Opportunity Recognition for Novice Entrepreneurs: The Benefits of Learning with a Mentor

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Public organisms have implemented programs to support novice entrepreneurs in the years following the starting of their business. One of the processes proposed involves pairing up a novice entrepreneur with an experienced entrepreneur, who provides advice and ways of thinking to help the novice avoid costly and even fatal mistakes (St-Jean & Audet, Under press; Sullivan, 2000). For example, the American SCORE program, founded in the seventies and funded by Small Business Administration (SBA), supported more than eight million small business managers through its network of over 12,000 volunteer mentors. In Europe, other similar initiatives exist such as that supported by the Business Link in England, the Mentor Eget Foretag program in Sweden or France Initiative (in France), with nearly 5,000 volunteer mentors, to name just a few of these programs.

Research has demonstrated that mentors can help novice entrepreneurs in the identification of business opportunities (Ozgen & Baron, 2007). However, the process by which mentoring enable a mentee in identifying new opportunities is not well understood. Literature on mentoring highlights the fact that the main outcome of a mentoring relationship is what the mentee learns as a result of that relationship (Barrett, 2006; Hezlett, 2005; Wanberg, Welsh, & Hezlett, 2003). It has also been demonstrated that a mentee's learning goal orientation, a psychological disposition proposed by Dweck (1986), influences mentoring relationships by increasing mentee outcomes (Egan, 2005; Godshalk & Sosik, 2003).

The main goal of this research was to verify whether a novice entrepreneur's learning, achieved as the result of a mentoring relationship, can help him develop his ability to identify business opportunities. At the theoretical level, this question is of great interest, since it allows for a better understanding of the development of cognitive styles through learning with a mentor, and to confirm its effect as it relates to opportunity recognition. From a practical standpoint, this could validate the effect of mentoring programs to improve opportunity recognition among entrepreneurs, in particular. To achieve this, we will present the literature pertaining to entrepreneurial opportunity recognition, learning that results from a mentoring relationship as well as learning goal orientation. A presentation of the methodology, as well as the mentoring program where this study was conducted, will follow. Lastly, results will be presented as well as a discussion of these results.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The mentoring phenomenon is not new. The word "mentor" comes from Homer's Odyssey, where the hero Odysseus entrusts his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor while he is away at war. Mentor is put in charge of Telemachus' education as well as the development of his identity as he enters the adult world. When Mentor addresses Telemachus, the goddess Athena speaks through him. Mentor thus has access to divine qualities and becomes the incarnation of wisdom. In contemporary times, inspired by Greek mythology, a mentor is generally a person which possesses certain qualities or is in a position of authority, and who kindly watches over a younger individual so that he may benefit from the mentor's support and advice. In an entrepreneurial context, although other definitions are possible, mentoring is a support relationship between a novice entrepreneur (named mentee) and an experienced entrepreneur (named mentor), where the latter helps the former develop as a person.

One of the major benefits of a mentoring relationship is the learning which ensues from discussions with the mentor (Wanberg et al., 2003). This is also true of mentoring relationships with novice entrepreneurs (Sullivan, 2000), where cognitive and affective learning prevail (St-Jean & Audet, Under press). Although learning is clearly illustrated in some studies, such as with Deakins et al. …