Neurodiverse Entrepreneurs

Mental disorders were previously studied as problems needing remedies like medication, interventions, or counselling. A common misconception today is that those with mental health disorders are incapable of the same things that neurotypical individuals are. Neurodivergent individuals often perceive and process information differently than neurotypical individuals consider “normal.” However, that does not make them any less capable. Neurological disorders have been linked to success in many instances, particularly in entrepreneurship.

In 2015, Freeman et al. (2015) studied 335 individuals, including 242 entrepreneurs. The study revealed that 49% of the entrepreneurs reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions. 

They were also significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%), and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants. 

These results suggest that while individuals with mental health conditions may face challenges due to their disability, it does not make them incapable of attaining a successful career. Wiklund et al. (2016) argue that these challenges lead them to develop coping mechanisms and resilience that can transfer into entrepreneurship. Research suggests that some entrepreneurs can benefit from their neurological conditions. 

Verhuel et al. (2015) conducted a study on 10,104 students enrolled in higher education. They found that students who exhibited behaviors typical of individuals with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were more likely to have entrepreneurial intentions. An explanation for this finding is that individuals with ADHD have a higher risk-taking propensity and great creativity leading to this positive association. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been shown to have excellent information-processing skills with great attention to detail, analytical thinking, and creativity.

Perhaps, some mental health conditions can benefit an individual's entrepreneurial goals, the entrepreneurial path, and activities can also present challenges. The entrepreneurial journey can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression, which can present challenges not only to an individual’s career but also to their health.

The research continues: Moore et al. (2021) write in their abstract that "Our results suggest entrepreneurs with ADHD employ a more intuitive cognitive style and demonstrate higher levels of entrepreneurial alertness and RICH [resource- induced coping heuristics], while no significant differences in metacognition were found". Studies are getting granular about which mechanisms are at play.

 



References

Freeman, M. A., Staudenmaier, P. J., Zisser, M. R., & Andresen, L. A. (2019). The prevalence and co-occurrence of psychiatric conditions among entrepreneurs and their families. Small Business Economics, 53, 323-342. 

Moore, C. B., McIntyre, N. H., & Lanivich, S. E. (2021). ADHD-related neurodiversity and the entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 45(1), 64-91.

Verheul, I., Block, J., Burmeister-Lamp, K., Thurik, R., Tiemeier, H., & Turturea, R. (2015). ADHD-like behavior and entrepreneurial intentions. Small Business Economics, 45, 85-101.

Wiklund, J., Yu, W., Tucker, R., & Marino, L. D. (2017). ADHD, impulsivity and entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 32(6), 627-656.


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