Are entrepreneurs born or are they made? I believe it is a little bit of both. I believe you may be so inclined, but like genetic mutation, you can acquire entrepreneurial DNA through your exposure and understanding of this life choice. Following is another correspondence between my MentorNet mentee and me:
Q: Did you always know that you were an entrepreneur?
A: I didn’t always know that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. There are a lot of people that debate… ‘are they born or are they made?” I think it is a bit of both. They also say that if your parent were entrepreneurial, you’re much more likely to choose an entrepreneurial path at some point in your life.
My father was one of fifteen kids whose first mom passed away when he was five. He left behind 15 brothers and sisters in the poor village he was raised in to go to the big city of Hyderabad (at the time it was not the technology capital of India) and camped outside the college dean’s office until they finally gave him admission. A week before he was to come to the US, he was introduced to my mom, who was borderline ‘old maid’ at the age of 23 and with an architects degree. In the US, both put themselves through school for their Masters and worked full-time jobs, had three kids in Queens, NYC with support from imported sisters (recall the 15 left behind) doing daycare and owned a a couple of small convenience stores right off Wall Street. They were also were entrepreneurial insofar as buying real estate. When they made enough money, they cashed out of the stores so they could move us to the suburbs in the early 80’s were we received a much better public school education. All this to say that they were self-made individuals and they valued self-made individuals. They told me their life story ALL THE TIME. I guess it made it into my DNA as a result.
When I graduated from Smith College with my Math degree (parents would only accept a science-like degree and Smith didn’t have an Engineering program at the time), I didn’t look for entrepreneurial opportunities nor did I think that was going to be my path. I thought I was going to rise up through corporate. My parents would have liked that. It was an option they didn’t perceive available to them. Very thick and somewhat opaque glass ceiling for immigrants, I guess. My role models were Carly Fiorini and I aspired to be on the cover of Fortune as a corporate leader. I veered off the path deliberately because I valued my freedom as a woman. The clear expectation was that I’d be returning to NY, having an arranged marriage to someone of the same ethnic/religious background, pursuing a career and having children. That just wasn’t for me. I needed to do things my way without bringing complete dishonor on my family. So, I hid out in Western Mass. Didn’t plan on finding my partner here, but that also happened. Found a piece of corporate America in the Happy Valley as they call it. Worked my way up the ladder at a very dysfunctional, but typical global corporate manufacturing company. After a seven year stint during which they paid for my MBA and I received manufacturing, R&D/Applications, technical support, product management and marketing experience, they gave me the opportunity to be an Intrapreneur. So, on someone else’s dime, I had to understand a new market opportunity, spec out a product portfolio, develop a brand, manage a new channel… I was hooked. I’ve led an active entrepreneurial life ever since, exploring new startup opportunities for myself and others while holding paid positions that enable me to be entrepreneurial (founded http://www.rtccentral.com, manage http://www.invention2venture.org and http://www.nciia.org/bmeidea, support http://www.route9auto.com, volunteer support http://www.hadleypreschool.com and http://www.kelloggplayschool.com, formerly spearheaded http://www.edicalmay.com). My latest venture is a Web 2.0 startup in the mobile and social media space for which I’ve filed a provisional and am building a commercial beta… very exciting. What I didn’t mention is that all along, I’ve been an active and avid networker. I love meeting people. Social media has changed my life and I see that it is going to change society in very profound ways. I think I’ve spotted a significant problem in the marketplace and I intend to solve it.