Academic journal article Management Dynamics

An Entrepreneur: Perceptions of Students versus Small Business Owners

Academic journal article Management Dynamics

An Entrepreneur: Perceptions of Students versus Small Business Owners

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT

The perception that an individual has of a person, action or event influences his or her feelings and decisions about that person, action or event. Perceptions associated with entrepreneurship are important drivers of entrepreneurial activity (Nagy, Pete, Györfy, Petra and Benyovszki, 2010: 20); and to understand entrepreneurial behaviour better, it is important to understand these perceptions (Sester, Dacremont, Deroy and Valentin, 2013:476).

Individuals' perceptions are the sum of their mental associations about certain concepts, leading to mental images of these concepts (Vahie and Paswan, 2006: 70). These mental images can be interpreted in terms of positive or negative associations, which in turn lead to an attitude towards a phenomenon. It is this attitude that influences behaviour. Marketers often make use of images to position a product or brand in the minds of consumers, resulting in positive or negative associations (attitude) that ultimately influence consumer decisions (Prayag, 2010: 463). Similarly, attitude is a useful indicator of entrepreneurial tendencies, and it has an indirect influence on entrepreneurial intention (Uslay, Teach and Schwartz, 2002: 102). Entrepreneurship will not thrive if society has a negative attitude towards it (Moy, Luk and Wright, 2003: 18). In other words, a person will not consider an entrepreneurial career as desirable if he or she believes that the outcomes will be unfavourable (Nabi and Holden, 2008: 548). Potential and current entrepreneurs are influenced by their external environment (stimuli) and their motivations (push and pull factors) when formulating their perception of a typical entrepreneur. A positive perception leads to a favourable attitude that influences subsequent entrepreneurial behaviour (Liñán, Santos and Fernández, 2011: 374). If entrepreneurs are positively perceived by individuals, the likelihood of their becoming entrepreneurs increases (Stephan, Lukes, Dej and Richter, 1987). Perceptions of entrepreneurship play an important role, since the judgements individuals make are based on their perception and may influence their decisions to become entrepreneurs (Liñán et al., 2011:376).

Perceptions of entrepreneurship have, however, been found to vary among students, business owners and the public in general (Davey, Plewa and Struwig, 2011; Brown, Beale and White-Johnson, 2011; Moy et al., 2003; Stephan et al., 1987). By investigating perceptions of a typical entrepreneur in this study, it is hoped to gain insights into the underlying thoughts and feelings associated with entrepreneurship in general, whether exposure to entrepreneurship education influences perceptions, and whether these perceptions are in line with reality. It is these insights that could provide reasons for the low levels of entrepreneurial activity in South Africa (Farr, 2015; Herrington, KewandKew, 2015:22).

PURPOSE AND PRIMARY OBJECTIVE

The purpose of this study was to investigate the perception of a typical entrepreneur in the eyes of potential entrepreneurs (students) and current entrepreneurs (small business owners). In order to describe this perception, the concept of 'entrepreneur' was subjected to a word association test. By means of word associations, a more realistic and detailed perception of a typical entrepreneur canbe revealed (Prayag, 2010: 463). The primary objective was to establish whether there are differences in the perception of an entrepreneur between students and small business owners, and to determine whether the perception that students have of an entrepreneur is influenced by their exposure to an entrepreneurship module. The following research questions were specifically addressed:

* Do the perceptions that students have of an entrepreneur change after being exposed to a module in entrepreneurship?

* Do the perceptions that students have of an entrepreneur differ from those held by small business owners? …

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