How to Be an Entrepreneur: Can It Be Taught? Credit: Startup optimism image via Shutterstock

Any entrepreneur will tell you that you need to be passionate about your business in order for it to thrive. While passion is certainly important, simply believing in your idea is not enough to guarantee success: Anyone who wants to learn how to be an entrepreneur needs some basic business know-how under his or her belt. This knowledge isn't necessarily inborn, but the skills required to start and run a business can in fact be taught.

Evaluating your skills

The best place to begin your journey as an entrepreneur is by taking stock of what you already know. According to Wendy Torrance, director of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, startup founders should assess their skills, stage of life, and whether there's a good opportunity in the market for their idea. Then, they need to figure out how to address any potential shortcomings of their business, whether it's by expanding their skill set or just building a team to fill in some of the gaps.

"Sixty-four percent of companies fail because of people-related problems," Torrance said. "[Entrepreneurs] should identify their strengths and weaknesses with respect to the people around them. They might have knowledge about a technology, but a co-founder might understand the market better and help the company."

"Mentorship is everything"

Whether you're studying to become an entrepreneur or not, it's crucial to seek out the wisdom of those who have been there before. One way to do this is by turning to a professional mentor to guide you through the early stages of your startup and provide valuable feedback on your business strategies and issues.

"Mentorship is everything in business," said Melinda Emerson, American Express OPEN adviser and spokeswoman for OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp program. "Startup entrepreneurs need sounding boards of people who are interested in their success, people who will tell them the truth and give them support."

Business students may have an easier time building a network of advisers within their schools, but any entrepreneur can find a mentor through sites like Once you establish a mentor-mentee relationship, heed your mentor's advice but don't blindly take his or her word as gold. Frank Rimalovski, managing director of the New York University Innovation Venture Fund, advises taking mentorship in context.

"Be wary of mentors who tell you, 'This product is for this customer,'" he told BusinessNewsDaily.

Learning to listen

As an investor in entrepreneurship training, Rimalovski has found that one of the most important lessons a business owner can learn is how to listen to customers. A lack of customers, rather than the failure of a product or technological development, is often the reason startups suffer, and knowing what your target market wants is key to avoiding this pitfall. Entrepreneurs need to be able to identify what their customers value and how their business can align with those things.

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"We really focus on teaching people how to listen," Rimalovski said. "Go out and talk to your customers. Don't sell, but listen and learn about their problems in the specific domain that you're addressing."

Both Rimalovski and Luke Williams, a professor at NYU Stern School of Business and executive director of its Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, agree that problems occur when an entrepreneur falls in love with his or her own idea and assumes others will feel the same.

"[Customers] are not embracing your idea because it's new, but because of the value," Williams said, noting that entrepreneurs need to figure out how to persuade others of that value in their ideas.

Creating good habits

Persuasion is one of what Williams calls "the five P's," a set of important habits that aspiring business owners should cultivate. Some people believe that there are certain personality traits that make a person more inclined to succeed in business ventures, but Williams says that this notion creates a stereotype that is counterproductive to entrepreneurial education. It's less about personality, and more about asking what habits one needs to enable successful entrepreneurship.

"Anyone teaching has to believe that given the right tools and opportunities, every student can be a member of the entrepreneurial class," he said. "You can't change personality, but you can change key habits."

According to Williams, the five P's are perception, provocation, possibilities, practicality and persuasion. A good entrepreneur must learn to perceive more opportunities by connecting seemingly disparate things. Provocation is about considering those opportunities and not automatically dismissing them. Avoid jumping to the obvious solution and experiment with other possibilities to see what works. Once those possibilities are considered, identify the best, most practical solution and focus on what you need to do to make that happen. Finally, persuade your customers with a good story and pitch. Similarly, Rimalovski believes that entrepreneurs need the ability to convey their vision, excitement and passion in a way that motivates people.

Anyone can do it

Not everyone is going to end up running a business, but for those who have the desire to do so, there are countless resources available, from formal business courses and networking programs to seminars and websites offering guidance for business owners.

"Once people make the decision to be entrepreneurs, there are plenty of ways to learn how to be better," Emerson told BusinessNewsDaily. "I believe in giving bite-size actionable advice to help people figure out small things they can do to make big changes."

And if you believe that people who aren't "born" entrepreneurs can't succeed in their business ventures, think again.

"We have to stop believing entrepreneurship is this magical elusive skill or personality trait that only a few people possess," Williams said. "We need to get it into a digestible process than people can learn like any other skill regardless of their background."

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily