By Michael Hayman, Co-founder, Seven Hills

You certainly know when you have met a great entrepreneur. Elizabeth Taylor put it like this, “there is no deodorant like the smell of success.”

For entrepreneurs, behind the success story are usually years of effort, a mix of triumph and tragedy, inner belief and determination, a formula for life that has carried them through.

A key question is whether these people are born or made; is there a special entrepreneur gene or can you teach people to acquire successful habits?

I chaired a recent debate for Coutts & Co and this question flared up into quite a discussion.

One of the panelists, Sunday Times Enterprise Editor Rachel Bridge, addressed it this weekend and wants to start a debate. I think that she should be supported, as it is a big question.

My suspicion is that most entrepreneurs believe that they were born with the skill, that it had more to do with nature than nurture.

I say this because I believed it also. When Nick Giles and I took the plunge to establish our own business, Seven Hills, it was reassuring to our own sense of self to believe that we had been blessed with something completely unique.

Then we met Dragons’ Den panellist and School for Startups founder, Doug Richard, and a lot of our earlier ideas about entrepreneurship crumbled away. Why? Because no matter how old or experienced you are there is always something new and potentially advantageous to learn.

My view now is that everyone is ‘made’ to some degree and that is what learning is all about. Yes, you have to have certain raw materials in place but it is the refinement of these materials that is most interesting.

That is not the same as saying that everyone can be an entrepreneur. With the horrendous levels of new business failures there are clearly many who would have been better not to have tried at all.

I also think that entrepreneurialism is a state of mind. It’s the way you approach life and it is characterized by the love of the deal, an aptitude for opportunity, an adrenalin fix from risk, and the energy to go for it.

Or, as Conrad Hilton once put it, “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”

Learning from your mistakes is another big factor in this debate. In the UK entrepreneurs that fail are often written off as not being born to do it.

In the US they call your first business failure the “million dollar MBA” in recognition of the fact that you learn some very hard but valuable lessons on the road to entrepreneurial success.

So, born or made? I set up a poll on Linked In to see what my contacts believed.

Answering the question, 56% felt it was ‘a bit of both’ while 39% felt entrepreneurs are born and only 4% felt they were made. Women overwhelmingly believed that entrepreneurs were born (67%) while men were more undecided with 63% believing it was a bit of both.

A big factor that seemed to unite the respondents was the issue of personal drive and that was something nobody could give you.

I would agree with this. Yet, while drive is important so is judgement and a lot of this can be taught and learned.

There can be no doubting the drive of Harry M Warner when he said in 1927, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Yet it was a good job that his own experience was to prove him wrong.

It’s why the phrase ‘put that down to experience’ works so well. It implies the positive effects of learning and it is an integral part of the entrepreneur experience.

No doubt, it is exciting to make the point that success boils down to the hunger and passion that you are born with.

But its bedfellow is being smart and that is why many of the great entrepreneurs have always been sponges for knowledge because it gets them ahead of the pack.

Let’s leave it with Voltaire who put it another way, “originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” It’s a learned lesson that has made many entrepreneurs.

To comment on the Sunday Times debate email smallbusiness@sunday-times.co.uk

To learn more about Seven Hills go to www.wearesevenhills.com

To learn more about Doug Richard and School for Startups go to www.schoolforstartups.co.uk

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