Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

Are User Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking the Same?

Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

Are User Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking the Same?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper expands our understanding of how user entrepreneurship is analogous to design thinking and how many activities the processes of user entrepreneurship and design thinking share. Using qualitative data from a sample of six user entrepreneurs, we find that the entrepreneurial process of user entrepreneurs and the design thinking process are the same in many ways. They both involve observing users, clarifying problems users face, developing a set of principles for innovation, and creating solutions that satisfy users' unmet needs. Data analysis also suggests that the entrepreneurial process of user entrepreneurs includes three distinct activities that are not part of the design thinking process: formation of entrepreneurial teams, foundation of business, and acquisition of information for foundation. Based on the findings, we develop a conceptual framework that integrates the entrepreneurial process of user entrepreneurs and the design thinking process. The paper also discusses the implications of the findings for future research, practice, and entrepreneurship education and development.

INTRODUCTION

Many studies refer to users as the force that drives innovation (Chesbrough, 2003; Kline & Rosenberg, 1986; Lettl, Herstatt, & Gemuenden, 2006; Magnusson, 2003; von Hippel, 1976a, 1986, 2005, 2007, 2009). Among these users, those who start their own businesses based on innovative solutions they develop are referred to as user entrepreneurs. When faced with inconvenience and unmet needs, these entrepreneurs develop and commercialize solutions to meet those needs. User entrepreneurs can be divided into professional user entrepreneurs, who create and commercialize solutions based on needs they experience in their professional lives, and end user entrepreneurs, who create and commercialize solutions based on needs they experience in their personal lives (Shah & Tripsas, 2007).

User entrepreneurship is closely related to design thinking. The process of design thinking involves a series of activities in which designers discover the issues users face through ethnographic activities (i.e., user observations and in-depth interviews), identify the needs that must be fulfilled, and create solutions (Brown, 2008). User entrepreneurs have unique needs when using certain products or services as users themselves and develop solutions based on these needs (Shah & Tripsas, 2007). This process is similar to the process of design thinking; in other words, user entrepreneurs are unconsciously carrying out a process that is similar to that of design thinking. In this study, we focus on the correlation between the design thinking process and the entrepreneurial process of user entrepreneurs who have transitioned from general users to entrepreneurs by choosing to start a business.

We were motivated to conduct this study for three reasons. First, while the concept of user entrepreneurship is widespread in the business world, it has received relatively less attention than other fields of entrepreneurship (Shah & Tripsas, 2007). Second, recent studies have verified that users are the most important source of innovation. This is in contrast to previous studies that have argued it is firms that lead innovation (Chandra & Leenders, 2012). Third, users have significant effects on both user entrepreneurship and design thinking (Brown, 2008; Shah & Tripsas, 2007), which have very similar processes. Considering all these elements, an integrated study of user entrepreneurship and design thinking will provide substantial implications.

Many studies explain the extensive theoretical and empirical implications of user entrepreneurship and design thinking. Some of them comprehensively examine entrepreneurship and design thinking, but few studies have been conducted to integrate the process of user entrepreneurship with that of design thinking. Hence, the main purpose of this study is to compare and integrate the entrepreneurial process of user entrepreneurs with the process of design thinking. …

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