Knowing the real South Africa is to know, and be familiar with, the ambitious entrepreneurial spirit that runs through its tributaries and flows like a river into the heart of a nation. South Africans have always been opportunistic, from J.B.M Hertzog who founded Naspers, which is now Africa's largest company and globally the 7th largest internet company, to MTN and Discovery, both of which can now be found all over the world. We can even highlight the contributions of one of the world's most foremost thinkers and innovators, Elon Musk, the driving force behind SpaceX.
Recently, Ventureburn did an article on the Top Entrepreneurs Under 40 in South Africa, highlighting how this spirit continues to grow and is a far cry from fading anytime soon. But what differentiates the men and women who started these companies from those of us 'normal' people who would not regard ourselves as entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs are a rare breed of humans who choose to innovate and forge their ideas into successful business from the ground up. They're fearless and believe that what they are creating is going to change the world forever. And guess what, research shows that this could be genetic.
A recent study at Kings College in London, headed up by Scott Shane, identified that 37 to 48 per cent of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is genetic, and that the tendency to identify new business opportunities is in your genes. If you take this study as anything to go by, then this is remarkable as genetics account for almost half of what is a determining factor in becoming an entrepreneur.
What we know about genetics is that in some cases almost half of who we are is genetic, or how we are made, and the rest is down to environmental factors (in other words, what we do and how we live). This presents us all with an incredible opportunity to take control of our environment to use our genetic strengths to reach our goal. For some, and I would encourage any young South African with ambition to consider this path, that goal is entrepreneurship.
South Africa is still a young country that is constantly growing, discovering who it is, and where its place in the world will be. This is what makes it the ideal environment for those predisposed, by either genetics, environment or desire, to entrepreneurship to thrive.
Take the environment in South Africa, for instance. South Africa is still a young country that is constantly growing, discovering who it is, and where its place in the world will be. This is what makes it the ideal environment for those predisposed, by either genetics, environment or desire, to entrepreneurship to thrive. It's not all dependent on your genotype, but a large proportion of it could be, according to this study, and this could be what drives certain people to tackle new, exciting business ventures that other people may be dissuaded from due to fear of failure and the unknown.
This isn't the only study that associates entrepreneurship with being genetics.
Nicos Nicolaou is a researcher who has been heading up these new discoveries that attempt to link genetics to entrepreneurship. Although they still require more research, which will come as the science around the human genome develops, their findings are interesting. They explain that there is a "single nucleotide polymorphism (rs1486011) of the DRD3 gene on chromosome 3 to be significantly associated with the tendency to be an entrepreneur. This result is the first evidence of the association of a specific gene with entrepreneurship."
Wouldn't you like to know if you had this gene, especially if you can already be considered an entrepreneur? I know I would, as it would be interesting to discover if my genes influenced me to start DNAFit, or any of my other business ventures.
I would also like to know if this gene is related to not requiring as much sleep as the average person - entrepreneurs never rest while there is opportunity to innovate and expand our ideas!
Going even deeper, Zhang did twin studies to find out if personality and gender play a role in the development of entrepreneurship as well. Their study can be regarded as verging on epigenetic as it uses the environmental impact, as well as genes.
It is based on "1285 pairs of identical twins (449 male and 836 female pairs) and 849 pairs of same-sex fraternal twins (283 male and 566 female pairs), we found that females have a strong genetic influence and zero shared-environmental influences on their tendency to become entrepreneurs. In contrast, males show zero genetic influence, but a large shared-environmental influence... such individuals appear to be 'both born and made'."
The difference in gender also make clear the notion that genes influence females and males differently, but they still eventually reach the same conclusion on their journey. As with everything, we still do not know enough about our genes to get conclusive, definite answers, and, even then, never forget environmental effects could re-direct people in a variety of ways.
In Lisbon, they went to great lengths to provide great access to capital, human resource, and cut red-tape for new businesses. Now, Lisbon is one of the top startup cities in the world
How much start-up capital are you able to attain? How dedicated is your work force to your vision so that make it a success? How well-received are you not only by the market but by the influential people who rely on to believe in your brand as well?
And those are just a few factors...
Studies like the ones above do show how genetics are becoming more important than ever before when it comes to our understanding of the world. It's not only about predisposition to disease, ancestry, and race.
We are becoming more and more capable of harnessing the power of genetics and applying it to our daily lives, and there is an opportunity to make South Africa the best environment for entrepreneurship in the world. Take the example of other great startup cities, such as Lisbon. In Lisbon, they went to great lengths to provide great access to capital, human resource, and cut red-tape for new businesses. Now, Lisbon is one of the top startup cities in the world - nominated European Capital of Entrepreneurship in 2015.
In South Africa, we have the ability to follow Lisbon, and go even further. With a talented, ambitious, and abundant workforce, great access to high quality office space and a low cost of living, we have everything the country needs to be the next Silicon Valley. Coupled with our incredible quality of life (and weather!), it seems to me that for all South Africans, this a time where nothing should be holding you back.
It's inspirational to think that our entrepreneurial fire has only been started, and we as a country should do everything we can to foster an environment supportive of entrepreneurship and startup culture for everybody no matter how or where they were born. With this approach, we can make South Africa a world leader in both our genetic talent pool, and our fostering environment for entrepreneurship.