Research profile | Do badly behaved adolescents grow up to be Canada’s entrepreneurs?


Associate Professor Marc-David Seidel knows first-hand what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Having started two successful web-based ventures while still in graduate school, and advised dozens of start-ups, he combines experience with theory.

Marc-David Seidel

This understanding of the academic and applied worlds has led Seidel to question, from both sides, the true nature of those who become entrepreneurs. 

His understanding of small business creation has led him to believe that business schools might be relying too heavily on romanticized models of entrepreneurship. Teaching entrepreneurial skills in a formal setting involves using typical text-book examples related to topics such as generating ideas, obtaining financing, building a company, obtaining venture capital, and going public.

Seidel knows that potential business owners generally enter the market in a much more haphazard manner, a fact that partially explains the extremely high failure rate of start-ups. 

He recently wrapped up a collaborative research project that focused on the factors that predict an individual becoming an entrepreneur. Working with Professor Henrich Greve of INSEAD and Dennis G. Ma from the Sauder Commerce Scholars Program, he analyzed data that monitored children’s growth from ages 10 to 25 with an emphasis on their behaviours as they transitioned into adulthood. Seidel and his colleagues wanted to determine if there was any connection between adolescent experiences and entrepreneurial leanings. 

“We have uncovered some remarkable information on the factors that contribute to the creation of an entrepreneur," noted Seidel. “The most important seems to be related to the types of activities young people engage in earlier in their lives specifically as they relate to structure.” 

Seidel’s research indicates that increased structure in a child’s life can reduce entrepreneurial leanings. Examples include playing sports that are led by a coach or joining groups that have specific rules or conduct codes. These types of activities prepare young people to work for an external leader within a bureaucratic setting. 

He also discovered that the converse is true. Children who engaged in risky behaviours such as smoking, lying to parents, and drug use, tended to become more entrepreneurial later in life. What causes children to partake in structured activities, or not, is unclear. It is clear, however, that children with risky behaviours are more inclined to start their own companies. 

Learn more about Associate Professor Seidel's research.