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Based on the individual studies and the general discussion, it is possible to draw some conclusions and suggest implications regarding theory, practice and methodology.
The field of entrepreneurship studies is quite heterogeneous and transcends many disciplines and levels of analysis. As a result there is some confusion regarding fundamental issues. By taking entrepreneurs’ lived experiences as the point of departure, a number of these issues can be given novel interpretations. These insights were brought together in a tentative model of entrepreneurial action (Figure 3). This model provides an structured basis for conceptualizing entrepreneurial action from a subjective point of view. Here, the implications are mainly discussed in relation to the questions: Who am I?, What do I see?, and What do I do?
A classic dilemma in entrepreneurship studies concerns how to conceptualize the entrepreneur. Study II explicitly addressed the tension between the individual and the social (structural) as the basis for action. Researchers in the narrative tradition also seek to bridge this dualism but as indicated the focus on discourses and storylines sometimes downplays the role of individual initiative and agency. This thesis introduced the entrepreneurial self as an alternative lens through which to view the entrepreneur. On this view the individual is neither a bundle of traits and capabilities, nor the enactment of different discourses. Instead the entrepreneurial self, seen as a mix of subjective identity and internalized roles, constitutes a dynamic form of subjectivity that is constructed in the interface between the individual, the surrounding world and the activities that evolve there. Such a view allows for a dynamic and more nuanced understanding of the entrepreneur than has traditionally been the case. Researchers have long argued in favor of a more full-bodied conceptualization of the entrepreneur, i.e. one that does not reduce human beings and experiences to traits, human capital or managerial skills (e.g. Johannisson 1989, Hjorth 2003). The notion of the entrepreneurial self provides a conceptual basis that allows for such a rich treatment of the individual in future research. Hoang and Gimeno (2005) argue that development of an entrepreneurial identity may explain the transition to entrepreneurship. In a similar vein one may also speculate that the importance of ego-involvement and visceral interpretations will decline with time and growth, partly as a result of a growing internal bureaucracy and constraining relationships with external stakeholders.
A more complex view of the entrepreneur links directly to the role of individual perceptions and their relation to entrepreneurial action. This in turn has a direct bearing on the continuing debate over the status of opportunities, risks and by extension the external world. Typically opportunities are seen as either created by entrepreneurial imagination and action or objectively existing and waiting to be discovered (study III). By taking action as the point of departure, this distinction becomes less significant as perceptions become important in their own right. Perceptions drive entrepreneurial action regardless of whether they reflect ‘objectively true’ risks and opportunities or not. This is not to suggest that there is no real world out there. It does however suggest that understanding entrepreneurial action requires a deeper comprehension of the entrepreneurial life world, including perceptions of risks and opportunities, which goes beyond the simple subjective/objective debate.
The focus on diverse perceptions also highlights the practices through which these are enacted. Given that entrepreneurs have multifaceted and conflicting ambitions, it is not surprising that entrepreneurial actions may appear paradoxical to outsiders. This thesis sought to examine how these differences play out in what entrepreneurs do. The results showed that entrepreneurs balance at least three major tensions as part of the venture creation and development process: ego-involvement and detached rationality, autonomy and openness, and long- versus short-term focus.
The findings support the trend in entrepreneurship studies to regard uncertainty and heterogeneity as key conceptual building blocks (Venkataraman 1997, Davidsson 2003). Entrepreneurs do not simply respond to profits or pursue autonomy. Instead entrepreneurs are driven by passion, personal engagement and social responsibilities. This is in line with the radical subjectivist tradition where authors have long called for an ‘economics of meaning’ grounded in socially embedded individuals’ interpretive activities (cf. Lachmann 1990, Lavoie 1991a, Boettke et al. 2004). The field of entrepreneurship studies is often said to struggle with its identity, legitimacy and theoretical grounding (cf. Steyaert 2005). Given the important influence of economics (Chapter 2.1), radical subjectivism may provide a more appropriate foundation than either the neoclassical or Austrian traditions. Especially since these traditions find it hard to handle issues of human creativity and imagination (e.g. Littlechild 1986, Buchanan and Vanberg 1991). Entrepreneurship studies may therefore stand to gain from a closer allegiance with the radical subjectivist tradition.
This thesis used phenomenological methods that investigated phenomena from the perspective of entrepreneurs’ lived experiences. This focus directs attention to how entrepreneurs try to make sense of their situation and find meaning and structure in the venture development process. The findings also indicate that such a perspective indeed has potential in terms of revisiting and enriching existing, often contested, concepts such as opportunities and risk-taking. It also provides opportunities to explore novel aspects of entrepreneurship such as the nature and reflexive use of the entrepreneurial self.
A natural extension of this approach would be to move beyond individuals and also take group dynamics into account. This thesis focused on individual experiences but in order to grasp important aspects of entrepreneurial action it may be necessary to investigate how different individuals’ experiences mesh together in the creation and development of new ventures. As suggested above, the entrepreneurial self and its concomitant practices may change with time, e.g. as the venture grows. A truly dynamic understanding therefore requires longitudinal methods, where the impact of entrepreneurial action may be traced over time in terms of its implications for individual learning, venture development and market creation.
It is important not to confuse descriptions with recommendations. The present findings are mainly descriptive and instead of providing normative advice on how entrepreneurs should behave, this thesis has sought to explore how entrepreneurs conceive of and enact certain aspects of their life worlds. The findings are thus useful in the sense that these findings can produce a richer understanding of entrepreneurial action, which may in turn lead to more informed action.
One way in which this may be done is by using the findings, from either the individual studies or the general framework, as analytical tools in specific situations. A systematic discussion of risks and opportunities in terms of the categories developed may help entrepreneurs by increasing their self-reflexivity, problematizing risks and opportunities, and by suggesting ways of enacting these issues. Entrepreneurs tend to get emotionally involved in their ventures and often overestimate opportunities and underestimate risks. As argued above, this is not always a bad thing as stubbornness and overconfidence often enable action in the face of uncertainty. The findings, especially from study II, also suggest that these are not general characteristics of entrepreneurs. Instead such attitudes are born out of specific existential and social conditions, making them highly individual and often temporary. The present findings may therefore help entrepreneurs become more reflexive actors, by describing how and why personal involvement, social-role taking and cognitive strategies influence judgments and actions. The results can also be used to problematize and elaborate risks and opportunities. Risk is often formally managed with focus on financial projections, technical problems, recruitment etc. Systematically discussing such risks in terms of the categories developed in study I may give entrepreneurs’ a substantially richer understanding of such hands on risks. If venture risks are appraised in terms of learning potential, the importance of networking, and the importance of maintaining venture agility and autonomy, entrepreneurs may also identify creative ways of engaging these risks and find new ways for developing the venture as a whole.
In a similar manner, venture capitalists, incubator managers, entrepreneurship educators and others who interact with entrepreneurs may also benefit from the findings. Since the studies focused on technology entrepreneurs, many based on university research, the findings may be particularly useful to incubator managers. Incubators typically provide office space, funding opportunities and management support of different kinds. Studies also indicate that motivations and attitudes toward risk are key factors for the ability of incubator firms to raise funds and achieve high growth and profitability (e.g. Löfsten and Lindelöf 2003). To the extent that incubator managers counsel their entrepreneurs, the findings may therefore yield better advice by pointing to factors that could otherwise be neglected. If, for instance, incubator managers appreciate that entrepreneurs may be afraid of losing face with former research colleagues and often get personally attached to their innovations, they should be able to make a more balanced analysis and provide better assistance.
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