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Prior Knowledge and the Discovery of Entrepreneurial Opportunities

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  • Scott Shane

    () (R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742)

Abstract

Before technological change leads to new processes, products, markets, or ways of organizing, entrepreneurs must discover opportunities in which to exploit the new technology. To date, research has not explained adequately why entrepreneurs discover these opportunities, which creates several conceptual problems in the entrepreneurship literature. Drawing on Austrian economics, I argue that opportunity discovery is a function of the distribution of information in society (Hayek 1945). Through in-depth case studies of eight sets of entrepreneurs who exploit a single MIT invention, I show that entrepreneurs discover opportunities related to the information that they already possess. I use these findings to draw several implications that differ from those prevailing in the entrepreneurship literature, including: (1) entrepreneurs do not always select between alternative market opportunities for new technologies; (2) the source of entrepreneurship lies in differences in information about opportunities; (3) the results of prior studies of entrepreneurial exploitation may suffer from bias; and (4) individual differences influence the opportunities that people discover, how their entrepreneurial efforts are organized, and how the government can influence this process.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott Shane, 2000. "Prior Knowledge and the Discovery of Entrepreneurial Opportunities," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 11(4), pages 448-469, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:11:y:2000:i:4:p:448-469
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.11.4.448.14602
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bresnahan, Timothy F. & Trajtenberg, M., 1995. "General purpose technologies 'Engines of growth'?," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 83-108, January.
    2. Kaish, Stanley & Gilad, Benjamin, 1991. "Characteristics of opportunities search of entrepreneurs versus executives: Sources, interests, general alertness," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 45-61, January.
    3. Evans, David S & Jovanovic, Boyan, 1989. "An Estimated Model of Entrepreneurial Choice under Liquidity Constraints," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 808-827, August.
    4. Israel M. Kirzner, 1997. "Entrepreneurial Discovery and the Competitive Market Process: An Austrian Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(1), pages 60-85, March.
    5. Kihlstrom, Richard E & Laffont, Jean-Jacques, 1979. "A General Equilibrium Entrepreneurial Theory of Firm Formation Based on Risk Aversion," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(4), pages 719-748, August.
    6. Carroll, Glenn R. & Mosakowski, Elaine M., 1987. "The Career Dynamics of Self-Employment," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt13p1n10b, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    7. Eric von Hippel, 1994. ""Sticky Information" and the Locus of Problem Solving: Implications for Innovation," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 40(4), pages 429-439, April.
    8. Chen, Chao C. & Greene, Patricia Gene & Crick, Ann, 1998. "Does entrepreneurial self-efficacy distinguish entrepreneurs from managers?," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 13(4), pages 295-316, July.
    9. Busenitz, Lowell W. & Barney, Jay B., 1997. "Differences between entrepreneurs and managers in large organizations: Biases and heuristics in strategic decision-making," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 9-30, January.
    10. George J. Stigler, 1961. "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 213-213.
    11. Begley, Thomas M. & Boyd, David P., 1987. "Psychological characteristics associated with performence in entrepreneurial firms and smaller businesses," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 79-93.
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    Keywords

    Entrepreneurship; Austrian Economics; Discovery;

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