The secret to becoming a successful entrepreneur? Being a user

March 8, 2012: 11:13 AM ET

Entrepreneurs who set out to solve a problem for themselves are often more successful than those who set out simply to make money.

FORTUNE -- Only about 11% of startups are launched by "user entrepreneurs," but such founders represent nearly half of startups that last five years or more, according to a study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

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The lesson: an entrepreneur who sets out to solve a problem often has an advantage over an entrepreneur who sets out simply to make money. The study defines user entrepreneurs as "those who have created innovative products or services for their own use, then subsequently founded firms to commercialize them."

"User entrepreneurs are different from other entrepreneurs," said E.J. Reedy, Kauffman Foundation research and policy fellow and co-author of the report, in a statement. "It is clear that these entrepreneurs are coming into their businesses with more tangible ideas, innovations or customers to build a successful firm."

The report cites the medical-device maker Medtronic (MDT) as an example of a company started by user entrepreneurs -- in this case, the heart surgeon C. Walton Lilliehei and his inventor pal Earl Bakken. When a patient died after a power outage in the '50s, they invented the first battery-powered pacemaker. Medtronic today is the world's largest medical-device maker, a Fortune 500 company with a market cap of $40 billion.

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"It is clear that these entrepreneurs are coming into their businesses with more tangible ideas, innovations or customers to build a successful firm," said Reedy, who added that the study represents a "first pass" at analysis.

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