Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Jun 17, 2020

Do You Have the ”Right Stuff” to Be a Successful Entrepreneur?

by M. Inmaculada López-Núñez
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Imagine that we were experiencing the COVID-19 crisis with no internet, no smartphones, no online entertainment platforms, no video calls, no instant messaging.… Even though we may find our current situation quite exasperating, we probably prefer having access to all of these resources as opposed to being quarantined without them. Before these technological advances were invented, not that many years ago, they were just ideas in some people’s minds—proactive, curious, optimistic, persevering people who had the vision to transform problems into opportunities. These are the people that we can describe as entrepreneurs.  

Entrepreneurship seems to be in vogue these days, but it is more than just a trend. Entrepreneurship is a source of wealth, innovation, and employment. Countries are trying to promote the entrepreneur spirit through educational programs and financial support.  But, what makes some people pursue entrepreneurship while others don’t? Personality psychology—field of psychology that studies individual differences in people’s psychological characteristics—can help to answer that question, explaining why some individuals become entrepreneurs and others do not.

Of course, individual behavior can be influenced by social, political, and cultural factors. For example, there are far more entrepreneurs in the United States than in North Korea, but we can find differences even within each country. Economic and social development depend largely on individual entrepreneurs’ wealth and ideas.   So, to understand entrepreneurship, we need to know the psychological characteristics of entrepreneurs. Is there a “personality profile” that describes most entrepreneurs, and can these traits be used to identify potential entrepreneurs? With these questions in mind, a research team from the Complutense University of Madrid, of which I was a member, studied the influence of personality and other psychological factors of entrepreneurs.  

We evaluated a group of entrepreneurs using a variety of psychological tests.  Our data showed that entrepreneurs had a personality profile that was characterized by high levels of self-confidence, sociability, emotional stability, responsibility, curiosity, emotional intelligence, and tolerance for uncertainty.

We also evaluated a group of more than 500 college students, using the same tests, to see how their levels of entrepreneur spirit related to their personality profiles. We found that students with a high levels of entrepreneur spirit—those who showed great enthusiasm for starting a business and who were optimistic about their chances of success—were more self-confident, decisive, and tolerant of uncertainty, and they dealt better with their emotions than students with low levels of entrepreneur spirit.  Furthermore, the personality profile of the students with high levels of entrepreneur spirit was very similar to the profile of the entrepreneurs: they were sociable, curious, interested in other cultures and experiences, more responsible, and highly self-confident, and they had a positive and decisive attitude.

These results show that entrepreneurial people have characteristics in common, characteristics that lead them to take initiative to transform new ideas into reality. They see opportunities where others see threats and take risks with openness and flexibility. And, they don’t see a fall as a defeat.

People with an entrepreneurial spirit don't just dream. They turn their biggest dreams into something tangible, and this requires attitude, adaptation, and some risk. We all have dreams, but not all of us take the risk of trying to achieve them. The most outstanding characteristic of entrepreneurs is their unwavering motivation, a great passion for what they do, and the willingness to make idea that are proposed come true.

For Further Reading

López-Núñez, M. I., Rubio-Valdehita, S., Aparicio-García, M. E., & Díaz-Ramiro, E. M. (2020). Are entrepreneurs born or made? The influence of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 154, 109699.


M. Inmaculada López-Núñez is Associate Professor at the Social, Work and Differences Psychology Department at Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.


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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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