Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

Educating Entrepreneurs on Innovation: Implications from an Investigation of Small Businesses

Academic journal article Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship

Educating Entrepreneurs on Innovation: Implications from an Investigation of Small Businesses

Article excerpt


This study focuses on factors that could affect the innovation activity of established entrepreneurs. Results indicate that characteristics of entrepreneurs, their tasks, and the culture of their organizations are associated with some innovative activity, while characteristics of competitive context and of organizational stakeholders are not. Education programs on innovation aimed at these entrepreneurs may: (1) help them recognize the importance of the external environment, (2) assist them in understanding innovation as adaptation and improvement as well as creation, (3) identify for them sources that can foster greater innovation in their firms, and (4) assist them in building new habits of innovation that involve others.


Monroy (1993) recently provided a client based contingency model of entrepreneurship education. In this model, entrepreneurs' needs for education are seen to vary along a continuum. At various stages on this continuum, intervention points are identified. Each intervention point is suggested to respond to a unique set of entrepreneurs' needs, ranging from awareness to achievement of some level of success. The third intervention point in the model is characterized by a teaching intervention oriented toward education to entrepreneurs. At this stage, Monroy indicates, education should provide entrepreneurs with insight and guidance on how to assure survival and deal with growth. Part of this education, itwouldseem, should relate to how entrepreneurs sustain that innovating drive that led to the initial formation of the business.

As we embarked on the investigation reported below, we were driven by one overriding belief: innovation is the essence of entrepreneurism. We argued (cf, Tower, et al., 1993) that rapid technological change, customers demanding more of products, and a growth in the number of domestic and foreign competitors have made the American economy more competitive than ever. A key to profitability, growth, and survival in such an environment is the continuous creation of new products and processes. Innovation must be accepted as a way of organizational life. Moreover, we suggested that this need for innovation is particularly acute for small businesses, which lack the wherewithal of large organizations to exist for periods of time without responding to the ever-changing marketplace.

To us the entrepreneurial endeavor is linked, in both theory and practice, to innovating. We concur with Carland, et al., (1984, p. 357) that entrepreneurial behavior "is characterized by a preference for creating activity, manifested by some innovative combination of resources for profit.'' At its core, entrepreneurism involves bringing into existence an enterprise that is new. Drucker (1985) and Tushman and Nadler (1985) address the importance of top management in structuring, motivating, and supporting entrepreneurial activity. Yet, the participation of strategic managers in the innovation process in small firms has not been investigated systematically. Small businesses are assumed to be energized by the entrepreneurial drive of their strategic managers (Drucker, 1985; Vesper, 1990). While innovation at each level is important, the top managers of small businesses, as established entrepreneurs, may take greater responsibility for the innovative activity of their firms.

Baldridge and Burnham (1975) note that top managers are responsible for both initiating and controlling change. Maidique and Hayes (1984, p.27) found that CEOs of successful firms "are usually actively involved in the innovation process to such an extent that they are sometimes accused of meddling." This dual positional responsibility of sponsoring and controlling innovations, along with their intimate involvement in the innovation process itself, may cause strategic managers to believe that they are personally more innovative than organizational members at other levels, even if they are not. …

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