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March 8, 2022

The Internal Motivation of an Entrepreneur: Character, Competency & Culture

What is “entrepreneurial motivation?” Asked in another way, “What motivates someone to be an entrepreneur?” The short answer is that there is no one answer to that question, as the answer is as unique as each entrepreneur. However, the internal landscape of the entrepreneur as it relates to character, competency and culture play a huge role in answering those questions. 

In the article, “The Psychology of a Successful Entrepreneur” the author states:

The following motivational factors that influence entrepreneurs to become successful in all types of business ventures: (i) demonstrated effect, (ii) business background, (iii) technical knowledge, (iv) creating stable market, (v) availability of skilled labor, (vi) ancillarisation, (vii) self-determination about the target business, (viii) risk management bearing capacity and (ix) success stories (pg. 27).

Within that explanation, there are internal characteristics of the person (i.e., effect, background, knowledge, self-determination, risk tolerance, etc.) and external factors in the industry (i.e., stable market, skilled labor, etc.) that will either propel or discourage someone from going into business. Further, while success stories are noted, I would argue that it is not just in moments of accomplishments, goal achievement, or victory. It also includes perceived failures when we trip and fall in entrepreneurship, which also serve as teachable moments to calibrate our efforts and execute differently. The combination of all these things can create an internal struggle between who the person is, their knowledge, the risk involved, and the culture they are operating within, that needs to be navigated. Therefore, let’s explore entrepreneurial motivation from the perspective of a mix of character, competencies, and cultural context that propels someone to become an entrepreneur and define success on their terms.

Character 

While there is an ongoing debate about whether entrepreneurs are born or made, there are common characteristics and a mindset that are evident in those that decide to take the entrepreneur’s trip. If you’ve observed someone in business they are driven and focused, sometimes to the point of obsession, about their business baby. They are self-motivated, passionate, insatiable learners of their field who apply their business knowledge, skills, and acumen to take an idea to market and assume the risk involved. Why and how they acquired those entrepreneurial attributes and perspectives often come from their backgrounds (i.e., familial, socioeconomic, ethnicity, community, etc.), education or training acquired, previous life experiences, mental behaviors, and steadfast mindset to confront the challenges, explore the unknown and realize the possibilities. Regardless of the type of entrepreneur, whether that they are a TikToker influencer with millions of followers, a doctor starting their medical practice, or a stay-at-home parent that starts a homeschool for kids in the neighborhood, they all were able to identify a need, fill that need, assume the risk, and stay the course to make it a reality and serve their customer.

Competencies 

Demonstrated effect in essence is one’s ability to successfully produce the desired result. That ability is rooted in a complement of business background, technical knowledge, self-determination, self-regulation, and motivation to create the business, but also to run, grow and sustain its operations. Therefore, as an entrepreneur having the competencies needed and acquired through continuous learning to strengthen one’s ability to reach their fullest potential.

The United Nations’ Entrepreneurs Guide is based on the Empretec methodology, which was developed at Harvard University. They identified “10 key areas of competencies related to entrepreneurial development” which include: “opportunity-seeking and initiative; persistence; fulfillment of commitments; demand for quality and efficiency; calculated risks; goal-setting; information-seeking; systematic planning and monitoring; persuasion and networking; and independence and self-confidence” (pg. 4). They found that entrepreneurs are motivated towards action to achieve and accomplish great things, have strong affiliations within their communities, and enjoy the freedom that comes with being their boss and living their curated lifestyle. How those competencies are applied and what they look like are influenced by the cultural context that the entrepreneur is in. 

Cultural context

As entrepreneurs from the Caribbean and the U.S., the context, and communities that we create and operate our businesses in heavily influencing not only how we operate our businesses from a policy standpoint, but more importantly from a cultural standpoint. The diversity of people, norms, beliefs, attitudes, values, perspectives, and power to create and innovate within a community, island, region, nation, or globally determines our definition of success as entrepreneurs. For some, the definition of success is the pursuit of the American dream which based on media perception is a lavish lifestyle, while for the average American it may be having a steady income so they can live in a safe neighborhood and provide a good education for their children. For an entrepreneur in the Caribbean, it may be creating a product that embodies their cultural elements (i.e., madras, local fruits, natural essence, etc.) to show their native pride, while also exporting their unique perspective to the world. The cultural context truly is embedded in how entrepreneurs define success for themselves and the motivations that drive them to assume the risk and rewards of taking this journey.

Motivation combines Character, Competencies & Cultural Context

At the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, shared what he thought it took to be an entrepreneur. “Entrepreneurship is about creating change, not creating companies” stated Zuckerberg. Entrepreneurs use their character and competencies to create meaningful change within the cultural context they live in, whether it is on an island or the mainland. They keep working on making that change reality because they fundamentally believe in creating that change more so than in creating companies. 

Figure 1 Zuckerberg speaks about Entrepreneurship

So, we end where we started, “What motivates someone to be an entrepreneur?” The answer truly is as unique as the character and competency of the entrepreneur as well as how they go about creating the change they want to see through within the culture and context of their business.

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