Regions with a large number of gay couples and ethnic minorities are likely to be more successful at entrepreneurship.
Speaking at the launch of the International Entrepreneurship Forum in Birmingham, Erik Pages, policy director of the US National Commission on Entrepreneurship, said research showed a correlation between population diversity and enterprise. The presence of many gay or minority inhabitants showed that a community had an attitude of openness to new ideas, which created the right climate for entrepreneurs to flourish.
"Entrepreneurship is a social and cultural phenomenon, it's not just about dotcoms," said Dr Pages, who is a professor at Georgetown University, Washington.
"We are in the midst of the largest period of wealth creation in American history, and it is entrepreneurs who are driving prosperity. The boom is being caused by a backlash against downsizing and a lack of trust in large corporations."
Dr Pages said universities had to change the mindset of young people and should not be just re-labelling old management courses. In particular, they could help alter attitudes towards business failure, which was often viewed as an essential part of an entrepreneur's CV in the United States where nine out of every ten new companies fail.
"If you have failed but come back, it shows you are committed and smarter," said Dr Pages, one of 12 international speakers at the conference organised by the University of Central England Business School, and attended by academic, business and support agency delegates.
Dr Pages added: "I don't think government can do a lot for entrepreneurs. We advocate regional economic development strategies to make places attractive to entrepreneurs. Hot companies want 'cool' areas to work in with coffee shops, arts districts and wired buildings offering fast internet access. It is a myth that access to venture capital is responsible for the success of entrepreneurs in the States. Social culture is the most critical factor."
Many of the start-ups were technology businesses, but there was a big problem with access to seed capital even in areas such as Silicon Valley. Venture capitalists preferred investing in mature companies, so entrepreneurs were increasingly using capital from individual investors.
Upkar Pardesi, dean of UCE's business school, said entrepreneurship should be integrated across the whole curriculum, not just focused on business courses. He said UCE was redesigning its programmes and launching a BA in entrepreneurship next year.
Allan Gibb, who set up Durham University's small business centre 30 years ago, argued that there was widespread confusion about the meaning of entrepreneurship. "It is becoming very sexy internationally, and academics are good at re-labelling a version of what was taught previously. We need to understand how the world is changing before we create the new enterprise curriculum," Professor Gibb said.
Forum organiser Jay Mitra, director of UCE's enterprise research and development centre, said the aim of the event was to form a permanent international group to share research and teaching activities, and to discuss the impact of enterprise on the wider economy. A website and online journal are planned, with an annual conference and the development of partnership projects between different countries.
Fernando Dolabela, director of Brazil's programme for teaching enterprise to university teachers, said: "We need partners from all over the world to exchange knowledge and help us to develop an enterprise culture in Brazil."