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Is Entrepreneurship Inherited?

A few weeks ago, my cousin was in town from Australia and we spent a few hours talking about our ancestry and going through old photos. The photos were mostly of our family and spanned all the way back to the 1880s. We began piecing things together using names and dates my grandmother had written on the back of many of them. At the bottom of one of the boxes we came upon an envelope with a Hanwit & Hanwit logo.

I knew my grandfather had a business as a tailor but he wasn’t in business with any brothers or sisters (frankly, I don’t know if he had any). He died when my dad was 17, back in 1955, so I know they didn’t work together. Low and behold, a few minutes later I found a postcard with a picture of a man in front of a store with an awning that read Hanowitz (our family’s original last name before changing to Hanwit). From the window display, it’s obviously a tailor/clothing store.


We realized that the photo was of my great-grandfather who, we put together, was in business with his son, (my grandfather) Abraham. Then I realized my father had done the same thing, transitioning from a job in corporate management to opening his own bagel store in the late 1970s, which turned into a small chain.

I’m not sure what my great-great-grandfather did for work, but nonetheless I’m at least a fourth-generation entrepreneur, founding my own business more than 10 years ago.

All of this got me thinking: Is entrepreneurship inherited or this just a coincidence?

I did some research on the topic and it appears that a combination of ability and ambition lead to entrepreneurship. Though it can be learned (it’s taught at universities), I can’t imagine being taught this innate feeling—maybe how to start or run a business, but not the feeling.

(Above) My grandfather, in front of his business. (Below) Myself in front of our Encinitas office.
(Above) My grandfather, in front of his business. (Below) Myself in front of our Encinitas office.

For me, I’d always had this vague desire to start my own business, but there are a number of things that came together for me:

In my 20s, I had this idea that  wanted to travel from the East (Asia) to the West (Europe) over land. I was told early on it wasn’t possible, that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Accomplishing that taught me I can do anything if I set my mind to it, and that I could overcome fear with confidence.

Second, I’m an ideas man. I have lots of ideas and I’m not afraid to try them and fail. And fail. And fail. I figure, what’s the worst that can happen?

Lastly, at that time, other job options weren’t better. I interviewed for a job at a large corporation and realized that the stability of an office job didn’t outweigh the potential of trying something on my own. If I was offered an amazing job that paid well, I might have thought otherwise, but instead my parnter Guusje and I set out to create and build something on our own.

When I think about what might have compelled my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather to start their own businesses, I can imagine their motivations were similar. Each of them surely had this innate desire, along with the confidence and opportunities that allowed them to pursue that desire. Whether it’s inherited or not, my own decisions now seem to make more sense, and whether the research proves it or not, I have to believe that there’s at least a part of it I got from my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

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