kauffman foundation

By Rieva Lesonsky

Apparently, entrepreneurship is like the flu: It’s contagious. A recent survey by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Getting the Bug: Is (Growth) Entrepreneurship Contagious?, says those who know small business owners are more likely to start businesses than those who don’t. In particular, those who know “growth” entrepreneurs are especially prone to business startup themselves.

The study polled 2,000 Americans nationwide and found that more than one-third (36.7 percent) of respondents knew an entrepreneur, but just 15.4 percent knew a growth entrepreneur. Men were more likely than women to know growth entrepreneurs (24.8 percent vs. 12.1 percent). People with lower incomes (below $24,999 annually) were more likely to know entrepreneurs in general (48.1 percent) but less likely to know growth entrepreneurs (13.8 percent). In contrast, 26.7 percent of higher-income respondents knew a growth entrepreneur.

Overall, the study found, those who know entrepreneurs are more likely to own businesses themselves. Some 37.8 percent of respondents who knew a growth entrepreneur were entrepreneurs themselves, as were 35.5 percent of respondents who knew entrepreneurs overall.

The study’s goal was to see whether entrepreneurship is an “imitative behavior,” and its findings seem to suggest that it is. That means exposing more people to entrepreneurship could have significant effects on increasing the number of business startups and of growth businesses in particular.

This study’s findings don’t surprise me one bit. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs had a huge effect on me—even though I didn’t start my business until later in life, I have been writing about and working with entrepreneurs for most of my adult career. It only makes sense that those who are aware of entrepreneurship as a career path would be more likely to follow it.

These findings have big implications for how small business owners can help others start and grow their businesses. Simply by talking about your business and what you do, you could inspire someone else to start a business of their own. The effect can be even bigger when you’re dealing with young people or people who aren’t exposed to growth entrepreneurs in the course of their daily lives. What can you do to help? Here are some ideas:

  • Get involved in entrepreneurship education organizations like the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) or the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
  • Make yourself available to your local college or university business department. Offer to speak to a class or to have business or entrepreneurship students work on a project in your business.
  • Work with younger students at the middle and high school levels through organizations like Junior Achievement or the Young Entrepreneurs Academy sponsored by Boys and Girls Clubs. Underprivileged students, in particular, can benefit from exposure to a world they may not realize is open to them.
  • Teach your family members about entrepreneurship. Having your kids, nieces or nephews work in your business at a young age (even if just for a summer or winter break) can expose them to small business ownership and light the entrepreneurial fire.
  • Hire interns from local colleges and universities to work in your business. Look for those with an interest in business ownership, and emphasize the opportunity they’ll gain to learn what it’s really like to work in a small business—and what it takes to succeed.

As small business owners we know it takes the effort of many people to help our businesses grow. By helping encourage others to follow the path of entrepreneurship, we can give back a little of what was given to us.