Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurship Research
Scholar: Amy Halliday
Charlottesville, VA — How does a young academic field carve out territory for itself? By engaging in a conversation about the questions that should lie at its foundation. For the field of entrepreneurship, S. Venkataraman (Venkat) advanced that conversation with the publication in 1997 of "The Distinctive Domain of Entrepreneurship Research."
Now, 11 years later, the Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management — the world's largest professional body of management educators — has recognized Venkat's contribution by awarding him the inaugural IDEA Award for Foundational Research, which honors a paper that "serves as a legacy for scholarly work in the field." As part of an initiative to encourage high-quality research, the division this year also launched two other awards — to recognize unpublished works that show great promise and published works that are among the best that year.
According to Texas Tech's Ron Mitchell, the chair of the Entrepreneurship Division, and the University of Connecticut's Rich Dino, who, with Mitchell, co-chairs the IDEA Awards Committee, Venkat's paper is as meaningful now as it was in 1997. "The most recent articles that have anything to do with... opportunity-focused entrepreneurship research would cite this work," Mitchell says. But what is as important to them as Venkat's scholarship is his leadership. "Our vision is to grow entrepreneurship scholars," Mitchell says. "In our judgment, it is essential for 'growing scholars' to have exemplars after whom they can pattern their own efforts. So in a sense, the paper is not just a representation of his scholarship, but of his leadership — by example."
When Venkat, the MasterCard Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School, published his paper, entrepreneurship as a scholarly field was still young. Academics had been teaching and publishing in the area since the 1980s, but "as a new child in the business academy," Venkat says, "entrepreneurship felt deficient. It did not feel as sophisticated as its siblings in business schools." The field also still lacked a clear identity. Instead of approaching entrepreneurship on its own terms — and trying to establish those terms — researchers tended to be motivated by the central questions of the disciplines in which they had been trained.
Those questions, Venkat says, were not interesting enough. At the time of the 1997 paper, many entrepreneurship researchers were examining the relative performance of individual entrepreneurs and ventures and trying to define what an entrepreneur is and does. Venkat suggested a new focus, on the connection between opportunities and the individuals who pursue them, and he offered up this definition: As a scholarly field, entrepreneurship "seeks to understand how opportunities to bring into existence 'future' goods and services are discovered, created, and exploited, by whom, and with what consequences."
Venkat says now that his fellow researchers have not necessarily accepted that definition of the field, but they have been guided by the questions that arise from it. Many of those questions, which he enumerated in the paper, have to do with opportunities: Where do they come from? What are the characteristics of different opportunities? What is the relative profitability of various sources of opportunities? And many questions concern the individuals who find and then pursue opportunities. "People are different and these differences matter" is Venkat's refrain in the paper. So, for example, why do some people seek opportunities while others don't? How do they make a connection between their specific knowledge and a business opportunity that would call on that knowledge? How are they able to procure the resources they need for a new venture? How do they manage risk?
Researchers who address these and other questions will help stake out a unique territory for entrepreneurship in the academy, Venkat argued. He also wrote that the field needed a new kind of performance measure, one that would reflect both economic performance (the private wealth generated for the individual and for the venture — as a result of the individual's effort) and social performance (the new markets, industries, technologies, institutional forms and jobs that result from the entrepreneur's efforts). "This construct," he wrote, "would be the most relevant, legitimate, and distinctive performance variable for entrepreneurship research. Indeed, I would go so far as to claim that explaining the behavior of this construct is the very raison d'être of the field."
Venkat believes that illuminating the ways that enterprising individuals generate both private and social wealth is still the foundation of the field. Other researchers, he notes, have moved in this direction — for instance, those who are studying the role of entrepreneurship in economic development. But many researchers are bringing new voices to the field, Venkat says, and are enhancing many of the questions he raised with their own perspectives. "The field is vibrant. It has come into its own."