Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

"Who Is an Entrepreneur?" Is It Still the Wrong Question?

Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

"Who Is an Entrepreneur?" Is It Still the Wrong Question?

Article excerpt


William Gartner's 1988 article 'Who is an Entrepreneur?' Is the Wrong Question suggested that more productive research into entrepreneurship could result from shifting the unit of analysis from the individual level to the functional level. Eighteen years later, it does not appear that the research resulting from this shift has produced agreement on the most appropriate definition of entrepreneurship. This paper compares three definitions of entrepreneurship currently being discussed by scholars and offers a fourth definition, which brings the unit of analysis back to the level of the individual. The paper reviews the literature defining the domain of entrepreneurship including the proposed new definition, develops a number of scenarios, tests each scenario against competing domain statements and concludes that the time has come to re-visit the individual as entrepreneur.


In 1988, Gartner, published an article in American Journal of Small Business titled 'Who Is an Entrepreneur?' Is the Wrong Question (Gartner, 1988). The article called for a sea change in the direction of entrepreneurship research away from the study of entrepreneurial personality traits towards the study of organization emergence. Gartner (1988, p.21) claimed that previous indicative definitions of entrepreneurship led to disagreement about the nature of the phenomenon being studied and called for acceptance of a functional definition of entrepreneurship. Gartner (1988, p.26) proposed the definition: "Entrepreneurship is the creation of new organizations". The article has been widely cited in the entrepreneurship literature and a number of researchers have successfully used the Gartner definition to simplify and thus operationalize the constructs 'entrepreneur' and 'entrepreneurship' in empirical studies (Chrisman et al., 1990; Cooper et al., 1997; Gatewood et al., 1995).

However, Gartner's definition has been criticized for narrowing (Katz, 1992, p.31; Lumpkin & Dess, 1996, p.162) and de-contextualizing (Bruyat & Julien, 2001, p.171; Reynolds, 1991, p.47) entrepreneurship as a field of investigation. Van de Ven (1993, pp. 212-214) criticized both the study of personality traits and the study of entrepreneurial behaviors as inadequately covering the process of entrepreneurship in the context of its social, economic and political infrastructure. The last decade has extended the focus of entrepreneurship research to include entrepreneurial behavior, opportunity recognition, choice of organizational form and the importance of the social environment (Ucbasaran et al., 2001, p.69). However, the larger challenge of linking entrepreneurship research to the rest of the social sciences has largely been ignored. Low (2001) has suggested that:

   Providing insight into the link between micro-level entrepreneurial
   action and macro-level economic progress is a potentially huge
   intellectual contribution of our field (Low 2001, p.20).

Low (2001, p.24) is suggesting that entrepreneurship scholars need to absorb some of their own teaching (i.e. become entrepreneurial) so that entrepreneurship research can influence academics in other fields.

A more important criticism of Gartner's definition could be that it has not significantly changed the nature of entrepreneurship research. What entrepreneurship researchers have been doing, by and large, has been collecting survey information using questionnaires. This observation is confirmed by a number of state of the art of entrepreneurship research articles written between 1982 and 1997 (Aldrich, 1992; Aldrich & Baker, 1997; Churchill & Lewis, 1986; Paulin et al., 1982; Wortman, 1986) as well as by a similar study done in 2001 (Chandler, 2001). These studies classified research presented at the Babson Kauffman Entrepreneurship Research Conference (BKERC) and articles published in the top entrepreneurship journals by their subject matter and research methodologies. …

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