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New Study Debunks Myths About Entrepreneurs in U.S.

India West, News Report, Richard Springer Posted: Jul 27, 2009

A new study has found that entrepreneurs in the U.S. are typically well-educated, come from middle-class or upper lower-class backgrounds and are significantly more likely to be married and have children when they launch their first businesses.

They also are better educated overall than their parents and performed well in high school and college, according to the new report, Anatomy of an Entrepreneur.

Study co-author Vivek Wadhwa, associate director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University, pointed out that the report deflates some myths about entrepreneurs.

In the absence of real data, myths and stereotypes prevail, he said. For example, the commonly held belief is that entrepreneurs are young, lightly-educated, childless unmarried workaholics. They are perceived to come from rich families and graduate from elite colleges.

But the survey found that more than 90 percent of the entrepreneurs surveyed came from middle-class or upper-lower-class backgrounds and were well-educated. Of those polled, 95.1 percent had at least bachelors degrees and 47 percent more advanced degrees.

You dont have to be the graduate of an elite college or a superstar. Anyone can achieve success, Wadhwa, currently a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, told India-West. Most entrepreneurs come from middle-class families. Just like most Indians in the U.S., they start companies because they want to break out on their own and achieve financial success.

The study, funded by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, surveyed 549 company founders in 12 high-growth industries.

Co-authors of the study were Raj Aggarwal, dean and Sullivan Professor of the College of Business Administration at the University of Akron; Krisztina Z Holly, executive director of the USC Institute for Innovation; and Alex Salkever, a visiting researcher at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University.

Those from lower-upper-class backgrounds were more likely to have been extremely interested in launching a business than the average entrepreneur surveyed (25 percent vs. 18.5 percent).

The commonly held belief that entrepreneurs are young college students working out of their dorms is simply wrong," said Wadhwa. Rather on average, they tend to be highly experienced, well-educated workers who have families. They have come to a stage in their lives when they are simply tired of working for others and want to build real wealth before they retire.

Seventy-five percent of the respondents ranked their academic performance among the top 30 percent in their high school classes, and 52 percent said they ranked among the top 10 percent. In college, 67 percent of the founders ranked in the top 30 percent as undergraduates and 37 percent ranked among the top 10 percent.

More than half of the company founders surveyed (52 percent) had at least some interest in entrepreneurship while at college. Of those who described themselves as extremely interested while in college, 47 percent found more than two companies.

Founders were 40 years old on average when they started the first companies. Nearly 70 percent were married when they became entrepreneurs and nearly 60 percent had at least one child. Respondents cited building wealth as the main motivation for starting a company. Other reasons were: capitalizing on a business idea, the appeal of a startup, a desire to own a company, and a lack of interest in working for someone else. More than half (51.9 percent) were the first in their families to launch a business.

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