Fred Wilson’s Friday post explores whether entrepreneurs are born with requisite attributes or whether at least some of can be developed:

I also believe that there are “unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs.” Here are some of the ones I observe most frequently:

1) A stubborn belief in one’s self

2) A confidence bordering on arrogance

3) A desire to accept risk and ambiguity, and the ability to live with them

4) An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others

5) A magnet for talent

No question that entrepreneurs need to develop specific skills to build successful organizations, but I agree with Fred that there are a set of foundational characteristics that people have or don’t.  This has been particularly true in education which has historically attracted risk-adverse compliant human capital.  With little tolerance and few incentives for edupreneurs, they used to be few and far between.  But that is changing:

  • New money foundations, mostly the Philanthropy Roundtable members, fund edupreneurial nonprofits
  • Broad Superintendent Academy and Fellows programs train edupreneurs
  • NSVF and CSGF incubate edupreneurs
  • Dozens of venture funds (like mine & Fred’s) and dozens of private equity firms will consider learning deals

Edupreneurs are unique people, but we’re clearly doing a better job attracting them to the sector and supporting their efforts.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


  1. I think the above are interesting attributes of entrepreneurs but not the driving force. The ashoka book, how to change the world, captures the essence best. entrepreneurs are people with a compulsion to shape the world in the way they think it should be. this is the inter-force which causes the things listed above to happen.

    • Great comment and perhaps more apropos of social entrepreneurs and impact investors (I aspire to both). Perhaps if one starts with passion-for-the-mission and add Fred’s factors, you have a killer combo. I’m glad to see more change-the-world passion in recent college grads, but the killer instinct (I’m right and I’m taking this to scale) that Fred describes is not often honed in education.

  2. I definitely think that a lot of the best for-profit folks are about shaping the world to their vision, Jobs being the most obvious example, but most of the others who open up a new field (chips, client/server, workstations, www) thought this way in my experience).

    I would agree that since the “I just want to make a lot of money” motivation doesn’t come in to play, there are more change the world folks on the social side. I think we’ll see a ton more true entrepreneurs on the education side now that the political establishment is willing to take this work seriously. One things entrepreneurs don’t have a lot of tolerance for is hoop jumping and we are just now coming out of the time when no matter how good your network of schools are, you still had to reprove yourself every new school you started. I think this is changing quickly and we’ll see a ton of high quality folks pile in now that those barriers are lowering.

    Seems very similar to me in automotive and energy, which were dominated by government regulation and monopolies for a long-time, but are opening up with cleantech now and attracting a lot of very good people. We’ll get there on education.


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