Cultural ideals in the entrepreneurship industry

Projekt: Forskning



Entrepreneurship is important for solving the grand challenges of our time, including both economic growth and social inequalities. Consequently, private, public, and non-governmental organizations are spending significant efforts towards promoting entrepreneurship. As a result, we have witnessed an explosion in entrepreneurial activities. Incumbent organizations and non-governmental organizations develop hackathon, corporate accelerators and innovation hubs. For the young – students at Lund University not the least – entrepreneurship is a career choice of rock-star qualities.

Paradoxically, however, this explosion in entrepreneurial activities has not corresponded to an explosion in entrepreneurial outcomes. At society level, the number of new innovative firms have been in steady decline in both Sweden and North America (Decker et al. 2016; Heyman et al. 2019), and innovation in the overall economy is stagnant (Bloom et al. 2020). At the organizational level, most new firms started – even in knowledge-intensive sectors – generate very limited economic outcomes (Nightingale & Coad 2014; Wennberg & Delmar 2010). At the individual level, working for new firms is a risky job that in general pays less than working for more established firms (Burton et al 2017; Styhre 2018).

Instead of generating entreprneeurial outcomes, too many initatives aimed to promote entrepreneurship generate innovation theatre – activities that look like entrepreneurship, but that does not generate tangible output. Moreover, they contribute to building of an entrepreneurship industry – goods and services explicitly intended for opportunity discovery and development by current and prospective entrepreneurs (Hunt & Kiefer 2017, p.231) – but does not necessarily contribute to entrepreneurship per se. In this project, we put spotlight on the phenomena of innovation theatre and the entrepreneurship industry, aiming to create a better understanding of how entrepreneurial activities can be supported to indeed contribute to economic and societal development.

Why is this project important?
Prior research has offered both psychological (e.g., overconfidence, risk tolerance) and structural (e.g., lack of support structures) explanations for the lack of entrepreneurial outcomes. While undoubtedly important for explaining the lack of entrepreneurial outcomes, these reasons cannot, however, explain why we witness such an explosive increase in entrepreneurial activities.

For example, psychological or structural reasons cannot explain why corporations are swapping their sterile office environment and strict office dress-codes in favor of more “entrepreneurial attributes”, such as bean bags, colorful post-it notes and jeans-and-sneakers. Neither can they explain why entrepreneurship is one of the most attractive career choices among our students, despite the low income that can be expected from it.

With this project, we instead study the increase in entrepreneurial activities and lack of entrepreneurial outcomes from a cultural perspective. We position entrepreneurship as a ‘cultural ideal’ – a social institution to which everyone is supposed to adhere (Brandl & Bullinger 2009; Hwang & Powell 2005) and we explore the consequences of this ideal for entrepreneurial activities and outcomes at the individual, organization and societal level of analysis.

Important research questions include, for example: Why and when are organizations more likely to produce innovation theater, activities that look like entrepreneurship but does not yield tangible outcomes? What are the consequences of innovation theatre for the organizations, individuals and society at large? How is the entrepreneurship industry structured – at the regional or national levels? Which are the core actors, what activities do they undertake and what are their agendas? How are cultural and economic ideals related to entrepreneurship reflected in this industry, and with what consequences?

If individuals, organizations and taxpayers are investing in entrepreneurial activities for cultural reasons, their expectations of the outcomes of such investments may be unrealistic. This may lead to initiatives that are ill directed, as both organizations engage in activities that makes them look entrepreneurial, rather than being entrepreneurial per se. This is a waste of both human and financial capital and the costs are shared by both individuals and society.

By creating a better understanding of the cultural underpinnings of entrepreneurship, we can generate advice that more truly helps entrepreneurs to solve the societal, technical and economic challenges they set out to.
StatusEj startat