Gene of the Week: Entrepreneurship (again)

Posted by Pete Shanks April 2, 2014
Biopolitical Times

The Scientist on April 1st (but seriously) addressed the burning question, Is there a genetic component to entrepreneurial success? Biopolitical Times discussed this four years ago, when we noted that Case Western professor Scott Shane was touting a book called Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life.

At the time, we were gentle on the researchers but critical of the media reports about their work. This time, it’s the other way round.

The Scientist’s rundown focused again on Shane. He and others keep looking, using registries of twins and genome-wide association studies (GWAS), but the results are distinctly meager. One study, for instance, found that women inherited the propensity to become entrepreneurs, but men did not. We leave some speculation to the reader, but the researcher suggested that women face extra hurdles, so:

only those people who are really determined, who have that genetic makeup [to their advantage], emerge as entrepreneurs because of the hardship in the environment.

Men, however, make up for any genetic disadvantage by relying on social support. Lean in, guys.

Shane is now speculating that the impulse to start a business may be connected to thrill seeking. He and his colleagues found a so-called “candidate gene” that could explain — wait for it — an estimated — really — "0.5 percent of the likelihood of becoming an entrepreneur."

Perhaps they are on the wrong track. Roy Thurik, another entrepreneurship researcher, sadly concludes that "his own GWAS study also measured the wrong outcome” and he should have focused on psychology. However:

That being said, “with the wrong measure and the wrong phenotype, we came so close” to identifying candidate genes.

How close? Well, so close.

Shane’s book is still available but The Scientist didn’t give it a plug.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: