2016 Research Project Summaries

Towards a practice perspective on business growth

Business growth is a popular topic not only in entrepreneurship research, but also for policy makers. Many studies take a rather simplistic approach, testing the impact of one or several predictors of growth (such as, initial capital endowment) on an outcome variable supposedly representing growth (such as, increase in sales). While this research gives us some indication of which factors might matter for achieving growth, it tells us very little about the growth process in itself – how does growth unfold over time and which activities facilitate or hinder this process? We attempt at filling this gap by tracing the activities related to the growth of Miniaturwunderland, located in Hamburg, Germany. Since its foundation in late 2000, the company has built the largest miniature model railway scenery in the world, covering 1,500 square meters, employing more than 300 employees, and attracting more than one million visitors each year. The firm meticulously documented its development over time through various online resources, for example, weekly development reports provided on its website www.miniaturwunderland.de as well as video clips. The detailed empirical material in combination with first-hand empirical material collected through interviews with the founders and key employees will elicit unique insights into (a) the transformation of the business idea into practice, (b) the everyday activities and challenges related to business growth, and (c) how the intensive communication with customers through different channels reinforces the attracting and retaining of customers, thus promoting further growth.

The Influence of Family Firms on the Sustainability of Start-up/Nascent Enterprises

The project will examine the influence of family and family businesses on the sustainability of start-up/nascent enterprises set up by family members. Family firms can expand by setting up new enterprises so that their offspring or siblings can start their own business and can experiment with novel products or processes. This has many advantages for the established and for the new firms. For the established firms the funds provided for the start-up can be ring-fenced so the established firm can effectively expand with reduced risk. It also provides family firms with a means of training the younger generation, a form of apprenticeship, before they take over the whole business from the incumbent generation. For new firms it can provide sustainability that would otherwise not be easy. Thus sustainability can come from the provision of additional resources that start-ups/nascent firms often lack such as additional funding, access to its networks of stakeholders such as a skilled workforce, customers, and suppliers, and management expertise. However, there may be some disadvantage for the fledgling firm with this arrangement if there is conflict in the decision-making process between a dominant family firm founder and the new CEO of the fledgling business. This raises interesting questions about how decision-making in the start-up/nascent firm will be affected by the family firm and how this in turn affects its sustainability in the longer term.

Spaces of Impact: Understanding Impact-Oriented Knowledge Hubs and their Role in the Creation and Development of Sustainable Entrepreneurship

How can we design impact-oriented knowledge hubs (IOKHs) that foster sustainable entrepreneurship? The aim of this project is to address this question. IOKHs are an important recent development in the impact-oriented knowledge exchange space. Increasingly, sustainable entrepreneurs are attracted to such hubs and policy makers across the globe are supportive of such hubs. However, we know very little about their operation and contribution to sustainable entrepreneurship. In partnership with the Impact Hub in Birmingham, we will explore the case of the ‘Impact Hub Birmingham’, over seven months using multiple methods that can generate rich in-depth qualitative data required to understand how impact hubs create opportunities for sustainable entrepreneurship and how sustainable entrepreneurs make use of such opportunities. The study co-creates knowledge about IOKHs along with relevant stakeholders that is actionable as well as academically rigorous and can be applied in a variety of organizational and policy domains. The study will offer evidence-based guidelines for better design and effective implementation of IOKHs thus leading to sustainable entrepreneurship.

Individual motivation and sustainable business opportunity identification: young entrepreneurs in London and Macau

Opportunity identification is generally acknowledged as the core to understanding entrepreneurship (Shane, 2003). This study aims to explore the process of opportunity identification associated with sustainable entrepreneurship in order to generate new insights that will inform practitioners as well as scholars. In addition, the attraction of sustainable entrepreneurship, considering the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental), will be explored to explain young entrepreneurs’ motivation during the process of opportunity identification and exploitation.

This study will also examine the cultural and institutional differences facing young entrepreneurs based in London and Macau (China). Policies to stimulate young entrepreneurs are aimed at tackling the shortage of appropriate graduate jobs (Hickie 2011) and reducing youth unemployment in the UK. In contrast, policies to promote youth entrepreneurship in Macau are designed to stimulate economic diversification and broaden the career opportunities for young people. Although unemployment in Macau is relatively low the City is heavily reliant on the tourism and hospitality sectors. Revenue from gaming accounts for 85% of total tax income in the City. Moreover, in Macau exposure to ideas about sustainability and related technologies lags major cities in developed countries such as London. As Macau has such unique characteristic as well as being under-researched, this study will compare the findings from London and Macau to develop new insights in how young entrepreneurs develop opportunities as well as value sustainability in these two locations.

Competition, cooperation, and sustainable entrepreneurship: A study of rural family business cooperatives

This project aims to contribute to the understanding of sustainable entrepreneurship by elucidating the dynamics that allow rural cooperatives composed of small family businesses to simultaneously create both business and social value. Sustainable entrepreneurship calls for a long term collective engagement in entrepreneurial activities by several actors, leading to socioeconomic gains to go in hand with the stewardship of local communities and their environment. In an increasingly competitive business landscape, cooperatives are a context of entrepreneurship while family businesses play a critical role in the sustainability of the socioeconomic fabric in communities around the world. This study focuses on two cooperatives, composed of family businesses, situated in rural areas: a coffee producing cooperative in Honduras and a retail cooperative in Cyprus. Currently, these cooperatives portray entrepreneurial and stewardship behaviours in parallel. They maintain a record of value creative initiatives (e.g. own-brand labels, new ways of marketing, IT infrastructures, constantly new processes to improve efficiencies, new markets for sourcing raw materials/products), which benefit individual family firms and their communities. We suspect such a context may foster sustainable entrepreneurship. By bringing to light the dynamics of these two cooperatives, we will contribute with a nuanced understanding of the motivation and rationale behind sustainable entrepreneurial practices that benefit individual small family firms and surrounding communities.