Entrepreneurship, Career Experience and Learning - Developing Our Understanding of Entrepreneurship as an Experiential Learning Process

University dissertation from SIRE, Halmstad University, P.O. Box 823, S-301 18 Halmstad, Sweden

Abstract: Why are some individuals more successful in recognizing and exploiting new venture opportunities than others? The common view is that successful entrepreneurs have acquired and developed specific types of knowledge through their previous career experiences, which in turn facilitate their involvement in the entrepreneurial process from opportunity recognition to opportunity exploitation. If this is true, how can we understand the learning mechanisms that underlie this experiential learning process? The overall purpose of this dissertation is to develop concepts that enhances our understanding of entrepreneurship as an experiential learning process, and based on this development to empirically test a conceptual framework that explains how individuals develop entrepreneurial knowledge through experiences acquired in their careers. To meet the overall purpose five individual studies have been conducted. The empirical data consists of both personal interviews as well as a large-scale mail questionnaire on Swedish entrepreneurs. The overall findings imply that entrepreneurship should be conceived as a lifelong learning process that proceeds both before and after the initial start-up of a new venture. This means that the sequences of events whereby individuals enter an entrepreneurial career and learn how to recognize and exploit new ventures opportunities needs to be understood in the light of individuals? career experiences as a whole. Entrepreneurial learning is consequently not something that only occurs in typical entrepreneurial settings but also in the everyday working life of individuals well before they even think of being involved in new venture creation. Moreover, the overall findings suggest the need to reconsider the predominant view on entrepreneurial learning which presumes a direct link between a particular experience and the knowledge gained from this experience. The empirical results show that different types of career experiences lead to different types of entrepreneurial knowledge, and that the knowledge developed also depends on the entrepreneurs? preferred mode of transforming experience to knowledge, i.e. whether they prefer putting their emphasis on exploring new possibilities or exploiting their pre-existent knowledge. Consequently, there is a need to distinguish between the two concepts "experience" and "knowledge" if we are to understand entrepreneurship as an experiential learning process.

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