A 2 X 2 Conceptual Foundation for Entrepreneurial Discovery Theory

By Murphy, Patrick J. | Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, March 2011 | Go to article overview

A 2 X 2 Conceptual Foundation for Entrepreneurial Discovery Theory


Murphy, Patrick J., Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice


Theories about entrepreneurial discovery are important to entrepreneurship. However, the dominant conceptual foundation underlying such theories hinders their development. It assumes that opportunities form based on either deliberate search or serendipitous discovery. I examine this unidimensional logic and identify a gap in its informative content. Then, I reframe it into orthogonal dimensions. The multidimensional model not only describes the same cases as the unidimensional model but also describes what the unidimensional model cannot, including cases that are high or low on both dimensions. This extension yields a 2 x 2 conceptual foundation for entrepreneurial discovery theory that promotes the development and coordination of distinct theoretic streams.

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Entrepreneurship research examines the process of how entrepreneurs pursue and undertake the introduction of new products, services, and other market offerings. The process begins with the formation of entrepreneurial opportunities, which are temporal and spatial convergences of various resources instrumental to introducing market offerings with potential for generating financial capital or other kinds of positive value (Casson, 1982; Drucker, 1985, p. 111; Murphy, Liao, & Welsch, 2006; Shane & Venkataraman, 2000). Although an organized venture is the most common means to undertake entrepreneurship and generate value from an opportunity, an opportunity requires neither the foundation of a new firm nor the involvement of the same individuals over time (Eckhardt & Shane, 2003).

Explaining the formation of opportunities is vital to entrepreneurship research (Alvarez & Barney, 2007; Baron, 2008; Venkataraman, 1997). Yet, there is ambiguity about the ontological status of opportunities in entrepreneurship theory and debate about their role in the entrepreneurial process (Alvarez & Barney, 2008; Ardichvili, Cardozo, & Ray, 2003; Corbett, 2007; Davidsson, 2003; de Koning, 2003; Eckhardt & Shane, 2003; Ireland, Reutzel, & Webb, 2005; Klein, 2008; McMullan & Shepherd, 2006). Despite an assumption among most studies that "to have entrepreneurship, you must first have opportunities" (Shane & Venkataraman, 2000), there is no distinct conceptual foundation--a substructure beneath the theories--that effectively embeds this unique assumption into the diverse body of research that constitutes the entrepreneurship area.

Without a conceptual foundation, the findings of an area's theory-driven studies are hard-pressed to relate to one another (Sutton & Staw, 1995; Weick, 1999). Currently, most entrepreneurship theory relies on conceptual foundations from a mix of other areas, which does not promote a consistent literature that builds on itself. There have been multiple efforts to develop distinct entrepreneurship theory (Phan, 2004). Ireland et al. (2005) posit that the literature reflects two theoretic categories pertaining to the explanation of either opportunities (Shane & Venkataraman, 2000) or market entry (Lumpkin & Dess, 1996). Yet, the literature is more fractured than these two categories suggest. Within either category, incongruencies among assumptions about entrepreneurial discovery preclude results that refute or reinforce one another (de Koning, 2003; Gartner, 2001; Shane, 2000). Whereas a wider array of theoretic streams offers a rich outlook on entrepreneurial discovery, a stronger conceptual foundation would promote relatable narratives and implications and help fulfill the area's need for a more integrated framework (Companys & McMullan, 2006).

In this paper, I introduce a conceptual foundation for entrepreneurial discovery theory. The principal contribution is a 2 x 2 framework that goes beyond current assumptions with a shift from unidimensional to multidimensional logic. The shift promotes a more flexible and distinct conceptualization that extends the current dominant view and increases coordination of entrepreneurial discovery research across disparate theoretic streams. …

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