This post first appeared on August 2, 2013 at Forbes.com.
What made you an entrepreneur: nature or nurture? Can you really ‘catch’ the entrepreneurial bug?
For me, entrepreneurship was not a conscious decision. I was raised by immigrant parents who highly valued hard work and independence. My father always told me, “Don’t be a doctor or lawyer; work for yourself. Be an entrepreneur.” He ran an analytical chemistry laboratories from the time I was 2 years old, so it was little surprise when I launched my own lab shortly after graduating college. That path led me from technology startups to launching LabDoor, and it has been an amazing journey.
I love my career ‘choice’ and assume that everyone else would love it too. I’m always pitching my friends on new business ideas that I wish would exist. The target of most of these unwanted pitches is my partner Shoua, who usually shrugs them off without much thought.
But this June, Shoua’s eyes lit up when I told her my idea for a startup focused on making life happier and healthier for expectant mothers. She had studied nursing and women’s studies in college, and while she decided against a career as a nurse, she always loved her obstetrics rotation. After a couple of weeks of ideation and strategy sessions, we settled on a model and a name: 10 Storks. From there, Shoua’s passion took over, and she uncovered an entrepreneurial spirit she didn’t know she had. For better or worse, we are now a two-entrepreneur household.
Is entrepreneurship actually contagious? Not everyone is cut out for startup life, but there is clear evidence that startups are great for our communities and the economy. So how can we identify and promote potential entrepreneurs around us?
- Track entrepreneurial characteristics. Great entrepreneurs are risk-seeking, mission-driven missiles focused on a singular goal. Degrees mean little to a startup – you’re actually more likely to find a future CEO in the engineering department than the business school. Find people who are creative, flexible, and above all, willing to work hard and delay gratification.
- Plant the initial seed. First-time entrepreneurs often cite a lack of ideas as their main impediment to launching a startup. Meanwhile, ask the average serial entrepreneur about startup ideas, and you’ll probably find a journal full of concepts that will never be executed. Real entrepreneurs quickly learn that ideas don’t mean much in a vacuum, and they don’t have the time or energy to execute on multiple visions concurrently. Donate your startup ideas, and watch them spark entrepreneurial excitement elsewhere.
- Respect alternative career paths. For years, my dad, brother, and I –all entrepreneurial addicts– tried to convince my mom to join the cult of startups. We pitched her all types of companies, from small salons and boutiques to brands based on her amazing cooking skills. Despite our best intentions, she always told us that she was happiest with her current jobs: part-time work as an accountant and full-time work supporting our family. The world needs doctors and lawyers (and moms!) too.
Nearly every startup founder can trace back his or her entrepreneurial inspiration to an early mentor who motivated them to choose this unconventional career path. So pay it forward. Mentor a friend starting their first business. Inspire a stranger to join your next startup. Support a family member struggling through their early entrepreneurial months. Help spread startup fever to the next generation of great entrepreneurs.