In their Commentary 'The innovative brain' (Nature 456, 168–169), Barbara Sahakian and her colleagues raise the important question of whether entrepreneurial skills can be taught. In my experience, an entrepreneur's 'cold' skills (in creating a compelling business plan, for example) are easier to teach than the more intuitive 'hot' decision-making abilities that stimulate success.
Successful entrepreneurs have enormous energy, think independently and show inspiring leadership qualities that help to realize a shared vision. However, their flair for weighing up and pursuing the best opportunities is honed by past experience — for example, in spotting promising factors in new companies. An entrepreneur's natural ability is founded in the interaction of genes and environment.
During the past 20 years I have participated in the development of the entrepreneurial environment here in Cambridge. In 1997,only 17% of the entrepreneurs in our portfolio companies were 'serial entrepreneurs' — people who already had a record of achievement. Now this percentage has risen to 70%, which reflects the rapid increase in entrepreneurial talent in Britain. Today there are more than 1,000 high-tech companies in Cambridge alone, with at least one entrepreneur involved in each of them.
Know-how is transmitted 'in the air' within these high-technology clusters. They are also valuable in tolerating risk and possible failure well: as bioscience entrepreneur Andy Richards has pointed out, Cambridge has become a low-risk area for doing high-risk things. This entrepreneurial environment promotes venturesome behaviour in the face of risky business opportunity. Failure carries no stigma when it is recognized as a necessary part of the entrepreneurial process — as it is here — given that some 30% of all new companies will fail anyway.
Entrepreneurial activities and innovative ideas are particularly needed in today's economic climate, both for the wealth of the United Kingdom and for the global economy. Understanding how the innate components of these abilities can be enhanced will help to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs for success.
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