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What Are The Key Characteristics Of An Entrepreneur?

What makes a successful entrepreneurial mindset? We spoke to entrepreneurship experts to find out


Tue Jun 18 2024

Entrepreneurship defies the traditional business job formula. With varied working hours, constantly shifting priorities, and frequent pitches to venture capitalists—it requires a different outlook from the standard corporate business career. 

While entrepreneurs may work on various types of projects depending on their startup or company, they share certain attributes and skills that contribute to their success.

BusinessBecause spoke to two entrepreneurship experts to ask: What are the key characteristics of an entrepreneur?

A passion for entrepreneurship

Passion is usually the foundation of entrepreneurship. If entrepreneurs can’t emanate passion, how can they expect the market or consumers to be excited about the product or service?

Rich Longo is the director of the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which forms part of the Palumbo-Donahue School of Business. The center is open to both student and non-student entrepreneurs who want to start or own a small business.

Rich has previously held roles as the CEO of a boutique consulting firm and senior vice president for Devon Health Services. 

“You have to live in your business concept in best of times and the worst of times,” he says. 

The SBDC works with entrepreneurs to help them understand their unique characteristics. 

“The Center helps students understand that if they happen to be more of a short-sighted individual, rather than a long-sighted individual, they are going to be unlikely to wade through the ups and downs of the business,” he says.

Entrepreneurs might be bursting with brilliant ideas, but they need to be prepared to arrive with a business plan and remain continually aware of competition in the market. 

“Another key component is how much are you willing to put yourself and your passion into the business?” 

The new Master of Science in Entrepreneurial Leadership (MS-EL) program at Duquesne University is aimed at both those who wish to be entrepreneurs in existing organizations or to start their own businesses.

The Master’s in Entrepreneurial Leadership degree teaches students how to innovate through courses in Ideation Adventure. All students receive mentorship from a dedicated student success coach to help them with their ideas. 

Innovation skills

Passion and innovation go hand in hand, and for good reason—being passionate about something is likely to fuel innovative and creative ideas.

“Innovation is another key area for entrepreneurs—how willing are you to pivot and grow or change your venture?” says Rich. 

Budding entrepreneurs at Duquesne University get plenty of practice learning how to innovate during challenging times.

One real-world simulation offered to students involves learning how to make a sales pitch in five minutes, and considering why an investor would want to invest in the product or service.

“We built a lot of capability here in the SBDC for the students that work with us to get a better understanding of those tools and techniques as to what would make you successful, either in pitching your business or acquiring investors to invest in the business,” says Rich.

Embracing tenacity

Tenacity is another key characteristic of a successful entrepreneur.

Staci Offut is an instructor and director of the Center for Excellence in Entrepreneurship at Duquesne University.

She has also held leadership roles on corporate intrapreneurship teams developing new products and enabling operational efficiency, and worked for nonprofits directing program initiatives and leading advising boards.

“It takes a great amount of determination to drive an idea forward, whether that's being done as part of an innovation team in an existing organization or as an individual working more independently in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Successful leaders are tenacious,” she says.

Students in the Master’s in Entrepreneurial Leadership program can embrace such an attitude during courses in the program including Leadership and Motivation for Executives, which is focused on understanding human behavior in organizations and maximizing performance through influence, power, and group dynamics. 

The MS-EL also offers a course on Leading Strategic Change, which guides students to practice the skills that help leaders create a positive impact. 

“This program puts students in experiential learning situations, giving them the opportunity to work through the mechanics of problem solving and build muscle memory for various business frameworks,” adds Staci.

Risk-taking attitude

The best aspect about studying entrepreneurship at business school is that you get to test out new ideas and styles of working without facing the repercussions that you might face in the outside world.

The Duquesne New Venture Challenge is a three-part business plan competition with more than $100k in cash and service prizes, and it’s embedded into the curriculum of the Master’s in Entrepreneurial Leadership degree.

Students receive support from both the Center for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and the Duquesne Small Business Development Center. 

“Access and training are provided for the rapid prototyping tools in the product development lab and our beautiful ideation spaces,” says Staci.

The competition offers a great way for students to try out their risk-taking attitude, which is integral to entrepreneurship.

“It’s important to understand what your risk tolerance is and if you are a risk tolerant person,” advises Rich.

Communication and active listening skills

Communication skills and active listening skills are some of the lesser-known key characteristics of an entrepreneur but are just as important as, for example, innovation or determination.

“Having active listening skills and a deep empathy for the people who experience the problem that you're solving is imperative. It ensures that the product or service you are providing meets customer needs,” says Staci.

Palumbo-Donahue School of Business facilitates many networking opportunities for budding entrepreneurs to meet fellow entrepreneurs and businesspeople in Pittsburgh—the second largest city in Pennsylvania—where the school is based.

“Our staff and students stay immersed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, attending key events, meeting local startup founders and technologists, and forging relationships with leaders who are funding and supporting regional businesses,” says Staci.

Such networking initiatives can be key to fostering strong communication and active listening skills.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to entrepreneurship, there are several key characteristics of an entrepreneur that provide the foundational building blocks for success in a competitive climate.