What Constitutes Successful Entrepreneurship? an Analysis of Recent Australasian Awards Experiences

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Theory about what constitutes entrepreneurial success is explored using case studies of the 2003 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winners for Australia and New Zealand. Findings suggest the need to more equally emphasize what theory presents as elements of successful entrepreneurship, and importantly, incorporate ethics as a key dimension. Further, the analysis offers insight into how business awards processes in general might be conducted.

Entrepreneurship has long been considered an important economic activity. The past twenty years has witnessed an explosion of research into entrepreneurs and their actions (Venkatarman 1997; Hannafey 2003) with considerable emphasis on the elements that constitute successful entrepreneurship. However, there has been little empirical work substantiating these elements or exploring the extent to which they appear to be considered when judgements are made about entrepreneurial success. Additionally, some entrepreneurs that are judged successful, such as Monty Fu who won an entrepreneur of the year award in the United States, are later shown to be unsuccessful along a number of elements. It may be that some elements are more emphasized when judging entrepreneurial endeavours, than are others. For these reasons, the current paper focuses on the construction of successful entrepreneurship. It addresses the following research questions: Are there some elements of entrepreneurship that appear to be more emphasized than are others when judgements are made about successful entrepreneurs? Would recourse to theory help decide successful entrepreneurship?

The paper identifies elements of successful entrepreneurship from the literature and assesses the extent to which each element prevails in the context of two awards - the Ernst & Young (EY) Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) Award for 2003 conducted in both New Zealand and Australia. EOY awards provide headline cases within which successful entrepreneurship is svstematically judged. case studies of the two award-winning entrepreneurs are presented, and a comparative analysis provided together with a more in-depth analysis of the New Zealand case, prior to conclusions being drawn regarding the robustness of extant entrepreneurship theory and the implications for awards processes in general.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: ELEMENTS OF SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Although theory in entrepreneurship is said to be underdeveloped (Shane & Venkataraman 2000), the literature does reveal a preoccupation with the success or failure of individual entrepreneurs and firms (Venkataraman 1997). The current paper strives for a comprehensive view of successful entrepreneurship based on both foundational classics and more recent literature in the field. The paper thus adopts a view of entrepreneurship that reflects elements of innovation (Schumpeter, 1934), social and economic change (Menger 1892), risk (Mill 1848; Knight 1921), and reward (Hawley 1901; McClelland 1961). These elements of successful entrepreneurship are generally recognized in the more recent literature which advocates a focus on the behaviour of creating new ventures (Gartner 1988) ', as elucidated below.

Opportunity Identification. Be they opportunities created, or opportunities identified, entrepreneurs seize opportunities. Entrepreneurs' special talent lies in recognising and exploiting particular opportunities (Shane & Venkataraman 2000; Shane 2003). Sarasvathy, Simon and Lave (1988) show successful entrepreneurs see opportunities where others tend to see risk. Moreover, "they can spot opportunities that turn the commonplace into the unique and unexpected" (Mitton 1989, p. 12). The concept of opportunity identification thus spills over into elements of vision and innovation.

Vision. Entrepreneurs are considered successful, in part, if they visualize a future not seen or thought possible by others in their industry (Hamel & Prahalad 1994). …