Opportunity Recognition for Novice Entrepreneurs: The Benefits of Learning with a Mentor

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In the past, it has been demonstrated that mentors can help novice entrepreneurs in the identification of business opportunities (Ozgen & Baron, 2007). However, the process by which mentoring enable a mentee in identifying new opportunities is not well understood. To better understand this process, we surveyed novice entrepreneurs that were supported by a mentor in the mentoring scheme developed by Fondation de l'entrepreneurship. Of these novice entrepreneurs, 360 mentees responded. We then proceeded with a hierarchical linear regression using the novice's perception in his capacity to identity new opportunities as a dependent variable. We found that age is having a negative influence on dependent variable whereas management experience is having a positive effect. The learning goal orientation variable (LGO) is having a positive influence on the dependent variable. Finally, we found that the more a mentee learn with his/her mentor, the more they trust their abilities in identifying opportunities. Our results showed that mentoring may be a good way to support novice entrepreneurs in the start-up process and also in the development of their SMEs

INTRODUCTION

Public organisms have implemented programs to support novice entrepreneurs in the years following the starting of their business. One of the processes proposed involves pairing up a novice entrepreneur with an experienced entrepreneur, who provides advice and ways of thinking to help the novice avoid costly and even fatal mistakes (St- Jean & Audet, Under press; Sullivan, 2000). For example, the American SCORE program, founded in the seventies and funded by Small Business Administration (SBA), supported more than eight million small business managers through its network of over 12,000 volunteer mentors. In Europe, other similar initiatives exist such as that supported by the Business Link in England, the Mentor Eget Företag program in Sweden or France Initiative (in France), with nearly 5,000 volunteer mentors, to name just a few of these programs.

Research has demonstrated that mentors can help novice entrepreneurs in the identification of business opportunities (Ozgen & Baron, 2007). However, the process by which mentoring enable a mentee in identifying new opportunities is not well understood. Literature on mentoring highlights the fact that the main outcome of a mentoring relationship is what the mentee learns as a result ofthat relationship (Barrett, 2006; Hezlett, 2005; Wanberg, Welsh, & Hezlett, 2003). It has also been demonstrated that a mentee' s learning goal orientation, a psychological disposition proposed by Dweck (1986), influences mentoring relationships by increasing mentee outcomes (Egan, 2005; Godshalk & Sosik, 2003).

The main goal of this research was to verify whether a novice entrepreneur's learning, achieved as the result of a mentoring relationship, can help him develop his ability to identify business opportunities. At the theoretical level, this question is of great interest, since it allows for a better understanding of the development of cognitive styles through learning with a mentor, and to confirm its effect as it relates to opportunity recognition. From a practical standpoint, this could validate the effect of mentoring programs to improve opportunity recognition among entrepreneurs, in particular. To achieve this, we will present the literature pertaining to entrepreneurial opportunity recognition, learning that results from a mentoring relationship as well as learning goal orientation. A presentation of the methodology, as well as the mentoring program where this study was conducted, will follow. Lastly, results will be presented as well as a discussion of these results.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The mentoring phenomenon is not new. The word "mentor" comes from Homer's Odyssey, where the hero Odysseus entrusts his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor while he is away at war. …

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