We consider how the origins of institutional frameworks affect entrepreneurship in Africa, evaluating the extent to which historically-embedded institutions and other environmental conditions affect the likelihood of high-growth-potential entrepreneurial start-ups. We investigate whether entrepreneurs in these countries are primarily motivated by the pressures of subsistence, or whether the broader economic context favours more ambitious entrepreneurial ventures. To illustrate our ideas, we draw on Global Entrepreneurship Monitor data about African economies in 2013, presenting results for nine countries. Next we focus on two pairwise comparisons, for which we conducted an in-depth analysis of entrepreneurial attitudes and historical context: First for a pair of resource-driven economies, Nigeria and Angola, and next for two economies with lower natural resource endowments: Ghana and Uganda. We conclude by highlighting the historical origins of present-day institutional environments for entrepreneurship in Africa, emphasizing the evolutionary elements of the historical context that continue to determine entrepreneurial aspirations.