Gene of the week: Entrepreneurship

Posted by Jesse Reynolds March 5, 2010
Biopolitical Times
A recent segment on the widely-broadcast public radio show Marketplace asks whether entrepreneurship is in our genes. It cites an upcoming book, Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Worklife. Author Scott Shane is a Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Despite not having a science degree, his website lists six papers on the topic, three of which have appeared in peer-reviewed journals: Management Science, Journal of Business Venturing, and Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. Presumably, these articles were reviewed by experts in business and management, not behavioral genetics. Three of them, however, have co-authors from the Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology Unit at King’s College London.

To all of their credit, these papers use the appropriate qualifying language. They speak of multiple, unspecified "genetic factors," and elaborate that
we also are not suggesting that there is a specific gene for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a complex phenotype, and it is very unlikely that there is a strong association between one particular gene and the tendency to engage in it.Moreover, the relationship between specific genes and the tendency to engage in entrepreneurship is likely to be quite complex, given the length of the causal chain from genes to entrepreneurial activity. Rather, we propose that the effect of genes on sensation seeking is likely to be epistatic; multiple genes may interact with each other in order to increase the likelihood for a person to be sensation seeking
The real problem is in the Marketplace segment. Titled "A gene for entrepreneurship?," it focuses on a single case of a family in which four of five members have started businesses. Worst of all, the journalist suggests that investors could subject their potential recipients to genetic screening:
Knowing which genes encourage entrepreneurship, and who has them, could help educators design better programs to spur business-creation. It could even help venture capitalists pick whose startup to fund, though there's no guarantee the genes actually lead to success.

Judging by the online comments on the article, criticism of the segment is widespread.

Previous Genes of the Week: