What makes an entrepreneur: 14 behavioural competencies

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

27 Nov 2023

From the time the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation was established, our aim has been simple: to educate and nurture high impact, responsible entrepreneurs. Our objective has always been to develop and run an and entrepreneurial programme, that will cultivate Africa’s future leaders in entrepreneurship.

The Foundation carried out a validation study to ensure that the methodology used to select our programme participants was accurate and sound. The validation study was informed by our understanding that, when establishing a business, success is largely determined by three critical elements: the Person (their skills, competencies, mindset and values) the Context (political and socio-economic) and the Process (the steps taken to start the business). The Foundation’s work has been unique in that, we mainly select young people at pre-ideation stage; in other words, we select for individual entrepreneurial potential, rather than the business idea. This means that an individual’s mindset and competencies are of paramount importance because they are indicative of the ability to develop into a responsible, high impact entrepreneur.

We believe that our findings, which showed that there are roughly 14 behavioral competencies, stand not only to benefit us but other entrepreneurship educators, accelerators and incubators. This affords accelerators greater clarity in terms of the traits they are looking for, as well as the traits that need to be developed.


Our research showed the following competencies to be crucial:

1. Opportunity Assessment
The ability to evaluate an opportunity and make a decision around it. Conceptually, this would be the process of evaluating an idea, concept, or opportunity to determine whether there is sufficient strategic, market, and financial merit for continued consideration and possible development into a product. (Moris, et al. 2013)

2. Problem Solving
Creative problem solving is described as the ability to identify problems, redefine the problems and create opportunities out of the problems by developing new and innovative solutions to problems (McMullen & Kier, 2017:2), (Morris et al., 2013:357).

3. Innovation
The ability to be creative and turn ideas into reality. Innovation can be described as the development of a new idea, method or device (Dahlander & Jeppesen, 2014).

4. Resilience
The ability to work through challenges. Resilience can be described as an entrepreneurs’ ability to face challenges and still persist (Ayala & Manzano, 2014:128).

5. Autonomy
The belief that, as an individual, you have control over your outcomes. Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control (Lefcourt, 1991).

6. Curiosity
A drive to find out information without being prompted. Curiosity is the catalyst ingredient, which leads entrepreneurs to pry into status quo products and services to find new solutions to better solve customers’ problems. A sense of curiosity means you look at even the smallest problems and seek a better solution (Steyaert, Hjorth & Gartner, 2011).

7. Values driven
The extent to which an individual is committed to their personal or organisational values. This is a type of leadership that puts values into practice, where they act as guiding principles with regards to business and personal lives (Mussig, 2003).

8. Action orientation
The extent to which a person is willing to take action to solve a problem without being prompted.

9. Calculated risk-taking
The ability to identify, manage and take risks to improve the ultimate chance of success.
The successful identification and management of risks leading to a reduction in potential losses but still enabling the small business to pursue opportunities (Brustbauer, 2016:70; Murmann & Sardana, 2013:192).

10. Value creation
The ability to evaluate the potential to create new value for a client or organisation. Value creation is an integral part of the business model, as it is the process of pursuing new markets, new revenue streams and new business opportunities, while determining how the business products or services will create sufficient value for the customers (Bocken, Short, Rana & Evans, 2014:43; Teece, 2010:172).

11. Growth mindset
The ability to evaluate the potential to create new value for a client or organisation. The belief that intelligence is not fixed but can be developed is a comparably strong predictor of achievement, and exhibits a positive relationship with achievement (Dweck,2015).

12. Leadership
The ability to lead a group of people towards the attainment of a specific goal. Leadership involves establishing a clear vision, sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly, providing the information, knowledge and methods to realise that vision, and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stake-holders. A leader steps up in times of crisis and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations (Daft, 1999).

13. Self-efficacy
An individual’s belief in her own ability to solve problems and achieve goals. Self-efficacy appears to be similar to self-esteem, expectancy, locus of control, and attribution concepts of personality and motivation; however, self-efficacy beliefs emphasise an assessment capability (can I do this?) as opposed to a concern with outcome expectations (if I do this, what will happen?) (Urban, 2006).

14. Opportunity recognition
The ability to understand information and identify the potential of something to be of value. The capacity to perceive changed or overlooked possibilities in the environment that represent potential sources of profit or return to a venture (Morris, et al. 2013).

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation

27 Nov 2023

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