Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, may be a poster child for entrepreneurship, but the stereotype he follows — young, incomplete formal education and no corporate experience — doesn't hold true in the real world, a new survey reveals.
Professional services firm Ernst & Young surveyed 685 entrepreneurs and conducted in-depth interviews with the winners of the firm's Entrepreneur of the Year award to gain insights into the shared characteristics, frustrations and career goals of some the world's leading entrepreneurs.
Although many of the entrepreneurs they surveyed started at a young age, nearly half (47 percent) didn't set up their own shops until they were 30 or older. And nearly 60 percent described themselves as "transitioned" entrepreneurs who started out in a corporate environment before setting out on their own.
Their experience as a corporate employee was also the most important source of career learning for a third of all entrepreneurs, the survey said. Thirty percent credited higher education for their key career learning and 26 percent said it came from mentors.
"Entrepreneurial leaders are defined as much by their early business experience, cultural background and external environment as they are by any innate personal characteristics," said Maria Pinelli, global vice chairwoman of strategic growth markets for E&Y. "Nurture, not nature, does appear to be more important in shaping the entrepreneurial mindset."
The E&Y survey also showed that entrepreneurship is a serial pursuit. Sixty percent had started three or more companies, 20 percent six or more and 10 percent said they had founded more than 10 companies.
They believe that the greatest barriers to entrepreneurial success are lack of funding, followed by failure to recruit the right people with the know-how to advance their business.
Though the research suggested that entrepreneurs are made, rather than born, it did find that entrepreneurs typically share a number of behaviors and attitudes that set them apart from their peers in more established corporate environment. Across the board, they agreed that the three most important qualities of an entrepreneurial leader are vision, passion and drive.
Traits like flexibility, relentless focus on quality and loyalty ranked much lower.
"These findings highlight that most successful entrepreneurs share a unique combination of seeing opportunity where others see only risk," Pinelli said. "And they tend to be optimists and believe they can succeed despite the fact that everyone else is telling them they cannot."
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