Contagious Entrepreneurship: People Who Know Entrepreneurs Are More Likely to Become Entrepreneurs, Kauffman Foundation Survey Shows

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Exposing individuals to entrepreneurs may encourage them to start their own ventures, spurring increased economic activity and growth.

Is entrepreneurship going viral? A recent Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation survey shows that it just might be – and that’s a good thing for the U.S. economy.

The new paper “Getting the Bug: Is (Growth) Entrepreneurship Contagious?” released today by the Kauffman Foundation presents the results of a survey of 2,000 Americans across the country, asking whether they knew entrepreneurs – both in general and specifically “growth” entrepreneurs whose ventures add more employment and wealth to the economy – and if they themselves were entrepreneurs. The data then was analyzed by age, gender, geographic region and income level.

“Our goal was to discover whether entrepreneurship is an imitative behavior,” said author Paul Kedrosky, Kauffman Foundation senior fellow. “If so, increasing people’s exposure to entrepreneurs – particularly growth entrepreneurs in areas like software, the Internet or biotechnology – could generate more new entrepreneurs and by association, more economic growth.”

Overall, 36.7 percent of respondents reported knowing an entrepreneur, but only 15.4 percent knew a growth entrepreneur. These differences were more dramatic when evaluated by gender: 24.8 percent of men claimed to know a growth entrepreneur, compared with 12.1 percent of women. Similar disparities appeared by income level: lower income respondents (annual salary of $24,999 or less) were most likely to know so-called “subsistence entrepreneurs” (48.1 percent), but least likely to know a growth entrepreneur (13.8 percent), while 26.7 percent of higher-income respondents knew growth entrepreneurs.

The survey also examined whether respondents knowing entrepreneurs made them more likely to be entrepreneurs themselves. The results indicate a significant association between knowing an entrepreneur and being one: 37.8 percent of respondents who knew a growth entrepreneur were entrepreneurs themselves, as were 35.5 percent of respondents who knew entrepreneurs overall. Men were more likely to be entrepreneurs if they knew an entrepreneur than were women, in both the growth and overall entrepreneur categories.

This preliminary research has clear implications for entrepreneurship programs, Kedrosky said.

“While the results don’t show specific causality, the connection between knowing and being an entrepreneur is strong,” he said. “Funding and programs to encourage entrepreneurship and wealth creation can have an impact simply by bringing together entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, particularly among those groups who have the least exposure currently, and helping it go ‘viral.’”

Other survey findings include:

  •     People in the U.S. Northeast were more likely to know entrepreneurs overall than in other areas of the country, with 43.1 percent reporting knowing an entrepreneur. However, respondents in the U.S. West were most likely to report knowing a growth entrepreneur specifically (18.2 percent) than people in other geographic regions.
  •     Younger respondents (ages 25-34) had an edge over other age groups in knowing growth entrepreneurs (20.2 percent), while respondents ages 45-54 were most likely to know an entrepreneur in general (48.6 percent).

About the Kauffman Foundation
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit, and follow the Foundation on and

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Barbara Pruitt
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