Nature or Nurture - can you really teach entrepreneurship?

Opinion piece by Logan Elliott


It is something that comes up occasionally in articles online – can you really teach entrepreneurship? There are tonnes of related questions to this such as:

  • Are you born an entrepreneur or is it something you learn?
  • What place does genetics have in the argument and is there an ‘Entrepreneur Gene’, just as there is apparently a ‘wanderlust gene’?

Great entrepreneurship teaching programs can be found globally (including the Masters of Entrepreneurship at the University of Otago, which I did myself in 2010), however are they just filled with students with a 'predisposition to entrepreneurship'? Can these programs take in ‘anyone’ and turn them into an entrepreneur? Or do you really need formal study to start a business?

Let’s have a deeper look. For me, in short, I think anyone can become an 'entrepreneur' (business owner) with the correct support, teaching and desire. I agree that maybe some people might be better suited to other pathways - though I think there are great opportunities for all that want them. However I think there are a huge variety of factors which I would love to share further thoughts on.





To ask these questions I think a nice place to start is defining entrepreneurship itself. My first paper of my Masters addressed this specifically and afterwards I found it was still not totally clear! Entrepreneurship at its most basic definition to me is about the process of ‘creating something of value and then selling it to people or organisations who need it’. For me entrepreneurship also has a link to your passions, dreams and freedom; however this is my unique view and not a complete definition!

Other definitions include people 'running a business', taking risks, starting a company and ‘moving something from low value to high value’. It can be a really wide definition and can depend on who you are talking to. Technically rubbish recyclers in India are just as much undertaking entrepreneurship as Richard Branson is under most definitions. There is tonnes of info online about this and it is a rabbit hole that you can deep-dive into – however I think you are better just getting out there and finding out for yourself!



Although I do have a Genetics Degree from the University of Otago, I am not going to try pretend to be an expert on this. I am not active in the field and studied it at an undergraduate level only - though I do have a good understanding of the principles involved.

In basic terms human genetics is incredibly complicated and we still have tonnes to learn. Since entrepreneurship is such a complex concept, there are a multitude of factors involved. For example there are known genetic variants in things such as memory, which may be involved in being a ‘successful entrepreneur’.  However if you don’t have the best variants that will not stop you being an entrepreneur. If you want to read up on this more then I suggest a deep dive into 'Google Scholar'. Be aware you will need to read many different papers to get some perspective of the potential answers. Here are a few papers to start your journey here.

In my opinion and from the research I have seen, the answer is probably yes, genetics does impact 'ease of entrepreneurial success', however I don’t think this stops anyone from being a successful entrepreneur. This to me is the most important thing you need to get your head around as someone who wants to become an entrepreneur. Another thought to consider is the definition of a successful entrepreneur (another discussion for another day!). One of the most frustrating mindsets I come across is ‘I am not an entrepreneur, it is not in my blood or I don’t have the right qualifications’. Ironically if you believe this; then I believe it will come true, simply because you believe it… 



No you do not. There are plenty of examples of successful entrepreneurs around the world who have no formal qualifications around business (Richard Branson is a commonly quoted example, as he left school at aged 16).

However in my opinion some formal study is a good path to head down for most people who want to get into the world of entrepreneurship – BUT I do not think it necessarily needs to be in business or Entrepreneurship specifically. Someone recently asked me whether out of high school, they think they should go study business or go start a business? Firstly I think that question depends so much on the individual. For some the answer might be to start a business or work for someone else rather than wasting your time at University. 

However I think for the majority of people in this position the answer is to do neither! I think a better alternative is to study something else that you are excited about such as philosophy, science, painting, or actually anything! And then do some side papers in business or/and get involved in as many hobbies/side jobs as you can! If you feel you need some more business knowledge post study or instead of study then there are plenty of great short programs or workshops around in business (including the Masters I did). In fact this is why I setup Entrepreneurs Adventures – a way to further inspire, educate and support people interested in joining the entrepreneurial journey.

My personal journey consisted of an Undergraduate Degree in Molecular Biotechnology (Genetics, Biochemistry and a few business and design papers) and then the Masters of Entrepreneurship. My hobbies whilst at Uni were diverse and included running circus retreats, performing with fire (the foundation of my company Highly Flammable Ltd), running conferences and partying (like most students in Dunedin). Having a degree or formal qualification different from ‘business studies’ gives you a really unique perspective in the world of business. For me my analytical mindset of a scientist and my passion for technology has been of huge advantage in my business adventures thus far.



I do get the odd eye roll when I tell people I did a ‘Masters of Entrepreneurship’, and fair enough – it sounds pretty outrageous to me too, and ironically that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it as it just sounded like a massive amount of fun (and it was)!

To me doing the Masters supported my entrepreneurial journey in three ways:

1) Some good theory and practical teaching and tools. Many of these tools I now use to help others start businesses in my 'Lets Start a Business Course' - check it out if you are interested.

As a class, many of us found some of the theory a bit boring, however it definitely had value. In particular things like ‘accounting and finance for your business’ have made things a lot easier, plus the 'business feasibility analysis' classes provided me with a model which I still use and also teach in my courses.

2) Opportunity to network

In addition to meeting some fantastic business people and teaching staff (some of whom are still my mentors); I was surrounded by some pretty amazing classmates who were interested in Entrepreneurship. One of my favourite quotes is ‘you’re the sum of the five people you spend the most time with’ and that year I was surrounded by some incredible people with caffeinated energy drives and I literally learnt by osmosis (no, not the transfer of water science friends!). I have stayed in touch with many people I met through the Masters and they have supported and pushed me on my journey for the last 5 years. These classmates included Anna Gunetheur who now runs Pledge Me and William Horton who runs various online businesses, both amazing people to spend quality time around.

3) I am an entrepreneur

I think this statement is a bit egocentric and ridiculous; however it is true that the very process of thinking you are an entrepreneur can help you become one through a self-fulfilling prophecy (AKA the Secret!). Through studying entrepreneurship, we had a mindset of entrepreneurs and we were always thinking about opportunity and therefore saw opportunity everywhere! As Budda said ‘The mind is everything. What you think you become’.

However I don’t think doing this Masters is the only way and I think there are important things can be gained in many other ways if desired. This was my journey and one of the many roads you could try yourself.



As discussed doing a formal business/entrepreneurship qualification is not the only way and it’s not suitable for everyone. So what are the options to assist in the entrepreneurial journey? Pending your life circumstances I would suggest the following:

  1. Get out there and start a business NOW. Keep it low risk and focus on learning as much as you can while having still a day job (or student loan) to cover your living expenses..
  2. Get involved in the many events such as Startup Weekends
  3. Spend time with Entrepreneurs by attending meetup groups or workshops (learn by that osmosis!).
  4. Join a young business or startup business as an employee or co-founder.
  5. Do an internship with a young company. Make sure you have plenty of direct access to learn from the founders.

In the end it come down to one fact - anyone can enter the journey of entrepreneurship and impact the world through bringing an idea to life through the power of entrepreneurship...