The strength of a good example: How important are role models for early-stage entrepreneurs?
The decision to become an entrepreneur is in essence an individual decision. But even when the endowments of inhabitants are taken into account, some regions have persistently higher entrepreneurship rates than others. Proposed explanations for this regional variation are numerous: market potential, unemployment rates, knowledge spillovers and agglomeration effects. Regional differences in entrepreneurship have also been linked to the availability of role models (Fornahl 2003; Sternberg 2009; Malecki 2009). It can be argued that in regions with high rates of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial role models are abundant. These role models may serve as good examples of entrepreneurial activity and inspire individuals in the region to become entrepreneurs or attract other entrepreneurs to the region, thereby reinforcing the entrepreneurial process. We take a new approach by combining existing approaches, i.e., the geographical and individual-level studies of entrepreneurship in empirically exploring the importance of role models for early-stage entrepreneurship. We use a rich data set of over 300 owner-managers of young firms across four different sectors for three regions in the Netherlands. For each of the regions, a random sample was drawn from the registration data base of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. Semi-structured interviews were held with entrepreneurs in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam between March and October 2009. The first descriptive results suggest that role models are indeed an important phenomenon that deserves further attention. About 45% of the entrepreneurs indicated that the start-up decision was influenced by another entrepreneur, mostly by providing a positive example. Some 70% of these respondents have received tangible support from these exemplar entrepreneurs at start-up, whereas 40% indicate that they would not have started the business if they would not have had this example. So, according to the respondents, role models are important and our first analyses seem to support the idea that entrepreneur characteristics affect the value attached to specific types of role model. These results have implications for the organization, timing and target group of support initiatives, network meetings and the involvement of specific established (regional) exemplar entrepreneurs in the early-stage entrepreneurship arena.
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