The Lived Experience of Academic Entrepreneurship: The interplay between practice, identity, and context
This thesis explores how academic entrepreneurs experience and practically manage the combination of research and business, with special emphasis on the interplay between practice and identity and the effects of institutional context. Empirical focus is on university researchers who co-found companies while remaining in academia. Despite being the topic of intense scholarly attention, research on academic entrepreneurship is lacking a richer understanding of the actor at the center of it all: the university scientist engaging in entrepreneurship. The overwhelming dominance of macrolevel research (e.g. organizational and institutional determinants, and economic outcomes) has led to calls for more research into the microlevel processes that underpin this phenomenon. However, scholars taking such a microlevel approach have primarily focused on how characteristics of individual scientists, such as age, gender, academic seniority and scientific productivity, relate to their propensity to engage in research commercialization. While useful, a preoccupation with individuals’ characteristics not only neglects the agency and introspection of scientists engaging in entrepreneurship, it also misses a great opportunity to enrich and deepen our understanding of institutions, norms and university policies by not examining them through the lens of academic entrepreneurs' lived experiences and identity work.
To enrich and complement our understanding of academic entrepreneurship, this thesis takes as point of departure the lived experience of university scientists engaged in venture creation. The transitions between the distinct roles of academic and entrepreneur can lead to unforeseen and irregular experiences that disrupt the sense of normality and place new, sometimes conflicting, demands on work identity. By exploring the work practices academic entrepreneurs engage in as they combine their two distinct roles, the aim is to understand how these individuals make sense and hybridize their identities as scientists and academics. To do so, this thesis relies primarily on qualitative studies that explore the contextualized lived experiences of academic entrepreneurs with special emphasis on the confluence, complementarities and potential tensions between their roles. The primary method is semi-structured phenomenological interviews.
Findings indicate that academic entrepreneurs are not simply adopting a ready-made identity that lies implicit in institutional norms or can be taken over from exemplary foregoers. Instead, they engage reflexively in subtle transformations and revisions of their own existing work identity, which is typically that of an academic. The thesis shows how practice can be an occasion for nuancing work identity. It contributes to the academic entrepreneurship literature by highlighting how clarity and coherence in work identity is achieved through cultivating a reinforcing dialectic between opposing roles, instead of only separating them through defensive boundaries.
Self and identity