Contemporary Areas of Interest
The entrepreneurial research agenda is dynamic and shifting, thus, exploring issues of start up, growth and ‘picking winners’ dominated in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, until recently there has been some assumption that research interests would reflect upon and respond to the interests of policy makers and practitioners. Whilst informing policy and practice remain key imperatives, the general field has expanded to explore and analyse more conceptual issues associated with the changing image of the entrepreneur and the social construction of entrepreneurial identities. Furthermore, the truly interdisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship research is now firmly established, illustrated by work which explores, for example, entrepreneurial behaviour and aspects such as gender, ethnicity, ethics, community activism and learning theories. Even the most cursory glance at the breadth of topics explored through a lens of entrepreneurship will provide testament to recent developments and, accordingly, the conference ISBE tracks now reflect the dynamism of this research field.
In terms of research approaches and methodologies, again we see some notable developments in terms of sophistication and complexity. In earlier days when the imperative was much more upon uncovering correlations between traits, behaviours and outcomes, there was a notable positivist bias. Whilst this approach remains important, it is now recognised that interpreting the world of the entrepreneur and unpicking how entrepreneurial identities are constructed is critical. Consequently, there is growing utilisation of non-foundationalist approaches which add to the richness of our understanding of, to paraphrase Bill Gartner, ‘who, how and what is an entrepreneur’.
Reflecting the growing interest in the Creative Industries, this new track, which was introduced for the first time to the Liverpool Conference, attracted papers exploring a wide variety of creative issues. These ranged from those discussed in Green’s paper on the Serious Games industry to those highlighted in Sweetnam and Browne’s exploration of traditional craft working. The recognition of the creative industries as a burgeoning sector is imperative to advance the contemporary research agenda. In a similar vein, what was previously entitled the ‘Women’s Enterprise’ track is now termed the ‘Gender’ track in recognition that there is no essential aspect of being female which influences entrepreneurial behaviour. Rather, it is the social construction of both masculinity and femininity that shapes propensity towards, and experiences of, entrepreneurship. So for example, the paper by Rob Smith ‘Masculinity, Doxa and the institutionalism of entrepreneurial identity in the novel, ‘Cityboy’ ‘ is one such illustration of the manner in which masculinity pervades and underpins the entrepreneurial narrative. In essence, the portrayal of a ‘wide boy’ city actor confirms the contemporary image of who and what is an entrepreneur which effectively excludes women and that associated with the feminine. Future work around the construction and articulation of masculinity within the context of entrepreneurship offers interesting opportunities for development.
A perennial and critical research focus remains upon that of finance and investment in small firms. However, whilst this area of research is notable for its longevity, we can see how contemporary influences are articulated within the track; so within the current environment of credit constraint, exploring the extent of and variety of funding available to small firms is critical. Future areas for research, which were clearly identified in research papers presented in this track, focused around the importance of the business plan and ‘pitching the bid’ for venture capital funding and at the other end of the spectrum, the implications of business failure. As yet, we know relatively little about the wide ranging after affects of business closure and failure, so this offers much potential for future work.
Approaches to Researching the Entrepreneurial Field
Turning to the second issue of interest to the research agenda, as identified from the conference papers, the approach to investigation. As noted above, the entrepreneurship research has been strongly associated with a positivist approach reflecting North American origins and an applied focus. Thus, there has been a strong quantitative slant within the field, which has been highly influential in terms of legitimating knowledge and gaining publication. In recent years, however, there was been a growing methodological diversity within the field with greater recognition of the need for pluralism. Again, we can see this reproduced throughout the conference papers so, for example, the paper by Hart et al., ‘The economic impact of high growth start- ups; understanding the challenge for policy in the UK’ draws upon an extensive, longitudinal data set held by the Office of National Statistics. Using an analysis of the whole population of private sector businesses (1997 – 2008) the authors found that, contrary to popular supposition, the UK had more high growth firms than the US. Drawing upon this data set enabled the authors to offer a critical evaluation of current policy initiatives to support and encourage high growth start-ups.
In contrast, a paper by Fuller, Warren and Norman, ‘Creative methodologies for understanding a creative industry’ explores the generation of a specific methodological approach aimed at understanding the novelty embedded within the creative industries. The authors argue that, ‘research designs must, therefore, address multiple contexts and levels presenting an analytical challenge to researchers’. These two papers are useful illustrations of how research methodologies are now used to map onto and explore diverse and complex entrepreneurial behaviours, experiences and actions. As such, the approaches evident within the conference papers demonstrate a greater sympathy with harmonising methodologies and research objectives rather than being constrained by dominant, foundationalist approaches.
Overall, the variety of papers presented within the conference indicates the huge potential and scope of entrepreneurship research to expand upon current multi-disciplinary boundaries and to adopt a critical approach to the search for knowledge and understanding.
Serious Games: To Play or Not To Play by Patricia G. Greene
The Coming of Age of the Craft Worker: Exploring eCommerce Capabilities of Craft Workers in Ireland by Georgina Sweetnam and Josephine Browne
Masculinity, Doxa and the Institutionalisation of Entrepreneurial Identity in the Novel Cityboy by Robert Smith
The Economic Impact of High-Growth Start-ups: understanding the challenge for policy in the UK by Mark Hart, Michael Anyadike-Danes, Karen Bonner and Colin Mason
Creative methodologies for understanding a creative industry by Ted Fuller, Lorraine Warren and Sally Jane Norman