Is entrepreneurship inevitable? It’s a good question given the economic stakes at play in an economy increasingly reliant on small businesses to fuel sustainable growth.
To some extent, a sense of inevitability is reflected in rising rates of entrepreneurial education programs in high schools and colleges across the country, according to Leann Mischel, Ph.D., an associate professor at Susquehanna University's Weis School of Business and a senior research fellow at CARE.
But can we really groom, through education or otherwise, entrepreneurial spirit and prowess? In a word: yes.
Research from CARE reveals several precursors to entrepreneurship: responsibilities in childhood, interactions with grandparents, foreign travel and parental modeling (perhaps especially through experience working in a family business).
Jesse Bajaj, a business student at the University of Miami and a member of the CARE National Advisory Board, speaks to each of these influential factors, reflecting on his own trajectory toward entrepreneurship.
Responsibilities in Childhood
As a child, I was expected to shoulder certain responsibilities. These duties included setting the dinner table and helping to wash the dishes after a meal. Also on the list were taking out the trash and recycling twice a week and welcoming guests at the door and seeing to their needs. I wasn’t given a reward or allowance for performing such jobs; they were things I wanted to do for my family. In a way, I thought of them as an indirect form of repaying my mom and dad for all the sacrifices they made to ensure I had an enjoyable life full of immense opportunity.
When I was a teenager, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I then took on the additional responsibilities of driving her to doctor appointments, serving her meals, helping her walk, giving her medication and supporting her emotionally.
In short, I was forced to grow up quickly! But these tasks, in totality, naturally led me to think more about the real world and what my future might hold. In turn, I found the inspiration to explore ideas of entrepreneurship.
Interaction With Grandparents
Weekly visits to my grandparents’ house have been a tradition for as long as I can remember and continue to this day. There are endless reasons why I enjoy this tradition and find it helpful as I travel the path to entrepreneurship.
During every visit, they share with me a variety of life experiences, such as my grandfather’s working as a bank manager in Tanzania and mistakes he inevitably learned from by starting several of his own businesses in a number of industries. My grandmother often speaks about working as an executive assistant in the embassies of many different countries. In addition to talking about their careers, my grandparents often tell stories about the lives of other people they have known in Tanzania, England and India.
From an entrepreneurship standpoint, these stories enable me to have a much more open-minded perspective on the business world. For example, most people assume that one must go to high school, then to college, get a job, start a family, and attempt to climb the ladder of success.
In reality, I have learned from my grandparents that life allows you to take whatever route you choose.
I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel all over the world. To date, I have visited five continents and 16 countries. These trips have helped me gain important perspectives about the ways of life in different countries as well as the ability to look at situations from distinctive viewpoints. Travel has also helped me to understand that people are unique based on their life experiences and respective cultures. Because I have seen many ways that people make a living, I have developed an entrepreneurial mindset and understand that there are plenty of means to build a business and a career.
Not insignificantly, the University of Miami is one of the most diverse schools in the nation. I have met students from all over the world there and have benefited from hearing their stories.
People who haven’t traveled internationally or spent significant time in the United States with individuals from other countries may miss out on important life lessons.
Bottom line? There is no one formula for success, and few get it right on the first try.
Working in a Family Business
My father is the definition of a role model and self-made entrepreneur. He came to the United States when he was 21 years old and slept on an air mattress in a friend’s dorm until he was able to get on his feet financially. From there, he began selling perfume out of the back of a van at 6 a.m. in a flea market during a frigid New Jersey winter.
Today, my dad runs a successful wholesale fragrance business that does millions of dollars in sales each year.
Believe it or not, I began working in my dad’s business as a mere toddler. I can even remember my first job: manager of the shredder (and being in charge of all related shredding duties). My starting salary was $1 per hour! Of course, as the years passed, I gained much more responsibility by working in all of the company’s departments. My tasks included packing and moving boxes in the warehouse, assisting the chief legal counsel in editing contracts, and helping the accounting manager with receivables.
In addition to those duties, I sat in on countless business meetings, lunches, and proposal presentations. These occasions gave me a broad sense of how the business world truly works. They also showed me how one small idea can turn into a successful company or corporation through hard work, trial and error and networking.
My father has also ventured into real estate investing. Through frequent conversations with him about potential opportunities and the processes of closing a deal, I have received invaluable knowledge about a completely different type of market.
One day, I hope to use my entrepreneurial efforts to contribute to the family business. But I also want to find my own path and leave my footprint on the business world in an influential way.
Jennifer Hall, Ph.D., of the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, concurs that seeds of entrepreneurship can be planted in childhood, adding to the list of motivating factors such things as persistence, a focus on the future and the ability to generate ideas. She says, “Young people like Jesse will likely be the business leaders of tomorrow, and that is a very good thing.”
Good and, perhaps, inevitable.