birth order of respondents in their family was 2.2 and the average
number of siblings was 3.1.
Figure 7—Number of Siblings .........................................................................................................10
Figure 8—Birth Order .....................................................................................................................10
Entrepreneurs usually better educated than their parents .......................................................................11
Figure 9—What is the Highest Level of Degree Earned by Your Father? ..........................................11
Figure 10—What is the Highest Level of Degree Earned by Your Mother?.......................................11
Entrepreneurship didn’t always run in the family ......................................................................................11
More than half (51.9 percent) of respondents were the first in their family to
launch a business. For 38.8 percent of respondents, their father was the first one to start a
business in their family and 15.2 percent indicated siblings had previously started businesses. ............11
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 3
Figure 11—Which Members of Your Family Started a Business Before You Did? .............................11
Married with children....................................................................................................................................12
Figure 12—What Was Your Marital Status When You Started the Business? .....................................12
Figure 13—How Many Children Did You Have Living In Your Household
When You Started Your Business? ....................................................................................................12
Early interest and propensity to start companies.......................................................................................12
Figure 14—How Many Businesses Have You Started? .....................................................................12
Always thinking about entrepreneurship?...................................................................................................13
Figure 15—How Interested Were You in Becoming an Entrepreneur
While You Were Completing Your Higher Education?......................................................................13
Motivations for becoming an entrepreneur ...............................................................................................13
Figure 16—Wanted to Build Wealth ...............................................................................................13
Figure 17—Wanted to Capitalize on a Business Idea I Had ............................................................13
Figure 18—Startup Company Culture Appealed to Me....................................................................14
Figure 19—Have Always Wanted My Own Company .....................................................................14
Figure 20—Working for Someone Else Did Not Appeal to Me ........................................................14
Less important or not-important factors.....................................................................................................15
Figure 21—Inability to Find Traditional Employment.......................................................................15
Figure 22—Co-Founder Encouraged Me to Become a Partner and Start Our Company...................15
Figure 23—Developed a Technology in a Laboratory Environment
and Wanted to See It Make an Impact ............................................................................................15
Figure 24—An Entrepreneurial Friend or Family Member Was a Role Model..................................15
Most had significant industry experience when starting their companies..............................................16
Figure 25—Approximately How Many Years Did You Work
for Another Employer Prior to Starting Your First Business? ..............................................................16
Early entrepreneurs and those with an early interest in entrepreneurship are different ......................16
Figure 26—Time Taken to Start a Company for Those with Extreme Interest
in Entrepreneurship in College vs. Overall Population ....................................................................16
Figure 27—Level of Interest in Entrepreneurship in College vs.
Number of Years Worked before Starting First Business...................................................................17
Figure 28—Number of Years Worked Before Launching First Business by Marital Status .................17
Serial entrepreneurs: extremely interested in starting business in college
and motivated by wanting to own a company...........................................................................................17
Figure 29—Number of Companies Started by Entrepreneurs Who were
Extremely Interested in Entrepreneurship in College vs. Overall Population....................................17
Figure 30—Level of Motivation as Wanting to Own Their Company
in Serial Entrepreneurs vs. Overall Population.................................................................................17
Respondents from a “lower-upper-class” background: more likely to be driven
by wealth or wanting own company and interested in entrepreneurship during college ....................18
Figure 31—Level of Motivation to Build Wealth in Respondents from
“Lower-Upper-Class” Background vs. Overall Population: ..............................................................18
Figure 32—Level of Interest in Entrepreneurship During College by Those
with “Lower-Upper-Class” Background vs. Overall Population .......................................................18
Analysis and Conclusions .....................................................................................................................................20
Introduction and Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
4
Introduction and
Findings
Entrepreneurs are among the most celebrated
people in our culture. Celebrity entrepreneurs such as
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sergei Brin, and Larry Page often
grace the covers of prominent publications. These
company founders and innovators fuel economic
growth and give the nation its competitive edge.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, in
2004 small firms (<500 employees) employed 50.9
percent of the private-sector work force and generated
50.7 percent of the non-farm private gross domestic
product.1According to that same report, in 2004
firms with fewer than 500 employees had $1.9 trillion
in annual payroll, not including benefits. An extensive
report released in November 2008 by the U.S. Small
Business Administration found that small firms had a
higher percentage of patents per employee than larger
firms, and that younger firms were more likely to have
a higher percentage of patents per employee than
older firms.2
However, very little is known today about the
backgrounds, life histories, motivations, and beliefs of
the founders of businesses in high-growth industries.
Understanding how entrepreneurs develop, the
circumstances that can foster or induce
entrepreneurship, and the mindset and beliefs of
entrepreneurs could prove helpful both in supporting
the existing class of entrepreneurs and in augmenting
the ranks of entrepreneurs. This paper is aimed at
helping to begin filling some of those information
gaps by providing high-level insights into the
backgrounds (socio-economic, educational, and
familial) and motivations of entrepreneurs.
This is a follow-up to several research projects by the
Global Engineering and Entrepreneurship project at
Duke University, which has been researching the effect
of globalization on the engineering profession and on
U.S. competitiveness. Our previous research had
focused on the contributions of skilled immigrants, the
education and backgrounds of technology company
founders, and the differences between immigrants and
U.S.-born company founders.
For this project, we surveyed 549 company founders
in a variety of industries, including aerospace and
defense, computer and electronics, health care, and
services. (This was a broader range of industries than
we previously researched). We also asked founders
more detailed questions about their backgrounds,
motivations, and experiences in launching companies.
While our research cannot be generalized to the
entire population of entrepreneurs in the United
States, it is meant to be illustrative of the backgrounds
of entrepreneurs in industries that we expected to be
higher growth.3Unfortunately, like most research in
this area, we are affected by a survivor bias, in that we
are able only to reach entrepreneurs whose companies
are still alive.
Here are some of our key findings. Detailed statistics
and charts are available in latter sections of this paper.
1. U.S. Census Bureau data and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy contract,
The Small Business Share of GDP
,
1998–2004,
submitted by
Kathryn Kobe, Economic Consulting Services, LLC, April 2007.
2.
An Analysis of Small Business Patents by Industry and Firm Size: SBA Research Paper
by Anthony Breitzman, PhD, and Diana Hicks, PhD, November 2008.
3. The Survey of Business Owners from the Census Bureau is a good source of overview statistics on business owners in the United States, but is only completed
every five years and has very limited space for questions (http://www.census.gov/econ/sbo/index.html). Other private surveys, such as the Kauffman Firm Survey, also
have information on owner backgrounds, but are focused on a different population of businesses (http://www.kauffman.org/research-and-policy/kauffman-firm-
survey.aspx).
Entrepreneurs are among the most celebrated people in our culture.
Celebrity entrepreneurs often grace the covers of prominent publications.
These company founders and innovators fuel economic growth
and give the nation its competitive edge.
Introduction and Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 5
Company founders tend to be middle-aged
and well-educated, and did better in high
school than in college
The average and median age of company founders
in our sample when they started their current
companies was 40. (This is consistent with our
previous research, which found the average and
median age of technology company founders to
be 39).
95.1 percent of respondents themselves had earned
bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more
advanced degrees.
75 percent ranked their academic performance
among the top 30 percent of the high school class,
with a majority (52.4 percent) ranking their
performance among the top 10 percent.
67 percent ranked their academic performance
among the top 30 percent of their undergraduate
class, but a smaller percentage (37.5 percent)
ranked their performance among the top 10
percent.
These entrepreneurs tend to come from
middle-class or upper-lower-class
backgrounds, and were better educated and
more entrepreneurial than their parents
71.5 percent of respondents came from middle-class
backgrounds (34.6 percent upper-middle class and
36.9 percent lower-middle class). Additionally, 21.8
percent said they came from upper-lower-class
families (blue-collar workers in some form of
manual labor).
Less than 1 percent came from extremely rich or
extremely poor backgrounds
The average birth order of respondents in their
family was 2.2 and the average number of siblings
was 3.1.
The fathers of 50.1 percent of the company
founders held bachelor’s or advanced degrees, as
did 33.9 percent of the mothers.
More than half (51.9 percent) of respondents were
the first in their families to launch a business. Only
38.8 percent, 6.9 percent, and 15.2 percent,
respectively, had a father, mother, or siblings who
had previously started businesses.
Most entrepreneurs are married and have
children
69.9 percent of respondents indicated they were
married when they launched their first business. An
additional 5.2 percent were divorced, separated, or
widowed.
59.7 percent of respondents indicated they had at
least one child when they launched their first
business, and 43.5 percent had two or more
children.
Early interest and propensity to start
companies
52 percent of respondents had some interest in
becoming an entrepreneur when they were in
college, but 34.7 percent didn't even think about it,
and 13.3 percent had little or no interest. Those
from lower-upper-class backgrounds were more
likely to have been extremely interested in starting a
business than the average (25 percent vs. 18.5
percent).
Of the 24.5 percent who indicated that they were
“extremely interested” in becoming entrepreneurs
during college, 47.1 percent went on to start more
than two companies (as compared to 32.9 percent
of the overall sample).
The majority of the entrepreneurs in our sample
were serial entrepreneurs. The average number of
businesses launched by respondents was
approximately 2.3; 41.4 percent were starting their
first businesses.
75 percent ranked their academic performance among the top 30 percent
of the high school class, with a majority (52.4 percent) ranking their
performance among the top 10 percent.
Introduction and Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
6
Motivations for becoming entrepreneurs:
building wealth, owning a company, startup
culture, and capitalizing on a business idea
74.8 percent of respondents indicated desire to
build wealth as an important motivation in
becoming an entrepreneur. This factor was rated as
important by 82.1 percent of respondents who
grew up in “lower-upper-class” families.
68.1 percent of respondents indicated that
capitalizing on a business idea was an important
motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
64.2 percent of respondents said they have always
wanted to own their own companies. This was a
stronger factor for those from lower-upper-class
backgrounds—78.6 percent ranked this as
important.
66.2 percent said the appeal of a startup culture
was an important motivation.
60.3 percent said that working for others did not
appeal to them. Responses to this question were
relatively evenly distributed in a rough bell curve,
with 16 percent of respondents citing this as an
extremely important factor and 16.8 percent of
respondents citing it as not at all a factor.
Not important or less-important factors:
inability to obtain employment or
encouragement from others
80.3 percent of respondents stated that inability to
find traditional employment was not at all a factor
in starting their own businesses. Only 4.5 percent
said this was an important factor.
37.8 percent of respondents said the role played by
an entrepreneurial friend or family member was an
important factor. A co-founder’s encouragement
was important for 27.9 percent of the respondents.
18.1 percent had developed a technology they
wanted to commercialize.
Most had significant industry experience
when starting their companies
The majority of respondents (75.4 percent) had
worked as employees at other companies for more
than six years before launching their own
companies. Nearly half (47.9 percent) launched their
first companies with more than ten years of work
experience.
Significant percentages of respondents started their
first companies after working eleven to fifteen years
(23.3 percent), sixteen to twenty years (14.3
percent), or greater than twenty years (10.3 percent)
for someone else.
Early entrepreneurs and those with an early
interest in entrepreneurship are different
Entrepreneurs who started their companies soon
after graduating (with zero to five years of work
experience) and those who had an extremely strong
interest in entrepreneurship in college were far less
likely to be married (36.6 percent vs. the total
sample average of 69.9 percent) or to have kids
when they launched their first businesses
(26.9 percent vs. the total sample average of
59.6 percent).
Those who were “extremely interested” in starting a
company while in college were far more likely to be
early entrepreneurs. Of these entrepreneurs,
69 percent started their companies within ten years
of working for someone else (as compared to
46.8 percent from the rest of the population).
Level of interest in entrepreneurship during college
was correlated to the number of years worked
before starting a business—only 18 percent from
the “extremely interested” group worked for at
least fifteen years before starting their own
businesses, as compared to 46.4 percent from the
“not very interested” group.
60.3 percent said that working for others did not appeal to them.
Responses to this question were relatively evenly distributed in a rough bell
curve, with 16 percent of respondents citing this as an extremely important
factor and 16.8 percent of respondents citing it as not at all a factor.
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 7
Methodology/Industries Surveyed
and Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
8
Methodolgy/Industries Surveyed
Methodology/Industries
Surveyed
The primary data source for this work is a subset of
an existing dataset of corporate records included in the
OneSource Information Services Companies database.
To construct our dataset, we extracted records of
companies based in the following industries:
Automotive & Aerospace
• Aerospace & Defense
Computers & Electronics
• Audio & Video Equipment
• Computer Hardware
• Computer Networks
• Computer Peripherals
• Computer Services
• Computer Storage Devices
• Electronic Instruments & Controls
• Scientific & Technical Instruments
• Semiconductors
• Software & Programming
Health Care
• Biotechnology & Drugs
• Health Care Facilities
• Medical Equipment & Supplies
Services
• Computer Services
• Engineering Consultants
• Software & Programming
We extracted randomized records by region. We
visited the Web sites of these companies to make sure
the company was still in operation and to obtain
names of founders and contact information. We
contacted company founders via e-mail and requested
they complete a brief online survey consisting of a
series of questions about their own personal and
family backgrounds, as well as their views on and
motivations toward starting a business. Our team of
researchers sent up to four unsolicited e-mails to these
founders. In some cases, we followed up with phone
calls.
Five hundred and forty-nine respondents took the
survey, which was conducted between August 2008
and March 2009. We estimate that, of the founders
we could reach, approximately 40 percent completed
the survey.
The respondents were highly concentrated in
technology sectors, with 77 percent indicating that
their current company made computer
hardware/software or other forms of technology
products and services. Other sectors included biotech,
medical, military, and other (non-technology).
We asked the founders to categorize their
companies by industry. These responses were not
always consistent with the OneSource classification of
these companies. This report focuses on surviving
businesses, thus may not be representative of the
overall population of businesses.
Definition of founder
We allowed company executives to tell us if they
were a founder. The guidelines we provided for
defining a “founder” was “an early employee, who
typically joined the company in its first year, before the
company developed its products and perfected its
business model.”
Figure 1:
Type of Business Currently Running
or Founded
Computer Hardware/
Software
Engineering
Consultants
Medical
Defense
Energy
Biotechnology
Other
Telecommunication
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
0
5
10
15
20
30.4%
23.0%
18.0%
4.2%
4.0%
4.2%
5.8%
10.4%
Figure 2:
Country of Birth
USA
India
UK
Canada
Percentage
0 20
82.5%
3.8%
1.7%
1.3%
1.0%
0.8%
0.6%
0.6%
0.6%
0.6%
6.7%
40 60 80 100
8
8
8
3 8%
3
1
3
3
0
Germany
Iran
Italy
China
Norway
Taiwan
Other
Figure 5:
How Would You Rank Your College/
University Academic Performance Relative
to Your Peers?
Top 10%
Top 30%
Average
Percentage
0510 15 20 25 30 35 40
0
Bottom 30%
Bottom 10%
N/A
37.5%
29.5%
26.0%
2.7%
1.6%
2.6%
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 9
They also do well, but not as well, in college
A solid majority of respondents (67 percent)
ranked their academic performance among the top
30 percent of their undergraduate class, but a
smaller percentage (37.5 percent) ranked their
performance among the top 10 percent. The
percentage of founders that rated themselves in the
bottom 30 percent of class performance was nearly
the same in high school (4.9 percent) and college
(4.4 percent).
Company founders tend to be well-educated
Company founders in the industries we
researched tend to be well-educated. More than
95.1 percent hold bachelor’s degrees or higher.
A higher percentage of respondents had just
bachelor’s degrees (48 percent) than advanced
degrees (47 percent), however.
Figure 4:
How Would You Rank Your
High School Academic Performance
Relative to Your Peers?
Top 10%
Top 30%
Average
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
0
Bottom 30%
Bottom 10%
N/A
52.4%
22.6%
19.7%
3.6%
1.3%
0.4%
Figure 3:
Highest Level of Degree
JD
PhD
Postdoctoral
Research
MD
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50
0
MBA
Master’s
Bachelor’s
Associate’s
Other
2.4%
0.8%
0.6%
13.8%
19.0% 48.0%
1.8%
3.2%
10.5%
They tend to do very well in high school
A significant majority of respondents (75 percent)
ranked their academic performance among the top
30 percent of the high school class, with a majority
(52.4 percent) ranking their performance among the
top 10 percent. But about 24.6 percent ranked their
performance average or below average.
Detailed Findings
Age
The average and median age of company founders in our sample when they started their current company was
forty. The standard deviation for this distribution was 7.7.
Detailed Findings
Majority come from middle-class or upper-
lower-class families
We used the following definitions for socio-
economic status by
Dennis Gilbert.4
UPPER-UPPER CLASS: “Old money;” people
who have been born into and raised with
wealth; mostly consists of old “noble” or
prestigious families.
LOWER-UPPER CLASS: “New money;”
individuals who have become rich within their
own lifetimes.
UPPER-MIDDLE CLASS: Professionals with a
college education and, more often, with
postgraduate degrees like MBAs, PhDs, MDs,
JDs, MSs, etc.
LOWER-MIDDLE CLASS: Lower-paid white
collar workers, but not manual laborers.
Often hold associate’s
or bachelor’s degrees.
UPPER-LOWER CLASS: Blue-collar workers
and manual laborers. Also known as the
“working class.”
LOWER-LOWER CLASS: The homeless and
permanently unemployed, as well as the
“working poor.”
What we found was that respondents tended
not to come from either extreme of the socio-
economic spectrum, with 34.6 percent
describing their socio-economic level as upper-
middle class. Among respondents, 36.9 percent
described themselves as lower-middle class, and
21.8 percent described themselves as upper-
lower class. Only three respondents (0.7 percent)
indicated their origins were lower-lower class
and only three respondents (0.6 percent)
indicated their origins were upper-upper class.
These results seem to show that entrepreneurs,
on the whole, are more likely to emerge from
stable, comfortable family existences but not
from circumstances of great
family wealth.
Further, the results indicate that extreme
poverty is a significant barrier to
entrepreneurship. With regard to extremely
wealthy families, the pool is so small in the
United States that the low response rate might
more be a reflection of a smaller population
than anything else.
Figure 6:
How Would You Describe Your Family’s
Circumstances as You Grew Up?
Lower-Lower Class
Upper-Lower Class
Lower-Middle Class
Percentage
0510 15 20 25 30 35 40
Upper-Middle Class
Lower-Upper Class
Upper-Upper Class
8.7%
0.6%
21.8%
5.4%
34.6%
36.9%
4. Gilbert, D. (2002). The American Class Structure: In An Age of Growing Inequality. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth; Thompson, W., and Hickey, J.
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
10
Respondents’ average birth order in
their families was 2.2. The average
number of siblings was 3.1.
Figure 7:
Number of Siblings
0
1
2
3
4
5
7
More than 7
6
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25
0
3.0%
19.2%
23.8%
21.6%
14.7%
7.3%
4.8%
2.6%
3.0%
Figure 8:
Birth Order
First
Second
Third
Fourth
Fifth
Sixth
Eighth
Ninth or More
Seventh
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50
0
42.5%
0.4%
0.6%
0.8%
1.5%
4.5%
6.8%
14.9%
28.1%
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 11
Entrepreneurs usually better educated than
their parents
In terms of parents’ educational level, only 23
percent of entrepreneurs’ fathers earned advanced
degrees and only 27.1 percent earned bachelor’s
degrees. Among mothers of entrepreneurs, only 9.5
percent earned advanced degrees, and only 24.4
percent earned bachelor’s degrees; 55.6 percent
earned high school degrees or no degree at all.
Figure 9:
What is the Highest Level of Degree Earned
by Your Father?
PhD
MBA, JD, MD
Master’s
Bachelor’s
Associate’s
Other
No Degree
High School
Diploma/GED
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
0
5
10
15
20
6.1%
11.0%
27.1%
5.4%
24.0%
0.9%
19.5%
5.9%
Figure 10:
What is the Highest Level of Degree Earned
by Your Mother?
PhD
MBA, JD, MD
Master’s
Bachelor’s
Associate’s
Other
No Degree
High School
Diploma/GED
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
0
5
10
15
2
0.9%
18.5%
0.4%
37.1%
10.1%
24.4%
8.2%
0.4%
Entrepreneurship didn’t always run in the
family
More than half (51.9 percent) of respondents
were the first in their families to launch a
business. For 38.8 percent of respondents, their
father was the first to start a business in their
family; 15.2 percent indicated siblings had
previously started businesses.
Figure 11:
Which Members of Your Family Started a
Business Before You Did?
I was the first in
my immediate
family to start a
business
Father
Mother
Siblings
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
51.9%
38.8%
6.9%
15.2%
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
12
Early interest and propensity to start
companies
The majority of the entrepreneurs in our sample
were serial entrepreneurs; the average number of
businesses launched by respondents was
approximately 2.3.5But 41.4 percent were running
the first business they had started.
Figure 14:
How Many Business Have You Started?
1
2
3
4
5
6
8
9
More than 10
7
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50
0
41.4%
1.0%
0.4%
1.2%
1.6%
2.2%
1.8%
7.7%
16.6%
26.0%
5. In this calculation, we assigned the weighted value ten to respondents who had indicated they had launched ten or more businesses. The potential for
underestimating the average number of businesses launched per respondent is likely minimal, due to the small number of respondents claiming to have launched ten
or more businesses.
Figure 12:
What Was Your Marital Status When You
Started the Business?
Single
Married
Divorced/
Separated
Widowed
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
24.9%
0.7%
4.5%
69.9%
Figure 13:
How Many Children Did You Have Living
In Your Household When You Started
Your Business?
0
1
2
3
4
5
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50
0
40.3%
3.4%
0.9%
11.0%
28.0%
16.4%
Married with Children
One common stereotype of an entrepreneur is a
childless, unmarried workaholic with no time for a
wife or husband and children. This stereotype
appears to be false, as 59.7 percent of respondents
indicated they had at least one child when they
launched their first businesses, and 43.5 percent had
two or more children. Additionally, 69.9 percent of
respondents indicated they were married when they
launched their first businesses.
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 13
Always thinking about entrepreneurship?
Only 24.5 percent indicated they were extremely
interested in becoming entrepreneurs when they
were completing their higher education. An
additional 27.5 percent had some interest. But
34.7 percent didn’t give this any thought, and
13.3 percent indicated that they were not at all
interested or not very interested.
Figure 15:
How Interested Were You in Becoming an
Entrepreneur While You Were Completing
Your Higher Education?
Not at all
interested
Not very
interested
Didn’t think
about it
Extremely
interested
Somewhat
interested
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
7.2%
6.1%
34.7%
27.5%
24.5%
Motivations for becoming an entrepreneur
The strongest motivations for respondents in
starting their own businesses were building wealth,
owning their own companies, capitalizing on
business ideas they had, and the appeal of startup
culture. Regarding desire to build wealth, 74.8
percent of respondents indicated they viewed this as
an important, very important, or extremely
important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
In terms of capitalizing on business ideas they had,
68.1 percent of respondents indicated they viewed
this as an important, very important, or extremely
important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
With regard to always wanting to own their own
businesses, 64.2 percent of respondents viewed this
as an important, very important, or extremely
important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
In terms of the appeal of a startup culture, 66.2
percent of respondents viewed this as an important,
very important, or extremely important motivation in
becoming an entrepreneur. And 60.3 percent said
that an important, very important, or extremely
important factor was that working for others did
not appeal to them.
Figure 16:
Wanted to Build Wealth
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
0
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
32.0%
24.4%
7.3%
1.1%
18.4%
16.7%
Figure 17:
Wanted to Capitalize on
a Business Idea I Had
Extremely
important
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not at all
a factor
N/A
Not very
important factor
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25
0
23.6%
24.8%
19.7%
14.2%
14.0%
3.8%
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
14
Figure 18:
Startup Company Culture Appealed to Me
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25
0
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
20.8%
22.1%
23.3%
12.5%
18.0%
3.4%
Figure 19:
Have Always Wanted My Own Company
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
0
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
27.5%
15.9%
20.8%
17.8%
16.1%
1.9%
Figure 20:
Working for Someone Else
Did Not Appeal To Me
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25
0
16.0%
20.3%
22.4%
16.8%
0.6%
23.9%
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 15
Less important or not-important factors
Only 4.5 percent of respondents stated that inability to find traditional employment was an important motivator
in starting their own businesses. In fact, 80.3 said that this was not at all a factor. Only 27.9 percent of
respondents felt that encouragement by a co-founder, entrepreneurial friends, or family members to launch a
company played an important, very important, or extremely important role in their motivations to launch a
business. And only 18 percent of respondents said that taking a technology they already had developed in the lab
and trying to see if it could make an impact was an important, very important, or extremely important motivator
toward their business launch.
Figure 21:
Inability to Find Traditional Employment
Percentage
0 20 40 60 80 100
0
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
1.3%
11.3%
80.3%
3.8%
0.9%
2.3%
Figure 22:
Co-Founder Encouraged Me to Become a
Partner and Start Our Company
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50
0
10
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
6.8%
15.1%
44.0%
13.0%
13.2%
7.9%
Figure 23:
Developed a Technology in a Laboratory
Environment and Wanted to See it Make
an Impact
Percentage
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
0
10
20
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
8.0%
21.0%
50.9%
10.0%
5.9%
4.2%
Figure 24:
An Entrepreneurial Friend or Family Member
Was a Role Model
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
0
5
1
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
9.2%
12.3%
16.2%
18.5%
35.1%
8.7%
With regard to the impact of role models
such as family members or entrepreneur
friends, 37.8 percent of respondents
indicated they played an important, very
important, or extremely important role in the
decision to start a company.
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
16
Most had significant industry experience when
starting their companies
The majority of respondents (75.4 percent) had
worked as employees at other companies for more
than six years before launching their own
companies. The highest percentage of entrepreneurs
(52.2 percent) launched their companies after
working as employees for other companies for
between one and ten years. However, significant
percentages of respondents started their first
companies after working eleven to fifteen years
(23.3 percent), sixteen to twenty years (14.3
percent), or greater than twenty years (10.3 percent)
for someone else. In other words, while
entrepreneurs do tend to launch companies early in
their careers on average, significant portions (47.9
percent) wait until much later in their careers, after
passing ten-plus years in the workforce before
launching a company.
Figure 25:
Approximately How Many Years Did You
Work for Another Employer Prior to Starting
Your First Business?
0–5 years
6–10 years
11–15 years
20+ years
16–20 years
Percentage
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
24.6%
27.6%
23.3%
14.3%
10.3%
Early entrepreneurs and those with an early
interest in entrepreneurship are different
We analyzed the number of years an entrepreneur
had worked for someone else before launching his
or her own business. Key differences emerged.
Entrepreneurs who started their companies soon
after graduating (with zero to five years of work
experience) and those who had an extremely strong
interest in entrepreneurship in college were far less
likely to be married (36.6 percent vs. the total
sample average of 69.9 percent) or to have children
when they launched their first businesses (26.9
percent vs. the total sample average of 59.6
percent). The respondents who said that they were
“extremely interested” in starting a company while
in college were far more likely to be early
entrepreneurs. Sixty-nine percent started their own
companies within ten years of working for someone
else (as compared to 46.8 percent from the rest of
the population). Generally, we saw a correlation
between the level of interest in entrepreneurship
during college and the number of years worked
before starting a business. For instance, only 18
percent from the “extremely interested” group
worked for at least fifteen years before starting their
own businesses, as compared to 46.4 percent from
the “not very interested” group.
Figure 26:
Time Taken to Start a Company for Those
with Extreme Interest in Entrepreneurship in
College vs. Overall Population
20+ years
16–20 years
11–15 years
8–10 years
0–5 years
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage
“Extremely Interested” in Starting a Company While in College
Overall Population: Excluding the “Extremely Interested” Group
6.0%
11.7%
12.0%
19.3%
41.4%
27.5%
27.8%
27.0%
12.8%
14.5%
.0%
1
14
0
10
20
6.0%
6
1
Figure 30:
Level of Motivation as Wanting to Own
Their Company in Serial Entrepreneurs vs.
Overall Population
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Percentage
Serial Entrepreneurs
Overall Population–Excluding Serial Entrepreneurs
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
N/A
0
35.2%
1.8%
1.9%
18.2%
11.9%
20.4%
13.2%
21.6%
18.2%
13.7% 19.5%
24.3%
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 17
Figure 28:
Number of Years Worked Before Launching
First Business by Marital Status
20+ years
16–20 years
11–15 years
8–10 years
0–5 years
0 20 40 60 80 100
Percentage
Single
Married
10.9%
36.6%
57.3%
68.7%
25.9%
85.5%
8.9%
90.7%
5.3%
85.5%
0.9
%
10
8
9
9
9
90
9
9
5
.
3%
5
8
8
8
8
8.9%
8
6
5
.9
%
2
0
20
4
Figure 27:
Level of Interest in Entrepreneurship in
College vs. Number of Years Worked Before
Starting First Business
Extremely
interested
Somewhat
interested
Didn’t think
about it
Not very
interested
Not at all
interested
0 10 20 30 40 50
0
10
0–5 years
6–10 years
11– 15 years
16–20 years
20+ years
Percentage
Serial entrepreneurs: extremely interested in starting business in college and motivated by wanting to
own a company
Respondents who were “extremely interested” in entrepreneurship during college were more likely to start more
than two companies (47.1 percent vs. an average of 28 percent from the rest of the population). Serial
entrepreneurs also indicated that they always wanted their own companies (73 percent vs. an average of 59.6
percent from the rest of the population).
Figure 29:
Number of Companies Started by
Entrepreneurs Who Were Extremely
Interested in Entrepreneurship in
College vs. Overall Population
5 or more
4
3
2
1
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage
“Extremely Interested” in Entrepreneurship During Higher Education
Overall Population: Excluding “Extremely Interested” Group
44.6%
12.4%
31.4%
27.4%
21.5%
14.8%
22.3%
7.0%
12.4%
6.2%
6
6
6
6
6
6
6
1
1
0
10
20
30
40
4
31
.
4%
3
1.5%
2
Detailed Findings
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
18
Respondents from a “lower-upper-class”
background: more likely to be driven by
wealth or wanting own company and
interested in entrepreneurship during college
Fifty percent of respondents who came from a
“lower-upper-class” background said that wealth
was an extremely important or very important
motivator for starting their own businesses, as
compared to 42.6 percent of the overall
population. People from this background were
more likely to be driven by always wanting their
own companies (78.6 percent vs. the overall
sample average of 63.5 percent). Also, 41.4
percent of them indicated that they were
“extremely interested” in entrepreneurship during
college as compared to the overall sample average
of 24.5 percent.
Figure 31:
Level of Motivation to Build Wealth in
Respondents from “Lower-Upper-Class
Background vs. Overall Population
Extremely
important factor
Very important
factor
Important
factor
Not very
important factor
Not at all a
factor
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Percentage
Lower-Upper Class
Overall Population–Excluding Respondents from “Lower-Upper-Class” Backgrounds
25.0%
8.2%
7.1%
17.1%
10.7%
32.1%
24.5%
25.0%
18.1%
32.1%
1
1
17
1
1
1
0.7%
1
0
8
8
32.1%
Figure 32:
Level of Interest in Entrepreneurship During
College by Those with “Lower-Upper-Class
Backgrounds vs. Overall Population
Extremely
interested
Somewhat
interested
Didn’t think
about it
Not very
interested
Not at all
interested
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage
Lower-Upper Class
Overall Population–Excluding Respondents from “Lower-Upper-Class” Backgrounds
41.4%
7.6%
0.0%
3.4%
5.7%
35.3%
27.6%
27.5%
27.6%
23.9%
2
2
3
35
3
27.6%
0.0%
5
5.
5
5
0
3
.
4%
3
Analysis and Conclusions
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 19
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation
20
Analysis and Conclusions
The core findings of this research are straightforward and contradict
some prevailing stereotypes. In the industries we researched,
entrepreneurs are more likely to come from a middle-class or upper-
lower-class background, and very few come from backgrounds of
extreme wealth or extreme poverty. These entrepreneurs are usually well-
educated, with only 5 percent reporting having less than a bachelor’s
degree. They also are likely to be better educated than their parents
were, with half their fathers and a third of their mothers having at least
bachelors’ degrees. They performed well in high school and in college,
with the vast majority ranking average or above in their respective
institutions. Entrepreneurs don't always come from families of
entrepreneurs; slightly more than half of our sample were the first in
their families to launch businesses. On average, entrepreneurs tend to be
the middle child in a three-child household. They are significantly more
likely to be married and have children when they launch their first
businesses. Entrepreneurs are far more likely to have worked for an
employer for more than six years than to have quickly launched their
own businesses. Their primary motivations for launching a business are
to build wealth, to own their own company, and to capitalize on a
business idea they had.
The findings perhaps provide some clues about what conditions might
be helpful in supporting entrepreneurs and helping them become
successful. Entrepreneurs typically are well-educated and experienced. In
other words, they largely come from the existing workforce and not from
college. They have ideas they want to commercialize, are motivated to
build wealth, and like the idea of being their own bosses in a startup.
These observations are based on initial analysis of the data; we are
planning further detailed analysis of the dataset. But these observations
could perhaps be useful guideposts for the next round of inquiry that
attempts to understand not only the background and broad motivations
of entrepreneurs but also the deeper formative factors that influence this
select and incredibly important class of individuals.
The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 21
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