Do you need to be privileged to be successful as an entrepreneur?

This is in response to Aimee Groth's post in Quartz entitled, "Entrepreneurs don’t have a special gene for risk—they come from families with money".

Last week,  I came across the above article written by Aimee Groth. As someone who studies the psychology of money, I am well aware of the benefits of financial freedom. Not having to care about your next rent payment or how you'll cover the grocery bill does afford you the freedom to access the creative vaults from which businesses are born.

However, an undercurrent of discouragement ran through the article. If you come from a "non-privileged" background, what options do you have? If your dream is to be a business owner, this article deflates any all and drive you might have.

Entrepreneurship is a way for many, including myself, to build a life that is not subject to systematic discrimination for one’s wealth. In a world where diversity and inclusion within executive roles is only recently becoming a topic of interest across industries, building a business may be your way of taking matters into your own hands. 


The article claimed that there's a deeper story to the success of entrepreneurs. Commonly, we're told that they have a special gene: a gene of resilience and perseverance as well as an uncanny savviness and heightened level of creativity. It’s a drive that can be attained by anyone, with a little boldness and a whole lot of hard work.

"But," writes Groth, "what often gets lost in these conversations is that the most common shared trait among entrepreneurs is access to financial capital—family money, an inheritance, or a pedigree and connections that allow for access to financial stability. While it seems that entrepreneurs tend to have an admirable penchant for risk, it’s usually that access to money which allows them to take risks."

In the article she cited a 2013 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research (which costs $2,100 to access) and a 2015 study by Ben Gurion University of the Negev - Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business & Management ($1,500 access fee). Could she be one of the very same monied individuals she purports make up the majority of risk-taking entrepreneurs? But I digress. 

And for those who come from money, doesn’t Groth’s argument discredit those that have used their privileged positions to build something bigger than themselves?

Check out #MoneyandMimosas post about celebrity entrepreneurs who came from humble beginnings.

Check out #MoneyandMimosas post about celebrity entrepreneurs who came from humble beginnings.

Sure, Bill Gates came from an extremely fortunate set of circumstances. He also did not choose to sit on his laurels and enjoy the fruits of his family's labor. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg won the birth lottery. However, it was his drive and persistence that built Facebook, a platform used by many underserved individuals to generate business free of charge (with the exception of advertisements). 

Groth mentioned Tory Burch in the article. I assume that she is claiming that her access to wealth and connections is what built her brand. How about some sister solidarity? As women, we know that Tory had to overcome personal and public odds in order to build a company within a male-dominated industry. 

And contradicting her main assertion, numerous entrepreneurs have built businesses without having access to resources: Oprah, Jay-Z, Janice Howroyd, Chris Kirubi, Robert L. Johnson, Nely Galan... 

While the article made some valid points, it was grossly imbalanced in acknowledging that

  1. Wealth does not guarantee personal or business success, 
  2. We have plenty of examples of successful entrepreneurs who have not been handed a silver spoon. 

Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Whether you're a musician, building the next Facebook, or becoming the next-hit YouTube star, it all takes hard work, a maniacal sense of optimism and persistence. Not every rich kid builds a worthy business.

And it's also important to remember the privileges we all have, whether it's being in a country that supports  entrepreneurship, having access to running water and the internet, and living in a time when the cost of starting a business is much less.

We all have to battles to overcome. Some may have a softer cushion to fall back on when they hit rock bottom. If you don't have a soft cushion, remember that your resilience is what will keep you in the game. You deserve to be a successful entrepreneur, if that's your dream, even if you grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

I'd love to hear from you! What are your thoughts? Do you believe you need to come from a privileged background in order to be a successful entrepreneur? 

Danetha Doe is passionate about financial inclusion and teaching entrepreneurship to underserved communities. Connect with her on Twitter @danethadoe.

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