Can successful entrepreneurship be learned?
Dr. Markus Perkmann is a Senior Research Fellow at Imperial College Business School, where he researches innovation management, technology development and organisation theory. We recently sat down to talk to him about his views on how entrepreneurship is developed.
How would you define entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship involves some kind of high impact activity that does something new – not just a sole trader. It often is unsuccessful, but has the potential to lead to success and strong growth. That’s what makes entrepreneurship really valuable: doing something new and taking a risk. The risk is an interesting thing – it’s about who takes the risk. The question is really what kind of risks entrepreneurs are taking. Good entrepreneurs are good at taking risks with other people’s money because that allows them to scale others’ resources. The other people trust them with their money because they think they’re more likely to be successful than the average person. There are very few entrepreneurs who will have the money to do it by themselves. It necessarily involves pooling resources from different resource providers, and those resources are at risk. It’s not just about personal risk; it’s about constituting a good risk for a potential resource provider.
Can entrepreneurs be created?
Can entrepreneurship be learned in terms of students going through entrepreneurial societies? – I’m going to do a research project asking that very question. With entrepreneurial societies at universities, for example, does going through such a socialisation process make entrepreneurs? From a sociological standpoint, it’s a question of identity and role models. If in your social context there are people who will provide an entrepreneurial role model, I would think that people looking at these role models would be more inclined to consider entrepreneurship as a legitimate identity to adopt. You can see a similar phenomenon in the dot com boom. There were groups like First Tuesday, bringing in people and trying to convey that entrepreneurship is an option, that it’s something that’s there to be learned and studied in a certain way. Think of retail nowadays: no one would think of having one shop or restaurant – everyone thinks of having a chain. But that had to be learned, built. In this sense being an entrepreneur is a constructed model that people take on.
The other thing you could say here is that a lot of entrepreneurship actually comes out of existing organisations. You talk about university spin-outs, but the more likely case is company spin-outs. A lot of Silicon Valley foundings essentially came out of other companies, like Intel which came out of Fairchild semiconductors. Whole industries were created by people leaving their former employers, sometimes with teams, founding a new company, taking their learning and doing essentially the same thing. Large, bureaucratic organisations are paradoxically the most fertile ground for entrepreneurship and start ups.