SURVEY | The DNA of a successful entrepreneur


Yogavelli Nambiar | CEO | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation | mail me |

South Africa’s approach to entrepreneurship needs to undergo a paradigm shift and developing the right mindset among young would-be entrepreneurs in particular is the starting point.

And since establishing and growing small to medium-sized businesses has the potential to lift South Africa’s economy from the brink of ruins by contributing to job creation; nurturing these mindsets are essential to set entrepreneurs on the right path.

To this end, we commissioned the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) and Mindcette – an entrepreneurial consultancy to establish the true ‘DNA of a successful entrepreneur’.


The mindsets study titled Toward a Comprehensive Measure of Entrepreneurial Mindset, surveyed 3,661 South Africans using quantitative research, posing questions which required answers directly relating to the key mindsets of an entrepreneur.

Developing the right mindset is where it starts in order to change our holistic approach to entrepreneurship. The Foundation takes this research and its results very seriously.

It supports the work we do with growing young entrepreneurs in the country, and assists us with developing and providing more practical workable future programmes.

Kelly Shaver, president of Mindcette says his organisation carried out this research survey in line with the Foundation’s requirements.

It set out to create a survey instrument that not only described entrepreneurial mindsets in South Africa, but also one that could be used subsequently in national studies in other countries in the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network.

Key themes

Consequently, the Foundation was able to extract the 11 most commonly occurring themes that appear to characterise entrepreneurship.

Each of these themes can be further unpacked to create 76 separate descriptors of characteristics – but, since many of these differ slightly, researchers found that it was more appropriate to focus their questions around 37 critical descriptors.

These ranged from the individual’s creativity and conscientiousness to whether they found it easy to be coached; from their resistance to conformity to their persistence and personal goals; their passion, resourcefulness, ability to accept risk, leadership ability, innovativeness, curiosity, emotional intelligence, financial goals, self-reliance and self-confidence.

Key dimensions for would-be entrepreneurs

According to the findings, there are 11 dimensions which may be used to commonly describe female entrepreneurs, and 10 that appear to characterise male entrepreneurs.

Only two of these dimensions (Entrepreneurial Desire and Focus) are identical in male and female sample participants (with Allan Gray Fellows scoring higher in these dimensions), although seven additional dimensions are common to both, varying only in terms of the extent to which they characterised the sample members.

These dimensions included: confidence, diligence, innovation, leadership, motives, resilience and self-control.

Among the male respondents, five of the ten dimensions distinguished those who reported being self-employed full time from those who did not. That is, focus, confidence, leadership, resilience, and self-control.

This contrasted the findings for female respondents, for whom only Desire and Focus showed differences between the self-employed and other respondents.

Common thread

Put all of these characteristics together and a clear picture of an entrepreneurial individual emerges – one who believes in him/herself so strongly that failing is not an option.

However, should it happen; this person will keep going. These findings reveal a common thread – young potential entrepreneurs, men and women alike are confident and resilient, two fundamental characteristics when embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.

The survey’s results takes the Foundation a step closer to identifying the traits shared by entrepreneurs, thus providing a basis for describing the entrepreneurial mindset, the precise traits needed to take a business from start-up to empire, and to create a single instrument that can be used to identify and measure the presence of these traits would be an enormous help in this regard.

Furthermore, some of the differences obtained between women and men could inform modifications in entrepreneurship programme structure, in order to tailor entrepreneurial training more closely to the individual strengths of both sexes.

Further research

To monitor entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviour, the Foundation has been advised to repeat the survey in a year or two, to determine whether there have been any behavioural changes among SA’s entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a dynamic and exciting field, but the risks associated with it are very real. As budding entrepreneurs pursue success, they need every tool available to take them a step closer to achieving their dreams. That’s exactly what makes this survey a vital undertaking.

DOWNLOAD | Mindset Research Report |