Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Careers of Entrepreneurial Engineers: An Empirical Study in Knowledge-Intensive Firms in the Netherlands

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Careers of Entrepreneurial Engineers: An Empirical Study in Knowledge-Intensive Firms in the Netherlands

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

The aim of this paper is to examine career paths of entrepreneurial engineers who established knowledge-intensive firms within three years after finishing their university or college of higher education studies. More knowledge regarding the diversity in their career paths might lead to a better understanding of the reasons for success versus failure in entrepreneurial start-ups. Two main conclusions can be drawn from our findings: Firstly, four different categories of entrepreneurial career paths for engineers have been found: (1) personal firm or life style entrepreneur path, (2) professional entrepreneur path, (3) managerial growth path, and (4) entrepreneurial growth path. Secondly, the career paths of an entrepreneur are characterized by the mastery of a diversity of competencies that are gradually acquired during his or her work life. For the engineer who has started up a business, his or her career develops progressively towards a managerial position, while for the engineer who stays in his or her expertise domain, a more 'functional-technical' career is followed.


Since Schumpeter (1989), entrepreneurship has been considered as highly important for economic prosperity. In research on success in entrepreneurship one can distinguish two recurrent themes (see Van der Veen and Wakkee, 2004). The first theme concerns the survival of new firms, and goes into the role of the entrepreneur in its successes or failures. Over the past decades research among Dutch entrepreneurial firms has consistently shown that only 50 percent of them survives after five years (based upon the Yearly Reports by the Dutch Chamber of Commerce; Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs []). During the subsequent five years, 50 percent of the 'survivors' will stop their activities, resulting in a ten-year survival rate of only 25 percent. One of the causes of this dramatic loss lies in the fact that entrepreneurs are not well prepared for the managerial roles they have to fulfill once being an entrepreneur. However, for knowledge-intensive firms, as a particular category, several studies into university spin-off programs have shown survival rates well above the 50 percent usually found for the total group of entrepreneurial firms. For example, a study among 220 spin-offs from the University of Twente shows a survival rate of approximately 75 percent (Karnebeek, 2001).

The second recurrent theme identified in entrepreneurship research focuses on understanding what distinguishes high-growth from low-growth firms (see also Lester, Parnell, Crandall, and Menefee, 2008 for an elaborate literature overview on organizational life cycle stages; and Parnell and Carraher, 2002). Again, the influence of the founder(s)/entrepreneur(s) concerns one of the main areas of research (Wiklund and Shepherd, 2003), and its outcomes show a significant relationship between the entrepreneur's knowledge base and firm performance. Obviously, the capacity to perform management roles qualitatively well is strongly connected with the personal attributes of the entrepreneur.

However, the common viewpoint towards the entrepreneurial career development is based upon firm growth models without taking into account the entrepreneur's personal characteristics and traits (Boyd and Vozikis, 1994; Gaglio and Katz, 2001; Krueger, Reilly, and Carsrud, 2000; Shane, 2000). In order to acknowledge the importance of personal characteristics and traits, such as, the need for achievement, locus of control, risk-taking propensity, and tolerance of ambiguity, to mention but a few (see Boyd and Vozikis, 1994; Brockhaus, 1980, 1982; McClelland, 1961; Schere, 1982), existing models ((see for example, Churchill and Lewis (1983), and Greiner (1972)) that go into successive growth stages of firms should be extended with factors referring to the entrepreneur's personality and his or her managerial roles (see for an appealing example as regards personality; Lindsey and Godkin, 2007). …

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