Entrepreneurial Prototypes: Identity Construction in Entrepreneurship Education
Konferensbidrag (offentliggjort, men ej förlagsutgivet), 2019
Questions we care about
There are an estimated 582 million entrepreneurs globally. Despite this, popular literature and social media still focus on a narrow set of stereotypes. Entrepreneurial stereotypes plague the educational environment, as they set preconceptions of what entrepreneurship is, but they are far from representative of the early-stage of venturing, or the broad spectrum of entrepreneurial careers accounted for globally. Entrepreneurial prototypes embody attributes that characterize entrepreneurs “and distinguish them from other groups, including beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors” used to establish provisional selves when aiming to adopt a new professional role. Entrepreneurial prototypes can serve to provide identity comparisons between an actual self and a possible (future) entrepreneurial self. When addressing preconceptions, prototypes which include counter-stereotypical models are necessary to highlight the breadth of how entrepreneurs are understood. But, one may be challenged to identify such examples, and legitimize them relative to the strongly anchored ‘heroes’. Therefore, the question we care about is: What is the utility and what is the risk in presenting entrepreneurial prototypes in entrepreneurship education?
This paper builds upon narratives from individuals who have recently transitioned into an entrepreneurial role in the last 3.5yrs, defined as ‘early-stage entrepreneurs’. The study employed non-representative, purposeful, criterion sampling. Participants were recruited through relevant professional context/networks. Confirmed participants completed an online questionnaire and 60 minute phone interview. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Selected participants were coded for prototyping themes established from the literature.
The participants studied sought out prototypes to help guide their identity development and practice in their entrepreneurial journey. Typical venues for such prototypes included stories of entrepreneurs as depicted via podcasts, TV shows or in person. Participants were disappointed by or resistant to stories available, as these highlighted high-profile success cases. Rather, participants sought stories of entrepreneurs that did not fall into the “heroic” stereotype, but seemed realistic and relevant to their own context. More realistic prototypes were found through personal networks, sometimes associated to institutional ecosystems. Prototyping was not exclusive to identifying representative individuals in the ‘role’ entrepreneur – such as a provisional self, but also involved prototyping the practices which were attributed to acting entrepreneurially. Socializing a new entrepreneurial identity was particularly valuable when within an entrepreneurial community, as the legitimizing expanded beyond a role-set, towards a community of practice.
There is a need to directly discuss the breadth of definitions of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship and to engage an appropriate spectrum of prototypes to reflect them. Addressing entrepreneurial prototypes, particularly in comparison to oneself, allows for rich discussion as comparing oneself to an entrepreneurial prototype can indicate comfort levels with certain elements of being an entrepreneur and point to areas where new entrepreneurs are feeling a conflict with another existing identity. While bringing-in ‘real-life’ entrepreneurs from the community can help energize the classroom with stories of real-life experience, it is critical to be mindful to present a broad diversity of entrepreneurs (race, gender, age, personality, background, field, experience-level, etc.), as having students perceive patterns in the speakers may inadvertently aid in reinforcing entrepreneurial stereotypes. Educators can use targeted conversation helped to raise identity reflections that illustrate challenges in associating to the entrepreneurial prototype. Being able to have targeted discussions on how students can reconceptualize themselves as entrepreneurs can be helpful for strategizing with students on how to become comfortable with both their intended future selves and their existing self-concept. Educators also need to consider the impact of social media and popular culture, and train students in filtering inputs and information and find means to appropriately select prototypes that fit their particular interests and context.
The paper investigates the way in which preconceptions of entrepreneurship influence entrepreneurial identity development and how this can be utilized or mitigated in the classroom. The paper helps to merge role and activity mimicry in the concept of entrepreneurial prototype, and allow for entrepreneurial prototypes to be ‘future’-oriented rather than dependent upon existing societal images of entrepreneurs/-ship.