Developing identity: start-ups and aspirant entrepreneurs gaining authority
Paper i proceeding, 2007
Entrepreneurs and the start-ups they build are recognized as important contributors to economic development. However, current policies in many nations point at a lack of entrepreneurs and, in particular, entrepreneurs bridging a perceived gap between research and business. A critical question not well understood is how individuals interested in entrepreneurship develop an entrepreneurial identity. The aim of the study is to explore how aspirant entrepreneurs develop entrepreneurial identity within the interaction with stakeholders in a combined education and supportive incubator environment. Results from this process are start-ups and entrepreneurs with authority.
The paper builds from experience and successful formation of more than 25 technology-based start-up companies (valuation 56M€) during ten years in a unique environment, combining entrepreneurship programs with an incubator and support network. This environment offers a unique opportunity to study how specially selected master-students – ‘aspirant entrepreneurs’ - in interaction with different actors - ‘stakeholders’ – gain entrepreneurial authority to run a high-tech startup. The start-up projects originate mainly from university research. Thus, the aspirant entrepreneurs, having no history with the initial invention, must gain confidence and authority around the project during an intense education and incubation year. The ethnographic study focuses on teams of aspirant entrepreneurs, and the stakeholders with whom they engage. The interim results reported in this paper illustrate how the building of entrepreneurial identity is closely associated with the formation of the start-up and how the aspirant entrepreneurs make the project their own, while learning from and involving stakeholders. The key interim conclusion is that aspirant entrepreneurs when positioning themselves as the key drivers of a project – in relation to the stakeholders – both gain authority while also developing their entrepreneurial identities. Implications for educators, incubators and policy makers are that developing entrepreneurs and new companies in combination is a highly beneficial approach. The key contribution of the paper is to illustrate the way in which identity development of aspirant entrepreneurs over time helps to enable start-up formation together with the gaining of ”professional” entrepreneurial authority.
The paper is intended to have implications for select audiences. For educators, it is to help understand effective education/training for aspirant entrepreneurs. Incubators and policy-makers can appreciate the importance of supporting entrepreneurial education and linking it to incubation processes. The study explores new ground in its combined interest in understanding how to develop both the human and business side of start-ups.