Great entrepreneurs are born, not made, according to the findings of a study published today to launch the O2 X Awards. Findings from the research concluded that boardroom success has got more to do with personality than it has with formal education, great connections and learning from those with more experience.

The study, commissioned to launch the O2 X Awards, which recognise and reward successful small businesses, was created by O2 to determine whether entrepreneurialism is a matter of nature or nurture. Researchers surveyed more than 500 small businesses, conducted over ten hours of one-one-to interviews with a group of entrepreneurs and carried out in-depth research into the backgrounds of some of the UK’s best known businessmen.

Education, for many, had little impact on the road to success, with only 14% of those included in the study placing significant emphasis on the importance of their formal education on their business achievements and less than a third (31%) had studied business or for a specific business qualification.

Whilst over two thirds (67%) recognised the importance of life experience and previous employment in nurturing these qualities, the research indicates that these traits are inherent rather than learnt. Six out of ten entrepreneurs (60%) launched their first business by the age of thirty and on average had spent less than ten years in the work place before venturing out on their own.

In terms of starting up their own business, less than a fifth (17%) received direct financial backing from their families and cited that family connections had not helped them get a foot up on the career ladder.

The researchers found that the vast majority (84%) of the entrepreneurs in the study shared a distinct set of traits that were the reason for their success. None of the traits were learned, rather they were all present as part of the individual’s personality and constitute the DNA of the entrepreneur.

The five key personality traits forming the entrepreneur DNA:

  1. ‘Obsessive optimism’: this approach to business creates a resilient attitude to failure and setbacks, an essential trait when starting out as your own boss[1].
  2. Enjoyment of responsibility: a highly developed sense of responsibility enables successful business people to view responsibility as an attraction rather than a burden.
  3. Desire to achieve: a major driver of entrepreneurial behaviour which enables successful business people to be single-minded about achieving their goals in spite of obstacles.
  4. The reward of hard work: small business owners are driven by reward, both in the monetary sense, but also in the more emotional sense of reward and pride in driving their business forward.
  5. The urge to be self-employed from childhood: This trait was present in nearly half (48%) of those questioned and also a common trait amongst celebrity entrepreneurs such as Sir Alan Sugar[2].

Finally, friends, not family, were seen as the people most likely to help them on the road to success. Over three quarters (76%) of those questioned had other small business owners in their close circle of friends and over half (54%) were actively encouraged by friends to start out on their own.

The research marks the launch of the O2 X Awards 2009 which is looking to find the UK’s best Male, Female and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Now in its sixth year, O2 will reward the most original and innovative businesses with a cash boost of £5,000 as well as mentoring from a business expert and marketing support. To find out how to enter, visit

Simon Devonshire, Head of Small Business Marketing, O2 commented: ‘Our research demonstrates that there are prevailing qualities common to successful entrepreneurs, whether they are just starting out, right through to some of the UK’s most celebrated entrepreneurs. The ‘obsessive optimism’ trait is arguably more important than ever in the current economic climate. With SMEs facing economic setbacks, an optimistic and resilient outlook is essential to maintain confidence in their business.’

‘O2 is passionate about small business and the O2 X Awards is a great platform to reward the UK’s best entrepreneurs. Previous winners of the O2 X Awards have gone onto achieve great things and used their O2 X Award win as a springboard to successfully grow their business.’

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