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Keys to success can be learned by nearly anybody

Risk-takers. Gamblers. Visionaries. The few brave souls who boldly go where no one has gone before, at least financially and career-wise.

Entrepreneurs seem to be a breed unto themselves, maybe people who were born with that "risk-taking" gene scientists are researching.But at least two experts who work with them extensively say that while entrepreneurs do possess certain special qualities, those characteristics can be learned even by those of us slaving away at regular jobs.

Is there an "entrepreneurial personality?"

"Who is to say?" said Kayleen Simmons, founder of People Helping People, a nonprofit public-private partnership designed to help women move off welfare into work. "If I were to put it in a nutshell, it's people who live at a very high level of responsibility and don't mind hard work."

Entrepreneurs possess all sorts of other qualities, too, which Simmons deems "all kinds of C's" -- being in control, being creative, being able to make choices.

But the constant undercurrent is responsibility.

In fact, when she was approached to create a specific program to help women move off welfare into work that eventually was titled "The Growing of an Entrepreneur," Simmons thought the concept was a little strange.

Make entrepreneurs out of people who haven't held or don't hold jobs? You've got to be kidding.

However, the organization that wanted the program, the Women's Business Center in the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, is partly funded by the Small Business Administration -- and the SBA required the welfare-to-work component.

As she created the program, Simmons began to realize that what it takes to be a single mom getting off welfare and becoming financially independent is much like being an entrepreneur creating a company and nurturing it to profitability.

Simmons made a decision: "I will build a program that talks about the thought process of an entrepreneur. Whether you work in your own business or for someone else, in today's marketplace you still are self-employed. This is entrepreneurial thinking -- taking responsibility."

When one participant called in with a minor medical problem and wanted to skip a day of the program, Simmons asked her, "If this were your company and it was providing your paycheck, would you do that?"

The woman said no, she wouldn't.

Simmons also is president of the Simmons Group, a business consulting company that often has taught a course titled "The Maintenance-Free Employee." One of its key components is to get people in corporate America to recognize that there is no such thing as job security anymore.

"You decide if you're going to get promoted, how much money you'll be paid," Simmons said. "You treat the workplace as though it were yours, and you will create more opportunities for yourself in the marketplace."

The program emerged from the downsizing trend still seen in corporate America. "It parallels what happens with moms coming out of welfare. What took care of them no longer exists."

An entrepreneur would view a workplace not as someplace that would take care of them with a paycheck in return for good work until retirement. Instead, an entrepreneur would see it as a place where he or she could add value to whatever the company produced. That person also would make the effort to continually gain more skills, read extensively about business and take control of his or her work life.

"When entrepreneurial thinkers say they want control over their lives, there's a huge amount of responsibility that goes with that," Simmons said.

Even though it is possible to cultivate entrepreneurial qualities, some people just aren't cut out for it.

"If I have conversations with people, I can tell you the ones that will be successful. If I give them a project and they have a problem with it, they won't come to you with the problem, they come to you with a solution. They're solution driven," she said.

Stephen W. Gibson, entrepreneur in residence at Brigham Young University's Center for Entrepreneurship, sees many of these same qualities in those who strike out on their own.

"Because of their creative nature, they see alternative solutions to problems, often making and changing their own rules as they fight to find solutions to problems others don't see or don't care to tackle. Some would call their creative nature visionary," Gibson said.

So how can people tell if they've got the risk-taking tolerance to take the leap into entrepreneurship?

"They can reflect on situations they've been faced with before. Do they step out into the dark, get out of the box, out of comfort zones? If the answers are no, they generally aren't entrepreneurs," Gibson said.

Are you born with this or can you cultivate it?

"That is the question," Gibson said. "I think that some people are born prodigy piano players. Those people are born with those skills, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us can't be piano players. I think some entrepreneurs are born, but some are made."

Despite the way they are perceived, Gibson said entrepreneurs don't personally see themselves as high-rolling risk-takers.

"They do not see themselves as risk-takers at all. They see themselves as calculated risk-takers," Gibson said.

"They carefully weigh the odds and make movements based on conclusions they reach using their own formulas. They are solutions-oriented, and their solutions aren't typical solutions. That's what's so great about entrepreneurs -- you might look at a situation and see one solution. An entrepreneur would see five," Gibson said.

Another characteristic common to entrepreneurs is an insatiable hunger for growth, Gibson said.

Bill Gates can't get enough. Larry Miller and Jon Huntsman can't get enough. And Gibson isn't talking about money -- he's talking about the challenge to create something new and make it grow.

Some people see entrepreneurs who have made millions and keep on going as greedy. Gibson said they're not motivated by greed but instead are driven by the excitement of being active in the way they like to be active.

"They see their activity almost like a game," he said. "It is sometimes them against the establishment, and they love the game they are in. That's why they seldom retire. They just go on to other 'games,' and now there seems to be a tendency to have that 'game' be nonprofit activities, family foundations and charitable work."

Gibson sees these "social entrepreneurs" tackling philanthropy with the same passion, work ethic and enthusiasm that launched their businesses.

"They're still hungry for growth, but it's not the money issue anymore," Gibson said. "It's hard to turn off that hunger for growth. . . . It's how they approach life."