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Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Can entrepreneurship be taught, or are people born that way? Is there something in the brain that neurologically links great entrepreneurial minds? These are the questions being asked in the world's first comprehensive study in to what happens in the brain when someone is thinking entrepreneurially

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Brain

Can entrepreneurship be taught, or are people born that way? Is there something in the brain that neurologically links great entrepreneurial minds? These are the questions being asked in the world’s first comprehensive study in to what happens in the brain when someone is thinking entrepreneurially.

In the first ever collaboration between the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and The Entrepreneurship Institute at King’s College London, the five-year-studywill look to identify the anatomical differences and brain processes behind entrepreneurial minds. This could reveal the features of the brain that underpin success.

Building on the study findings, the researchers are aiming to understand what might stimulate entrepreneurial thinking, creating evidence-based entrepreneurial learning materials and training programmes which can be used in academic curriculums around the globe.

Whilst there has been considerable work carried out that looks in to the psychology of entrepreneurs, little is known about their underlying brain characteristics and how these could be harnessed to better teach entrepreneurship.

The Neuroscience of Entrepreneurship Project has set out to comprehensively explore the brains of a wide-range of entrepreneurs, from aspiring to established. The team will explore key entrepreneurial skills including idea generation, innovation and problem solving. Using the latest neuroimaging technology they hope to reveal useful information that could help with the understanding and teaching of entrepreneurship worldwide.

The project is led by Professor Steven Williams, Founder and Head of the Department of Neuroimaging at IoPPN, Dr Vincent Giampietro, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Neuroimaging, Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE, Professor in Practice of Entrepreneurship at the Entrepreneurship Institute and Julie Devonshire OBE, Director of the Entrepreneurship Institute.

Professor Williams, says: By the end of five years we will know what structures and function define the entrepreneurial brain. Armed with this knowledge we can then develop tools to facilitate entrepreneurial behaviour. This project is a unique crossover between the worlds of business and science. Involving leading entrepreneurs offers an exciting opportunity to see if there are any crucial biological differences in people who are “business-minded”’.

Professor Allesch-Taylor commented: ‘As entrepreneurship becomes increasingly important to the global economy, so too does the understanding of how an entrepreneur’s brain works and whether we can prove that entrepreneurship can be taught. This research has the potential to change the way we teach and think about entrepreneurship within five years from now.’  

‘The results of this study have the potential to influence every aspect of not only business but anywhere entrepreneurial skills are encouraged.  Corporate teams, medics, lawyers, educators, public servants and others in leadership roles are increasingly seeking the skills needed to innovate and challenge - there has never been a more pertinent time to unlock the secrets of the entrepreneurial brain.’

The Neuroscience of Entrepreneurship project will be broken down into three stages over five years. 

Phase 1: The entrepreneurial personality (Year 1 and 2) – research into identifying the personality traits of an entrepreneur to understand if there is something fundamentally different about the structure, the wiring and resting state activity levels of their brain. Personality trait tests and MRI scans will be used to see if the identified entrepreneurial traits can be seen and mapped within the brain.

Phase 2: The entrepreneurial brain (Year 3) – answering questions about what the brain looks like when someone carries out tasks to exploit opportunities, or to resolve problems that an entrepreneur might typically face. Informed by Phase 1, appropriate MRI-based experiments will be used/ created to stimulate this behaviour in research participants with a wide range of entrepreneurial skills.

 Phase 3: Training the entrepreneurial brain (Year 4 and 5) – devising and testing methods to train the brain to be entrepreneurial, using brain imaging in addition to traditional assessment to determine the training’s success.  Based on Phases 1 & 2, the team will seek to replicate/ reinforce the brain characteristics of the most successful entrepreneurs. If successful, this could inform the curricular of business schools globally.

Image credit: Dr Flavio Dell'Acqua, King's College London