Toward a Theory of Entrepreneurial Action: Exploring Risk, Opportunity and Self in Technology Entrepreneurship
Doctoral thesis, 2005
This thesis sets out to develop a model of entrepreneurial action that takes its point of departure in entrepreneurs´experiences of risk-taking, opportunity identification and the role of self. By focusing on what entrepreneurs experience as relevant aspects of their life worlds the goal is to attain a better understanding of the drivers and motivations of venture creation and development.
Action has traditionally been defined as doing something with a degree of intentionality or awareness, as opposed to mere thinking or mechanical behavior. This opens up for a number of alternative interpretations of entrepreneurial action, which is also reflected in the existing literature in the field of entrepreneurship. After a brief stocktaking of influential economic perspectives, this literature is reviewed under three broad headings, viz. behavioral, cognitive and discursive approaches to entrepreneurial action. These approaches in different ways increase our understanding, but also fail to capture important aspects of entrepreneurial action as a contextually embedded process while retaining the entrepreneur as a reflexive and strategically thinking subject.
To complement existing research the appended studies use phenomenological methods to explore the entrepreneurial life world. The general ambition is to examine how entrepreneurs experience and conceptualize their actions, including how key phenomena are conceptualized and enacted as part of the venture creation and development process. This is specifically addressed in four appended studies that investigate risk (study I and IV), opportunity (study III) and the role of self (study II) among technology entrepreneurs. The argument is that these themes cover key aspects of the entrepreneurial life world and therefore provide a good starting point for analyzing entrepreneurial action writ large.
Based on the individual studies, the discussion section outlines the contours of a general model of entrepreneurial action that centers around the questions: Who am I?, What do I see?, What do I do?, and What are the effects? By taking the experiences of the acting entrepreneur as the point of departure, it is also possible to re-examine many questions and assumptions in the study of entrepreneurship. Theoretically the salience of individual experiences suggests a new understanding of who the entrepreneur is. It also indicates that personal and often conflicting perceptions of risks and opportunities, regardless of their realism, constitute important drivers of entrepreneurial action. Practically the results may allow entrepreneurs, managers, educators, venture capitalists and others to take more informed actions. For entrepreneurs the results may increase awareness of their own role, problematize risks and opportunities, and also suggest new and creative ways for developing the venture. More specifically the results can be used as an analytical template in the evaluation of, e.g. financial and technological risks. The thesis also contributes methodologically by demonstrating how phenomenological methodologies may advance understanding of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial action.