Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

A Careers Perspective on Entrepreneurship

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

A Careers Perspective on Entrepreneurship

Article excerpt

Introduction

What if being an entrepreneur were treated like any other occupation--teacher, nurse, manager? What if the decision to found a new venture were thought of as one of many options that individuals consider as they try to structure a meaningful and rewarding career? How would the field of entrepreneurship research be different? In our view, there is much to be learned by conceiving of entrepreneurship not solely as a final destination, but as a step along a career trajectory. Doing so opens the study of entrepreneurship to a wider range of scholarly insights, and promises important insights for entrepreneurial practice, training, and policy. This special issue takes an important step in this direction.

To date, a primary focus of entrepreneurship scholars has been on the founding of a new venture as an end in and of itself, or more generally on transitions to entrepreneurship. There can be no doubt that this is an important and fruitful area of research, one that we each have contributed to ourselves. However, as life course scholars have long recognized, "transitions are always embedded in trajectories that give them distinctive form and meaning" (Elder, 1985, p. 31). Work transitions, in other words, should be understood in the context of a career--"career" both in the sense of a sequence of past states, and in the sense of an imagined future trajectory. For example, many researchers approach the question of who becomes an entrepreneur by examining the characteristics of the people who become entrepreneurs rather than the characteristics of the pathways that lead to entrepreneurship. To the extent that researchers have considered the role of career experiences, these experiences have been conceptualized as accumulated human capital rather than a series of steps that may or may not build on one another (Spilerman, 1977).

Too strong an emphasis on state transitions risks making the destination state seem wholly unique if not idiosyncratic. Few journal pages are devoted to the study of why someone becomes a plumber or an accountant or a teacher. Instead those outcomes are studied as specific instances of a more general career mobility process. There are, of course, good reasons to devote specific attention to entrepreneurship as an outcome, given its critical role in innovation and economic growth. But focusing on entrepreneurship in isolation risks emphasizing everything that is different about entrepreneurship and losing sight of all of the ways in which movement into and out of entrepreneurship is similar to other career transitions. (1) Many people who become accountants or teachers later become entrepreneurs, and vice versa. By losing sight of the commonalities between different types of transitions, we impoverish our understanding of what is truly unique about the entrepreneurial transition.

This volume represents an important step toward more systematically considering entrepreneurship from a career perspective and focusing attention on the context of entrepreneurship, especially the organizations and institutions that shape it and the career paths that surround it. In developing this special issue of Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, we drew upon the emerging literature on employee mobility and entrepreneurship (cf. Sorensen & Sharkey, 2014). This growing body of work starts by acknowledging that most entrepreneurs have experience working in other organizations prior to founding a new firm (Dobrev & Barnett, 2005; Freeman, 1986; Sorensen & Fassiotto, 2011) and builds on the recognition that some firms generate more entrepreneurs than others (Burton, Sorensen, & Beckman, 2002; Elfenbein, Hamilton, & Zenger, 2010; Gompers, Lerner, & Scharfstein, 2005; Klepper & Sleeper, 2005; Sorensen, 2007a). These insights, combined with recent efforts to consider how work experiences and organizational contexts can be contexts that shape and constrain future actions (Nanda & Sorensen, 2010; Roach & Sauermann, 2015), start to offer a more expansive view of entrepreneurship, organizations, and their interrelationships. …

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