If you’re a mega-successful entrepreneur like Richard Branson or Elon Musk, you might be tempted to take all the credit for your phenomenal achievements. But that credit would be at least partly misplaced. Branson’s mother, Eve, was also a successful entrepreneur in her own right – and an adventurer who posed as a man to become a pilot. Maye, Musk’s mom, was a model and health entrepreneur who raised three children after a divorce.
Branson and Musk likely received some of their entrepreneurial drive and skill traits from their respective mothers. In fact, research suggests that the parents of entrepreneurs, whether natural or adoptive, have a lot to do with their kids’ career choices and business success.
How your upbringing helps make you an entrepreneur
Research conducted by George Holden at Southern Methodist University found that the way children turn out can be determined to a large degree by the day-to-day decisions made by the parents who guide that child’s growth. This influence can be positive or negative and, according to Holden, typically occurs in four complex and dynamic ways.
- Parents initiate trajectories, sometimes trying to steer their child in a preferred developmental path based on either the parents’ preferences or their observations of the child’s characteristics and abilities, such as enrolling their child in a class, exposing them to people and places, or taking them to practices or lessons.
- Parents also sustain their child’s progress along trajectories with encouragement and praise; by providing material assistance, such as books, equipment or tutoring; and allocating time to practice or participate in certain activities.
- Parents mediate trajectories, which influences how their child perceives and understands a trajectory, and help their child steer clear of negative trajectories by preparing the child to deal with potential problems.
- Finally, parents react to child-initiated trajectories.
Some of today’s top entrepreneurs were influenced by parents who were also business owners.
These influences can be especially notable among entrepreneurial children of entrepreneurial parents. Indeed, there are a number of studies that back up Holden’s 2010 research.
- In 2015, a study in the Journal of Labor Economics found that both biological and adoptive parents influence their children’s future entrepreneurial pursuits.
- A 2017 Technical University of Madrid study looking at families in Spain uncovered that parents who owned a business served as positive role models that drove the entrepreneurial pursuits of their children.
- Vistaprint‘s 2018 survey of mothers in the United States who owned a business indicated that 89% felt they were inspiring their kids to become entrepreneurs themselves.
- A 2021 study published in the Journal of Business Venturing pointed to “a hierarchy of family influences, whereby genes have the largest explanatory power, followed by parental entrepreneurship, neighborhoods, and parental resources, and finally by parental immigration, family structure, and sibling peers.”
Collectively, the research is clear: There’s a definite connection between parents and their children when it comes to driving an interest in being an entrepreneur. But, as seen through the examination of adoptive parent-child relationships, it’s not just genetics that fuel this passion. [Find out the difference between an entrepreneur and a small business owner.]
More than 10 years’ worth of studies show the positive impact that parents, and other family members, can have on children’s business interests.
So what does it take to raise a future entrepreneur, and how can parents leverage their influence to produce kids that grow up to be successful business owners?
How to raise a future entrepreneur
Holden’s research led him to identify specific factors that could positively impact the trajectories he described, including “the family’s culture, their income and family resources, and the quality of the parent-child relationship.” Ways parents can influence a child’s progress include modeling desired behaviors and modifying the speed of development by controlling the type and number of experiences. What this suggests, he said, “is that effective parenting involves guiding children in such a way as to ensure that they are developing along positive trajectories.”
>> Learn More: Companies Founded by Amazing Young Entrepreneurs
Practically speaking, there are some simple things all parents can do to serve as good mentors and help steer their children down a path to business ownership. Here are some key strategies for raising a future entrepreneur:
- Encourage their passion. What may seem like a lighthearted hobby can be the seed for a future career. Foster your child’s interests by allowing them to explore their passion through topical classes and activities. If your youngster shows an interest in setting up lemonade stands, mowing lawns, shoveling driveways or other early ways of providing services while making money, let them pursue such endeavors.
- Embrace mistakes. Kids are going to fall down, literally and figuratively. It’s your job to teach them to bounce back from their missteps. Explain the importance of trial and error so they develop a hunger for continual learning and discover how to take calculated risks. The more they learn to accept failure, the more they’ll be willing to step outside the box and try new things.
- Establish rules. A budding interest in business shouldn’t stop your kid from being a kid. Set boundaries for work and play, ensure their education remains a priority, and make clear what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. If they’re going to set up that lemonade stand, are they allowed to do it on weekends only? Does your town require a permit? Get your child used to following best practices early on. [Is your kid a troublemaker? Find out why a rebellious childhood leads to business success.]
- Provide unconditional support. Make sure your child knows you will love and support them regardless of whether their efforts fail or succeed. Their worth is not determined by how many lawns they’re able to mow on a Sunday afternoon. But your support should also be reasonable. You can help your kid transport their equipment, but it should be up to them to pay for any machinery repairs.
- Teach independent decision-making. Kids often turn to their parents for advice, and you should offer it when asked. But instead of pushing your child toward your preferred decision, share your relevant knowledge and experience and urge them to make a choice based on all the information they have.
- Set an example. Children consciously and subconsciously pick up on the behaviors of the adults around them. Even if you don’t have your own business, you should still aim to model attitudes and actions that are essential to be successful in life. That means, for instance, demonstrating graciousness when you interact with salespeople and showing how to spend money wisely.
The above tactics and the characteristics they promote can go a long way in establishing the foundation of what may later become a successful entrepreneurial career. And when weighing whether to skip college to start a business, that foundation may make all the difference.
Young entrepreneurs in action
Business success isn’t dependent on age. Even before your kids are grown, they can become entrepreneurs. Countless companies have been founded by amazing young entrepreneurs. Some may have caught the business bug all on their own, while others may be following in their parents’ footsteps. In either case, it’s clear that nature and nurture both play a role in developing future entrepreneurs.
Jeanette Mulvey contributed to the writing and research in this article.