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The Anatomy of an

Entrepreneur

Family
Background
and
Motivation
Authors:
Vivek Wadhwa
Raj Aggarwal
Krisztina “Z” Holly
Alex Salkever

July 2009
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.


The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur
Family Background and Motivation
July 2009

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 1


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

2 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


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

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 3


I n t r o d u c t i o n a n d F i n d i n g s

Introduction and helping to begin filling some of those information


gaps by providing high-level insights into the
Findings backgrounds (socio-economic, educational, and
familial) and motivations of entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are among the most celebrated
people in our culture. Celebrity entrepreneurs such as This is a follow-up to several research projects by the
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page often Global Engineering and Entrepreneurship project at
grace the covers of prominent publications. These Duke University, which has been researching the effect
company founders and innovators fuel economic of globalization on the engineering profession and on
growth and give the nation its competitive edge. U.S. competitiveness. Our previous research had
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, in focused on the contributions of skilled immigrants, the
2004 small firms (<500 employees) employed 50.9 education and backgrounds of technology company
percent of the private-sector work force and generated founders, and the differences between immigrants and
50.7 percent of the non-farm private gross domestic U.S.-born company founders.
product.1 According to that same report, in 2004
For this project, we surveyed 549 company founders
firms with fewer than 500 employees had $1.9 trillion
in a variety of industries, including aerospace and
in annual payroll, not including benefits. An extensive
defense, computer and electronics, health care, and
report released in November 2008 by the U.S. Small
services. (This was a broader range of industries than
Business Administration found that small firms had a
we previously researched). We also asked founders
higher percentage of patents per employee than larger
more detailed questions about their backgrounds,
firms, and that younger firms were more likely to have
motivations, and experiences in launching companies.
a higher percentage of patents per employee than
older firms.2 While our research cannot be generalized to the
entire population of entrepreneurs in the United
However, very little is known today about the
States, it is meant to be illustrative of the backgrounds
backgrounds, life histories, motivations, and beliefs of
of entrepreneurs in industries that we expected to be
the founders of businesses in high-growth industries.
higher growth.3 Unfortunately, like most research in
Understanding how entrepreneurs develop, the
this area, we are affected by a survivor bias, in that we
circumstances that can foster or induce
are able only to reach entrepreneurs whose companies
entrepreneurship, and the mindset and beliefs of
are still alive.
entrepreneurs could prove helpful both in supporting
the existing class of entrepreneurs and in augmenting Here are some of our key findings. Detailed statistics
the ranks of entrepreneurs. This paper is aimed at and charts are available in latter sections of this paper.

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.

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).

4 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


I n t r o d u c t i o n a n d F i n d i n g s

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.

Company founders tend to be middle-aged • More than half (51.9 percent) of respondents were
and well-educated, and did better in high the first in their families to launch a business. Only
school than in college 38.8 percent, 6.9 percent, and 15.2 percent,
respectively, had a father, mother, or siblings who
• The average and median age of company founders had previously started businesses.
in our sample when they started their current
companies was 40. (This is consistent with our
Most entrepreneurs are married and have
previous research, which found the average and
median age of technology company founders to children
be 39). • 69.9 percent of respondents indicated they were
married when they launched their first business. An
• 95.1 percent of respondents themselves had earned
additional 5.2 percent were divorced, separated, or
bachelor’s degrees, and 47 percent had more
widowed.
advanced degrees.
• 59.7 percent of respondents indicated they had at
• 75 percent ranked their academic performance
least one child when they launched their first
among the top 30 percent of the high school class,
business, and 43.5 percent had two or more
with a majority (52.4 percent) ranking their
children.
performance among the top 10 percent.
• 67 percent ranked their academic performance Early interest and propensity to start
among the top 30 percent of their undergraduate companies
class, but a smaller percentage (37.5 percent)
ranked their performance among the top 10 • 52 percent of respondents had some interest in
percent. 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
These entrepreneurs tend to come from
from lower-upper-class backgrounds were more
middle-class or upper-lower-class likely to have been extremely interested in starting a
backgrounds, and were better educated and business than the average (25 percent vs. 18.5
more entrepreneurial than their parents percent).
• 71.5 percent of respondents came from middle-class • Of the 24.5 percent who indicated that they were
backgrounds (34.6 percent upper-middle class and “extremely interested” in becoming entrepreneurs
36.9 percent lower-middle class). Additionally, 21.8 during college, 47.1 percent went on to start more
percent said they came from upper-lower-class than two companies (as compared to 32.9 percent
families (blue-collar workers in some form of of the overall sample).
manual labor).
• The majority of the entrepreneurs in our sample
• Less than 1 percent came from extremely rich or were serial entrepreneurs. The average number of
extremely poor backgrounds businesses launched by respondents was
• The average birth order of respondents in their approximately 2.3; 41.4 percent were starting their
family was 2.2 and the average number of siblings first businesses.
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.

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 5


I n t r o d u c t i o n a n d F i n d i n g s

Motivations for becoming entrepreneurs: Most had significant industry experience


building wealth, owning a company, startup when starting their companies
culture, and capitalizing on a business idea • The majority of respondents (75.4 percent) had
• 74.8 percent of respondents indicated desire to worked as employees at other companies for more
build wealth as an important motivation in than six years before launching their own
becoming an entrepreneur. This factor was rated as companies. Nearly half (47.9 percent) launched their
important by 82.1 percent of respondents who first companies with more than ten years of work
grew up in “lower-upper-class” families. experience.
• 68.1 percent of respondents indicated that • Significant percentages of respondents started their
capitalizing on a business idea was an important first companies after working eleven to fifteen years
motivation in becoming an entrepreneur. (23.3 percent), sixteen to twenty years (14.3
• 64.2 percent of respondents said they have always percent), or greater than twenty years (10.3 percent)
wanted to own their own companies. This was a for someone else.
stronger factor for those from lower-upper-class
backgrounds—78.6 percent ranked this as Early entrepreneurs and those with an early
important. interest in entrepreneurship are different
• 66.2 percent said the appeal of a startup culture • Entrepreneurs who started their companies soon
was an important motivation. after graduating (with zero to five years of work
• 60.3 percent said that working for others did not experience) and those who had an extremely strong
appeal to them. Responses to this question were interest in entrepreneurship in college were far less
relatively evenly distributed in a rough bell curve, likely to be married (36.6 percent vs. the total
with 16 percent of respondents citing this as an sample average of 69.9 percent) or to have kids
extremely important factor and 16.8 percent of when they launched their first businesses
respondents citing it as not at all a factor. (26.9 percent vs. the total sample average of
59.6 percent).
Not important or less-important factors: • Those who were “extremely interested” in starting a
inability to obtain employment or company while in college were far more likely to be
encouragement from others early entrepreneurs. Of these entrepreneurs,
• 80.3 percent of respondents stated that inability to 69 percent started their companies within ten years
find traditional employment was not at all a factor of working for someone else (as compared to
in starting their own businesses. Only 4.5 percent 46.8 percent from the rest of the population).
said this was an important factor.
• Level of interest in entrepreneurship during college
• 37.8 percent of respondents said the role played by was correlated to the number of years worked
an entrepreneurial friend or family member was an before starting a business—only 18 percent from
important factor. A co-founder’s encouragement the “extremely interested” group worked for at
was important for 27.9 percent of the respondents. least fifteen years before starting their own
• 18.1 percent had developed a technology they businesses, as compared to 46.4 percent from the
wanted to commercialize. “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.

6 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


Methodology/Industries Surveyed
and Detailed Findings

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 7


M e t h o d o l g y / I n d u s t r i e s S u r ve ye d

Methodology/Industries The respondents were highly concentrated in


technology sectors, with 77 percent indicating that
Surveyed their current company made computer
hardware/software or other forms of technology
The primary data source for this work is a subset of
products and services. Other sectors included biotech,
an existing dataset of corporate records included in the
medical, military, and other (non-technology).
OneSource Information Services Companies database.
To construct our dataset, we extracted records of We asked the founders to categorize their
companies based in the following industries: companies by industry. These responses were not
always consistent with the OneSource classification of
Automotive & Aerospace these companies. This report focuses on surviving
• Aerospace & Defense businesses, thus may not be representative of the
Computers & Electronics overall population of businesses.
• Audio & Video Equipment
• Computer Hardware Figure 1:
Type of Business Currently Running
• Computer Networks or Founded
• Computer Peripherals Computer Hardware/
Software 30.4%
• Computer Services Engineering
Consultants 18.0%
• Computer Storage Devices Medical 4.0%
• Electronic Instruments & Controls Defense 4.2%
• Scientific & Technical Instruments Energy 4.2%
• Semiconductors Biotechnology 5.8%

• Software & Programming Telecommunication 10.4%


Other 23.0%
Health Care
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
• Biotechnology & Drugs
Percentage
• Health Care Facilities
• Medical Equipment & Supplies Figure 2:
Services Country of Birth
• Computer Services USA 882.5%
India 33.8%
8%
• Engineering Consultants UK 11.7%
• Software & Programming Canada 1.3%
Germany 1.0%
We extracted randomized records by region. We Iran 0.8%
visited the Web sites of these companies to make sure Italy 0.6%
the company was still in operation and to obtain China 0.6%
names of founders and contact information. We Norway 0.6%
Taiwan 0.6%
contacted company founders via e-mail and requested Other 6.7%
they complete a brief online survey consisting of a 0 20 40 60 80 100
series of questions about their own personal and Percentage
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 Definition of founder
calls. We allowed company executives to tell us if they
Five hundred and forty-nine respondents took the were a founder. The guidelines we provided for
survey, which was conducted between August 2008 defining a “founder” was “an early employee, who
and March 2009. We estimate that, of the founders typically joined the company in its first year, before the
we could reach, approximately 40 percent completed company developed its products and perfected its
the survey. business model.”

8 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

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.

Figure 3:
Highest Level of Degree
Company founders tend to be well-educated JD 2.4%
Company founders in the industries we PhD 10.5%
researched tend to be well-educated. More than Postdoctoral
Research 0.8%
95.1 percent hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. MD 0.6%
A higher percentage of respondents had just MBA 13.8%
bachelor’s degrees (48 percent) than advanced Master’s 19.0%
48.0%
degrees (47 percent), however. Bachelor’s
Associate’s 1.8%
Other 3.2%
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage

Figure 4:
How Would You Rank Your
High School Academic Performance
Relative to Your Peers?
They tend to do very well in high school
Top 10% 52.4%
A significant majority of respondents (75 percent)
ranked their academic performance among the top Top 30% 22.6%
30 percent of the high school class, with a majority Average 19.7%
(52.4 percent) ranking their performance among the
top 10 percent. But about 24.6 percent ranked their Bottom 30% 3.6%
performance average or below average.
Bottom 10% 1.3%

N/A 0.4%
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
Percentage

Figure 5:
How Would You Rank Your College/
University Academic Performance Relative
to Your Peers?
They also do well, but not as well, in college Top 10% 37.5%
A solid majority of respondents (67 percent)
ranked their academic performance among the top Top 30% 29.5%
30 percent of their undergraduate class, but a Average 26.0%
smaller percentage (37.5 percent) ranked their
performance among the top 10 percent. The Bottom 30% 2.7%
percentage of founders that rated themselves in the Bottom 10% 1.6%
bottom 30 percent of class performance was nearly
the same in high school (4.9 percent) and college N/A 2.6%
(4.4 percent). 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Percentage

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 9


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Majority come from middle-class or upper- Figure 6:


lower-class families How Would You Describe Your Family’s
We used the following definitions for socio- Circumstances as You Grew Up?
economic status by
Dennis Gilbert.4 Lower-Lower Class 0.7%

UPPER-UPPER CLASS: “Old money;” people Upper-Lower Class 21.8%


who have been born into and raised with
Lower-Middle Class 36.9%
wealth; mostly consists of old “noble” or
prestigious families. Upper-Middle Class 34.6%
LOWER-UPPER CLASS: “New money;” Lower-Upper Class 5.4%
individuals who have become rich within their
own lifetimes. Upper-Upper Class 0.6%
UPPER-MIDDLE CLASS: Professionals with a 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
college education and, more often, with Percentage
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
Respondents’ average birth order in
or bachelor’s degrees.
their families was 2.2. The average
UPPER-LOWER CLASS: Blue-collar workers number of siblings was 3.1.
and manual laborers. Also known as the
“working class.”
Figure 7:
LOWER-LOWER CLASS: The homeless and Number of Siblings
permanently unemployed, as well as the
“working poor.” 0 3.0%
1 19.2%
What we found was that respondents tended
2 23.8%
not to come from either extreme of the socio-
3 21.6%
economic spectrum, with 34.6 percent
describing their socio-economic level as upper- 4 14.7%
5 7.3%
middle class. Among respondents, 36.9 percent
6 4.8%
described themselves as lower-middle class, and
7 2.6%
21.8 percent described themselves as upper-
More than 7 3.0%
lower class. Only three respondents (0.7 percent)
0 5 10 15 20 25
indicated their origins were lower-lower class
Percentage
and only three respondents (0.6 percent)
indicated their origins were upper-upper class. Figure 8:
These results seem to show that entrepreneurs, Birth Order
on the whole, are more likely to emerge from First 42.5%
stable, comfortable family existences but not
Second 28.1%
from circumstances of great
Third 14.9%
family wealth. Fourth 6.8%
Further, the results indicate that extreme Fifth 4.5%
poverty is a significant barrier to Sixth 1.5%
entrepreneurship. With regard to extremely Seventh 0.4%
wealthy families, the pool is so small in the Eighth 0.6%
United States that the low response rate might Ninth or More 0.8%
more be a reflection of a smaller population 0 10 20 30 40 50
than anything else. Percentage

4. Gilbert, D. (2002). The American Class Structure: In An Age of Growing Inequality. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth; Thompson, W., and Hickey, J.

10 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Figure 9:
What is the Highest Level of Degree Earned
by Your Father?
Entrepreneurs usually better educated than PhD 6.1%
their parents MBA, JD, MD 5.9%
In terms of parents’ educational level, only 23 Master’s 11.0%
percent of entrepreneurs’ fathers earned advanced
Bachelor’s 27.1%
degrees and only 27.1 percent earned bachelor’s
Associate’s 5.4%
degrees. Among mothers of entrepreneurs, only 9.5
High School 24.0%
percent earned advanced degrees, and only 24.4 Diploma/GED
percent earned bachelor’s degrees; 55.6 percent Other 0.9%
earned high school degrees or no degree at all. No Degree 19.5%
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Percentage

Figure 10:
What is the Highest Level of Degree Earned
by Your Mother?
PhD 0.9%
MBA, JD, MD 0.4%
Master’s 8.2%
Bachelor’s 24.4%
Associate’s 10.1%
High School
Diploma/GED 37.1%
Other 0.4%
No Degree 18.5%
0 5 10 15 20
2 25 30 35 40
Percentage

Figure 11:
Which Members of Your Family Started a
Business Before You Did?
Entrepreneurship didn’t always run in the I was the first in
family my immediate 51.9%
family to start a
More than half (51.9 percent) of respondents business
were the first in their families to launch a Father 38.8%
business. For 38.8 percent of respondents, their
father was the first to start a business in their Mother 6.9%
family; 15.2 percent indicated siblings had
previously started businesses.
Siblings 15.2%

0 10 20 30 40 50 60
Percentage

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 11


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Figure 12:
What Was Your Marital Status When You
Started the Business?
Married with Children Single
One common stereotype of an entrepreneur is a 24.9%
childless, unmarried workaholic with no time for a
wife or husband and children. This stereotype Married 69.9%
appears to be false, as 59.7 percent of respondents
indicated they had at least one child when they Divorced/
4.5%
Separated
launched their first businesses, and 43.5 percent had
two or more children. Additionally, 69.9 percent of
Widowed 0.7%
respondents indicated they were married when they
launched their first businesses. 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
Percentage

Figure 13:
How Many Children Did You Have Living
In Your Household When You Started
Your Business?

0 40.3%

1 16.4%

2 28.0%

3 11.0%

4 3.4%

5 0.9%
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage

Figure 14:
How Many Business Have You Started?
Early interest and propensity to start 1 41.4%
companies 2 26.0%
The majority of the entrepreneurs in our sample 3 16.6%
were serial entrepreneurs; the average number of 4 7.7%
businesses launched by respondents was 5 1.8%
approximately 2.3.5 But 41.4 percent were running 6 2.2%
the first business they had started. 7 1.6%
8 1.2%
9 0.4%
More than 10 1.0%
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage

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.

12 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Figure 15:
How Interested Were You in Becoming an
Entrepreneur While You Were Completing
Your Higher Education?
Always thinking about entrepreneurship? Not at all
Only 24.5 percent indicated they were extremely interested 7.2%
interested in becoming entrepreneurs when they Not very
6.1%
were completing their higher education. An interested

additional 27.5 percent had some interest. But Didn’t think


about it 34.7%
34.7 percent didn’t give this any thought, and
13.3 percent indicated that they were not at all Somewhat
27.5%
interested
interested or not very interested.
Extremely
interested 24.5%
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Percentage

Figure 16:
Motivations for becoming an entrepreneur Wanted to Build Wealth
The strongest motivations for respondents in
starting their own businesses were building wealth, Extremely
18.4%
important factor
owning their own companies, capitalizing on
Very important
business ideas they had, and the appeal of startup factor 24.4%

culture. Regarding desire to build wealth, 74.8 Important


32.0%
factor
percent of respondents indicated they viewed this as Not very
an important, very important, or extremely important factor 16.7%

important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur. Not at all a


7.3%
factor
In terms of capitalizing on business ideas they had,
N/A 1.1%
68.1 percent of respondents indicated they viewed
this as an important, very important, or extremely 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Percentage
important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur.
With regard to always wanting to own their own Figure 17:
businesses, 64.2 percent of respondents viewed this Wanted to Capitalize on
as an important, very important, or extremely a Business Idea I Had
important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur. Extremely
23.6%
In terms of the appeal of a startup culture, 66.2 important
percent of respondents viewed this as an important, Very important
19.7%
factor
very important, or extremely important motivation in Important
24.8%
becoming an entrepreneur. And 60.3 percent said factor
that an important, very important, or extremely Not very
important factor 14.2%
important factor was that working for others did Not at all
not appeal to them. a factor 14.0%

N/A 3.8%
0 5 10 15 20 25
Percentage

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 13


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Figure 18:
Startup Company Culture Appealed to Me

Extremely
important factor 20.8%
Very important 22.1%
factor
Important
factor 23.3%
Not very
important factor 12.5%
Not at all a
factor 18.0%

N/A 3.4%
0 5 10 15 20 25
Percentage

Figure 19:
Have Always Wanted My Own Company

Extremely
important factor 27.5%
Very important
factor 15.9%
Important
factor 20.8%
Not very
important factor 17.8%
Not at all a
factor 16.1%

N/A 1.9%
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Percentage

Figure 20:
Working for Someone Else
Did Not Appeal To Me
Extremely
important factor 16.0%
Very important
factor 20.3%
Important
factor 23.9%
Not very
important factor 22.4%
Not at all a
factor 16.8%

N/A 0.6%
0 5 10 15 20 25
Percentage

14 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

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: Figure 22:


Inability to Find Traditional Employment Co-Founder Encouraged Me to Become a
Partner and Start Our Company
Extremely
important factor 1.3%
Extremely
Very important important factor 6.8%
0.9%
factor
Very important 7.9%
Important factor
factor 2.3%
Important
Not very factor 13.2%
important factor 11.3%
Not very
Not at all a important factor 13.0%
factor 80.3%
Not at all a
factor 44.0%
N/A 3.8%
N/A 15.1%
0 20 40 60 80 100
Percentage 0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage

Figure 23: With regard to the impact of role models


Developed a Technology in a Laboratory such as family members or entrepreneur
Environment and Wanted to See it Make
friends, 37.8 percent of respondents
an Impact
indicated they played an important, very
Extremely
8.0%
important, or extremely important role in the
important factor
decision to start a company.
Very important 4.2%
factor
Important
factor 5.9%
Figure 24:
Not very
10.0% An Entrepreneurial Friend or Family Member
important factor
Was a Role Model
Not at all a
factor 50.9%
Extremely
N/A important factor 9.2%
21.0%
Very important
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 factor 12.3%
Percentage
Important
factor 16.2%
Not very
important factor 18.5%
Not at all a
factor 35.1%

N/A 8.7%
0 5 110 15 20 25 30 35 40
Percentage

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 15


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Most had significant industry experience when Figure 25:


starting their companies Approximately How Many Years Did You
The majority of respondents (75.4 percent) had Work for Another Employer Prior to Starting
worked as employees at other companies for more Your First Business?
than six years before launching their own
0–5 years 24.6%
companies. The highest percentage of entrepreneurs
(52.2 percent) launched their companies after
working as employees for other companies for 6–10 years 27.6%

between one and ten years. However, significant 11–15 years 23.3%
percentages of respondents started their first
companies after working eleven to fifteen years 16–20 years 14.3%
(23.3 percent), sixteen to twenty years (14.3
percent), or greater than twenty years (10.3 percent) 20+ years 10.3%
for someone else. In other words, while 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
entrepreneurs do tend to launch companies early in Percentage
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.

Early entrepreneurs and those with an early Figure 26:


interest in entrepreneurship are different Time Taken to Start a Company for Those
We analyzed the number of years an entrepreneur with Extreme Interest in Entrepreneurship in
College vs. Overall Population
had worked for someone else before launching his
or her own business. Key differences emerged. 6
6.0%
20+ years
Entrepreneurs who started their companies soon 111.7%

after graduating (with zero to five years of work 16–20 years


12.0%
1 .0%
experience) and those who had an extremely strong 14
14.5%

interest in entrepreneurship in college were far less 11–15 years


12.8%
27.0%
likely to be married (36.6 percent vs. the total
27.8%
sample average of 69.9 percent) or to have children 8–10 years
27.5%
when they launched their first businesses (26.9
41.4%
percent vs. the total sample average of 59.6 0–5 years
19.3%
percent). The respondents who said that they were 0 10 20 30 40 50
“extremely interested” in starting a company while Percentage
in college were far more likely to be early “Extremely Interested” in Starting a Company While in College
entrepreneurs. Sixty-nine percent started their own Overall Population: Excluding the “Extremely Interested” Group

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.

16 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Figure 27:
Level of Interest in Entrepreneurship in Figure 28:
College vs. Number of Years Worked Before Number of Years Worked Before Launching
Starting First Business First Business by Marital Status

Extremely 20+ years 10.9%


10
0.9%
interested 885.5%

Somewhat 16–20 years 5


5.3%
interested 990.7%
0
0–5 years
Didn’t think 6–10 years 8
8.9%
11–15 years
about it 11– 15 years 85.5%
8
16–20 years
Not very 20+ years
225.9%
5.9%
8–10 years
interested 668.7%
Single
Not at all 0–5 years 57.3%
Married
interested 36.6%
0 10 20 30 40 50 0 20 440 60 80 100
Percentage
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 Figure 30:
Entrepreneurs Who Were Extremely Level of Motivation as Wanting to Own
Interested in Entrepreneurship in Their Company in Serial Entrepreneurs vs.
College vs. Overall Population Overall Population

5 or more 12.4% Extremely 35.2%


7.0% important factor 24.3%
Very important 19.5%
4 12.4% factor 13.7%
66.2%
Important 18.2%
22.3% factor 21.6%
3
114.8% Not very 13.2%
important factor 20.4%
221.5%
1.5%
2 Not at all a 11.9%
27.4%
factor 18.2%
3
31.4%
1 N/A 1.9%
444.6% 1.8%
0 10 20 30 40 50 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Percentage Percentage
“Extremely Interested” in Entrepreneurship During Higher Education Serial Entrepreneurs
Overall Population: Excluding “Extremely Interested” Group Overall Population–Excluding Serial Entrepreneurs

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 17


D e t a i l e d F i n d i n g s

Respondents from a “lower-upper-class” Figure 31:


background: more likely to be driven by Level of Motivation to Build Wealth in
wealth or wanting own company and Respondents from “Lower-Upper-Class”
interested in entrepreneurship during college Background vs. Overall Population
Fifty percent of respondents who came from a
Extremely 25.0%
“lower-upper-class” background said that wealth important factor 18.1%
was an extremely important or very important 25.0%
Very important
motivator for starting their own businesses, as factor 24.5%
compared to 42.6 percent of the overall Important 32.1%
population. People from this background were factor 32.1%
more likely to be driven by always wanting their Not very 110.7%
0.7%
own companies (78.6 percent vs. the overall important factor 117.1%
7

sample average of 63.5 percent). Also, 41.4 Not at all a 7.1%


factor 8.2%
8
percent of them indicated that they were
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
“extremely interested” in entrepreneurship during
Percentage
college as compared to the overall sample average Lower-Upper Class
of 24.5 percent. Overall Population–Excluding Respondents from “Lower-Upper-Class” Backgrounds

Figure 32:
Level of Interest in Entrepreneurship During
College by Those with “Lower-Upper-Class”
Backgrounds vs. Overall Population

Extremely 41.4%
interested 2
23.9%
Somewhat 27.6%
interested 27.5%
Didn’t think 27.6%
about it 335.3%
5
Not very 0.0%
interested 55.7%
.
Not at all 3
3.4%
interested 7.6%
0 10 20 30 40 50
Percentage
Lower-Upper Class
Overall Population–Excluding Respondents from “Lower-Upper-Class” Backgrounds

18 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


Analysis and Conclusions

The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 19


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.

20 The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation


The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur: Family Background and Motivation 21
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