entrepreneurship - the magic formula

Marlin Hoffman, School of Business and Finance, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

This article was first published in 2019 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 2 no 3

Dr Marlin Hoffman is a lecturer at the the University of the Western Cape’s School of Business and Finance. In our last edition, Marlin wrote about the need for an entrepreneurial culture in universities.  Here he shares his thoughts on the search for the magic formula that underpins the success of entrepreneurs. His conclusion is that fear is one of the greatest hurdles that entrepreneurs need to overcome and he shares his approach to helping students to overcome their fears on the path to becoming the successful entrepreneurs of the future.


The study of entrepreneurs has always been in the context of behaviour, characteristics and the context in which they operate. Studies were then conducted to identify and understand these behaviours and characteristics in order to determine how it could be replicated. Done successfully, the development of entrepreneurs, according to these behaviours and characteristics could yield results. Entrepreneurs were then identified as those who would be pivotal in economic expansion and economic descriptors were applied to entrepreneurs.

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Environmental and human factors then gained prominence as the behaviourists’ influence on entrepreneurship stemming from a number of sources, included psychoanalysis, psychology and sociology. The search for the magic formula moved from the behaviour, to the psychological make-up of the entrepreneur. The direction of the search moved from the environment (external) to the entrepreneur (internal). At this point the question still prevailed, as in leadership studies, whether entrepreneurs were born or made. The debate has been ongoing and neither schools of thought has gained the upper hand.  

Researchers, in social psychology, looked to how beliefs influenced behaviour which led to the development of various models and theories. One of these theories used self-efficacy as a determinant for behaviour and is described as the belief in oneself to complete a particular task or behaviour. How much do I, as an entrepreneur, believe in myself to master the behaviour of being an entrepreneur? The search therefore goes even deeper. Understanding your fears and how it affects your confidence is therefore crucial to embarking on the journey of being an entrepreneur. I have experienced this in many ways when working with people about to embark on their journey, as fear surpasses the myriad of emotions experienced when starting off. 

In my experience through lecturing post graduate students in entrepreneurship, I have realised through the years that there is more to developing entrepreneurs than merely business plans and great ideas. I’ve found the fears to be deeply rooted in  the psychological imprint from formative years, fundamental  belief systems and how they perceive the world of business to be. If root causes are not identified and faced,  these fears will sadly cripple the entrepreneur to the point of never even starting a business. 

How do we then unpack these belief systems and fears that could possibly hamper entrepreneurial development? I use a method, borrowed from a book called the Fox Trilogy written by Chantell Ilbury and Clem Sunter, in which they introduce, present and discuss “Our Foxy Matrix” used for scenario planning. I have been using this method of scenario planning to work with students to create scenarios which ultimately allow each student to bring the unknown (the fear) into their periphery. The result being that this fear is no longer an unknown. This creates a sense of comfort and stability within the thinking of the student entrepreneur. We can conclude that fear is one of the greatest hurdles that entrepreneurs need to overcome. 

Which fears are preventing you to start your own business? Which uncertainties are preventing you from taking the next step? The answers to these questions all lay within. We are never as ready as what we are now at this very moment in our existence. By mere virtue of contemplating it shows that we have the ability to do it. ◼️