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Drawing on social identity theory, we explore the identities, behaviors, and actions of 49 firm founders in the sports-related equipment industry. Our analysis suggests the existence of three pure types of founder identities and shows how these identities systematically shape key decisions in the creation of new firms, thereby "imprinting" the start-ups with the founders' distinct self-concepts. We synthesize our findings in a typology that sheds light on the heterogeneous meanings that founders associate with new firm creation and that improves understanding as to why fundamental differences in firm creation processes and outcomes exist.
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Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers Paris
Business School, Lausanne
École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Drawing on social identity theory, we explore the identities, behaviors, and actions of
49 firm founders in the sports-related equipment industry. Our analysis suggests the
existence of three pure types of founder identities and shows how these identities
systematically shape key decisions in the creation of new firms, thereby “imprinting”
the start-ups with the founders’ distinct self-concepts. We synthesize our findings in a
typology that sheds light on the heterogeneous meanings that founders associate with
new firm creation and that improves understanding as to why fundamental differences
in firm creation processes and outcomes exist.
An identity is like a compass helping us steer a
course of interaction in a sea of social meaning.
–Burke and Reitzes (1981: 91)
One of the most remarkable characteristics of
entrepreneurship is that it provides individuals
with the freedom to pursue their own goals,
dreams, and desires in new firm creation. The pres-
ent research builds on a small but growing litera-
ture that takes into account the fact that entrepre-
neurial activities are infused with meaning because
they are an expression of an individual’s identity,
or concept of self (Cardon, Wincent, Singh, & Drnov-
sek, 2009; Hoang & Gimeno, 2010; Kimberly, 1979;
Murnieks & Mosakowski, 2007; Shepherd & Haynie,
2009). For instance, Cardon and colleagues (2009)
invoked the identity concept to argue that individ-
uals have preferences for particular roles in the
entrepreneurial process because those roles are
deeply meaningful to their identity.
Yet, despite the pioneering insights that this nas-
cent literature has provided into founder identity,
an identity perspective could yield important ad-
ditional insights for entrepreneurship research.
This is largely because prior studies have drawn on
role identity theory and, thus, on a perspective
within identity research that emphasizes role-re-
lated views of the self while discounting key social
aspects of self-concept, such as the basic social
motivations that shape the behaviors and actions of
individuals when they are engaging with others
(Brewer & Gardner, 1996). However, these social
aspects of a founder’s self-concept are likely to be
of importance in entrepreneurship because firm
creation is an inherently social activity, and organ-
izations are themselves social constructions
(Whetten & Mackey, 2002). For instance, by adopt-
ing a role identity lens, one is unlikely to capture
the fundamental differences between the motiva-
tions of entrepreneurs who create firms out of eco-
nomic self-interest and those of entrepreneurs who
start their firms because of concern for others. An
example of the latter is Muhammad Yunus, who
created the Grameen Bank because he wanted to
fight poverty by giving “microcredit” to the poor so
that they could launch their own firms (Yu-
nus, 2007).
Thus, in the present study we propose that the
theory of social identity, which forms part of the
literature on social cognition (Tajfel, 1972; Tajfel &
Turner, 1979), can serve as a valuable lens through
which to improve understanding of the heterogene-
ity in meanings that founders associate with their
We wish to thank the College of Management of Tech-
nology at EPFL, the University of Lausanne, and the
International Academy of Sports Science and Technol-
ogy (AISTS)—in particular, Claude Stricker—for their
support of this study. We appreciate feedback on drafts
from Jean-Philippe Bonardi, Georg von Krogh, Guido
Palazzo, Sonali Shah, and Christopher Tucci. The com-
ments of three anonymous reviewers and Associate Edi-
tor Jim Combs are gratefully acknowledged. Both authors
contributed equally, and our names are listed alphabeti-
Editor’s note: The manuscript for this article was ac-
cepted for publication during the term of AMJ’s previous
editor, Duane Ireland.
Academy of Management Journal
2011, Vol. 54, No. 5, 935–957.
Copyright of the Academy of Management, all rights reserved. Contents may not be copied, emailed, posted to a listserv, or otherwise transmitted without the copyright holder’s express
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entrepreneurial endeavors, as well as the effects of
such heterogeneity on firm creation processes and
outcomes. Social identity theory allows for rich
assessment of an individual’s sense of self, since
social identity is critical to beliefs, feelings, values,
and actions in all social contexts, including new
firm creation (cf. Hogg & Terry, 2000). Social iden-
tity theory may also provide a particularly power-
ful means to increase understanding as to why
there are stark differences among the creation pro-
cesses and outcomes of different firms, because it
provides a theoretical link that explains how social
identification leads individuals to behave and act
in ways that confirm their identities (Hogg & Terry,
2000; Tajfel & Turner, 1979).
Hence, by drawing on social identity theory, we
seek to accomplish two main goals: first, we seek to
establish a typology detailing the primary types of
founders’ social identities. The typology will clar-
ify the critical social categorizations that individu-
als make as founders and, in particular, the mean-
ings they associate with being founders. Second,
we build on our typology to describe how founder
social identity affects new firm creation, particu-
larly the three initial strategic decisions that are
widely considered to define the cores of firms and
to have important “imprinting” effects on emerging
organizations (Abell, 1980): the market segment(s)
served, the customer needs addressed, and the re-
sources and capabilities deployed to produce the
firms’ offering(s).
To accomplish these goals, we conducted an in-
depth exploratory study of 49 firm founders, each
of whom recently had created a business in the
sports-related equipment industry. We analyzed
data collected through interviews and secondary
sources using an inductive methodological ap-
proach (Glaser & Strauss, 2006; Miles & Huberman,
1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).
On the basis of the distinct meanings that indi-
viduals in our sample attached to their self-con-
cepts as firm founders, the founders we inter-
viewed could usually be classified as belonging to
one of three “pure” types of founder identity—
darwinian, communitarian, and missionary—or to
a group of founders with a “hybrid” identity com-
bining elements of the pure types. For instance,
founders with a darwinian identity are focused on
competition with other firms and are driven by
their own economic self-interest, but founders with
communitarian and missionary identities deviate
in fundamental ways from that standard. Commu-
nitarians view their firms as social objects that sup-
port and are supported by a particular community
because of mutually beneficial relationships. Mis-
sionaries see their firms as political objects that can
advance a particular cause for the benefit of society
at large. Our results also show that founders behave
and act in ways that are consistent with their iden-
tities and thereby imprint their self-concepts on
key dimensions of their emerging firms. These find-
ings have a number of fundamental implications
for thinking about firm creation processes (includ-
ing the early stage of opportunity identification),
firm creation outcomes, and firm founders as enter-
prising individuals.
Ever since Simon’s (1947) notion of bounded ra-
tionality—the idea that decision makers strive for
rationality within the limits of their cognitive abil-
ity—scholars have recognized the importance of
cognitive factors in explaining human action in
organizations. In this article, we draw on social
identity theory (Tajfel, 1972; Tajfel & Turner, 1979)
as a platform from which to analyze and describe
founders’ self-conceptions and how they affect
their new firms (Hogg & Terry, 2000).
Social Identity Theory: Linking a Person’s
Identity with Human Behavior and Actions
Questions such as “Who am I?” and “What is my
role in society?” are of fundamental concern to
humanity and have been deeply woven into philo-
sophical discourse ever since Plato, Aristotle, and
other ancient Greek philosophers examined the
meaning of “self” and the origins of an individual’s
concept of self (Gioia, 1998). Since the late 19th
century, the concern with identity has also been
evident in the social sciences, where awareness of
the elemental human need for self-definition and
for finding one’s own place in society (Mead, 1934;
Tajfel, 1972) has led writers to define identity as “a
general, if individualized, framework for under-
standing oneself that is formed and sustained via
social interaction” (Gioia, 1998: 19).
Social identity theory, which originates in the
discipline of psychology, deals with the structure
and function of identity as it relates to an individ-
ual’s social relationships and, in particular, to his
or her membership in groups or social categories.
Although founders make a number of strategic deci-
sions during the early stages of new firm creation, we
focus on this set of initial decisions because they strate-
gically define a business (Abell, 1980). These decisions
are antecedents to many subsequent ones (such as the
choice of distribution channel) and tend to become per-
manent as they cannot be reversed easily.
936 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
Three elements in particular are essential to con-
temporary understanding of social identity theory:
First, key to the development of an individual’s
identity is personal and symbolic interaction with
others, because such interaction allows the individ-
ual to make social comparisons and categorizations
and to learn with which social groups he/she wants
to be associated, given the emotional and value sig-
nificance of group membership (Gioia, 1998; Tajfel &
Turner, 1979). Their membership in a particular
social category or group (their in-group) provides
individuals with a frame of reference for self-eval-
uation and for the evaluation of others who do not
belong to the group (their out-group). Thus, a per-
son’s social identity serves as a system of social
orientation and plays an instrumental role in estab-
lishing self-worth (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, &
Wetherell, 1987).
Second, the self-categorization of individuals can
vary in terms of level of inclusiveness. At one end
of the spectrum, the most restricted level of social
self-categorization, is the category of self as a
unique entity; that is, a person acts in terms of his
individual goals and ambitions, rather than as a
member of a social group (Brewer & Gardner, 1996).
At the other end of the spectrum, individuals may
conceive of themselves as part of the human spe-
cies and so act in terms of social motivations asso-
ciated with concern for impersonal others (Harb &
Smith, 2008).
Third, social identity theory allows for making
predictions about behavioral choices and human
actions (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Because a person’s
identity serves as a cognitive frame for interpreting
experience and because identity increases sensitiv-
ity and receptivity to certain cues for behavior,
individuals are more likely to define the situations
into which they enter in ways that make a highly
salient identity relevant and to strive for behaviors
and actions that are consistent with that identity
(Hogg, Terry, & White, 1995; Stets & Burke, 2000).
Prior Research on Founder Identity
Among management scholars, the identity con-
cept is perhaps best known in its (metaphorical)
application to the organizational level in the form
of organizational identity (Albert & Whetten, 1985;
for a review, see Hatch and Schultz [2004]) and
corporate identity (Cornelissen, Haslam, & Balmer,
2007). Since social identity theory has acquired the
status of a key perspective for describing and ex-
plaining individual behavior and action (Gioia,
1998), and given the importance of individuals in
the creation of new firms, one might also expect
identity theory to have met with widespread inter-
est among entrepreneurship scholars. However,
only a few studies to date have provided insights
on the notion of founder identity and the effects
that it may have on an emerging organization.
Extant research on founder identity exclusively
draws on role identity theory,
thus applying a
theoretical perspective that encourages investiga-
tion of different role identities within the entrepre-
neurial process (Cardon et al., 2009), the transition
from a previous employee role into an entrepre-
neurial role (Hoang & Gimeno, 2010), and the dif-
ferences between entrepreneurial role identity and
other role identities (Murnieks & Mosakowski,
2007). For instance, Cardon and colleagues (2009)
built on the identity concept to examine the role of
passion in entrepreneurship. Drawing on a taxon-
omy of entrepreneurial activities established by
Gartner, Starr, and Bhat (1999), Cardon et al. sug-
gested three entrepreneurial identities that under-
lie a passion for different kinds of activities in the
process of creating a new business: an inventor role
identity (passion for activities such as exploring
new opportunities), a founder role identity (pas-
sion for activities related to opportunity exploita-
tion), and a developer role identity (passion for
activities related to growing a firm).
Extant research on the effects of the founder’s
identity on an emerging organization suggests that
these effects should be relatively strong (Barney et
al., 1998; Whetten & Mackey, 2002), both because
organizational decisions are often made by a single
person (the founder) and because emerging firms
are typically small entities that are yet to be shaped.
For instance, in their conceptual study Whetten
and Mackey suggested a link between founder
identity and organization type (such as “church vs.
Of course, the overarching notion that the character-
istics of leaders affect their organizations is not new to
the literature. In particular, the upper echelons perspec-
tive introduced by Hambrick and Mason in 1984
spawned a rich body of work that has shown how the
cognitive characteristics and personalities of leaders are
reflected in their organizations (e.g., Cannella & Hol-
comb, 2005; Hambrick & Brandon, 1988; Miller, Kets de
Vries, & Toulouse, 1982; for an overview, see Finkelstein,
Hambrick, and Cannella [2009].
Social identity theory and (role) identity theory are
two distinct theoretical perspectives concerned with self-
concept and the nature of an individual’s normative be-
havior (Hogg et al., 1995; Stets & Burke, 2000). Whereas
social identity theory originates in psychology and treats
self-definition as deriving principally from social attri-
butes and relationships (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), identity
theory has its roots in sociology and casts behavioral
roles and role identities as the basis of an individual’s
self-concept (Hogg et al., 1995).
2011 937Fauchart and Gruber
business organizational purpose” and “local mar-
ket vs. global market”). They argued that “we can
draw a rough parallel between founders’ selections
of organizational forms and the inherent character-
istics of individuals, in that we can treat these both
as category-based identity claims embedded in so-
cially authorized conventions about what are ap-
propriate and meaningful identities” (2002: 398).
Even so, empirical evidence that could substantiate
these notions and provide systematic insights on
how the founder’s identity shapes an emerging firm
is scant. In the only study found on this issue,
Kimberly (1979) investigated the effects of an indi-
vidual’s identity on the creation of a new medical
school and described how that individual’s iden-
tity was central to shaping the institution he estab-
lished; for example, his identity shaped the
school’s curriculum (i.e., the product).
Taken together, these studies support the idea
that examining founder identity can help improve
understanding of the characteristics of enterprising
individuals and how they affect new organizations.
Apart from the observation that extant research is
mostly conceptual, not empirical, our literature re-
view revealed at least two areas in which under-
standing of founder identity and its effects on new
firms can be significantly improved.
First, we have seen that existing studies rely on
role identity theory and thus on a theoretical per-
spective that encourages research on the roles with
which people identify in the entrepreneurial pro-
cess. However, by focusing on role-related founder
behavior, current conceptualizations of founder
identity discount the social aspects of the self and,
as a result, the extent to which founders define
themselves in terms of their relationships in the
social world (Hogg et al., 1995; Tajfel & Turner,
1979). Since firm creation is an inherently social
activity, and organizations are themselves social
constructions (Whetten & Mackey, 2002), founders’
conceptions of their social selves, as manifested in
their social motivations, bases of self-evaluation,
and views of relevant reference groups, are argu-
ably central to their decision making and their be-
havior and actions relative to others (Brewer &
Gardner, 1996). By applying a social identity lens,
one should be able to capture the fundamental as-
pects of an individual’s identity that are relevant to
new firm creation yet are outside the normal scope
of role identity theory. Take the case of a person’s
social motivations: Although role identity theory
does not systematically address this aspect of iden-
tity, social identity theory distinguishes among dif-
ferent levels of inclusiveness in people’s social mo-
tivations (Brewer & Gardner, 1996; Harb & Smith,
2008). Thus, social identity theory provides the
basis for capturing fundamental heterogeneity in
founders’ social motivations for entrepreneurship;
for instance, by applying a social identity lens, one
can capture the important difference between the
self-concepts of people who start their firms be-
cause of economic self-interest and those who start
their firms because of concern for others.
Second, extant studies have not yet provided sys-
tematic insights into the effects of founder identity
on new firm creation, although identity research
has shown that individuals strive for “identity rel-
evance” in their behaviors and actions (Hogg et al.,
1995; Stets & Burke, 2000). Since knowledge of
heterogeneity in people’s social identities could
provide insights into why there is heterogeneity in
their behaviors and actions, social identity theory
may help explain why entrepreneurs facing similar
contexts may act differently. For instance, it seems
that founders who start their firms primarily be-
cause of concern for others may select competitive
strategies and market strategies that differ from
those of founders who pursue only their economic
Against the backdrop of these observations, the
present study explores two main research questions:
(1) What are the primary types of founder identities
from a social identity perspective?
(2) To what extent does a founder’s social identity
influence key dimensions of new firm creation?
To answer our research questions, we chose an
exploratory, qualitative research design, which is
recommended for investigating phenomena that are
subtle and/or poorly understood (Strauss & Corbin,
1998; Yin, 2003).
Study Setting
Since the present study explores the role of
founder identity in new firm creation, we fol-
lowed prior research on new firm creation and
included firms in our sample that were indepen-
dently held and eight years old or less (cf. Mc-
Dougall, Covin, Robinson, & Herron, 1994). We
chose to study firms involved in the production
of sports equipment because many young firms
exist in this field, so we could collect rich, de-
tailed, and accurate data directly from the firms’
founders. For a number of reasons, new sports
equipment firms emerge relatively frequently.
There is a relatively high amount of innovation
fueled by oftentimes low research and develop-
ment costs. Moreover, founders of new sports
938 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
equipment firms often face low capital expendi-
tures when setting up their production processes
and thus benefit from relatively low entry barriers.
Examples of new sports equipment firms repre-
sented in our sample include new ski, snowboard,
snow scooter, bicycle, roller, and scooter firms.
All firms in our sample are located in the West
European Alpine region (Switzerland, Germany,
and France). We chose to study firms in this geo-
graphical area because there is a high concentration
of sports equipment manufacturers, drawn by the
area’s institutional and natural resources. For in-
stance, the area is home to many headquarters of
international sports associations (such as the Inter-
national Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzer-
land) and due to its idyllic landscape (mountains,
lakes) provides attractive venues for a large number
of national as well as international sports competi-
tions. Furthermore, the area boasts a temperate cli-
mate and thus offers favorable conditions to ama-
teurs as well as professional athletes practicing
their sports.
Sampling Approach
Given our interest in first identifying the existing
scope (maximum variation) of founder identities
and then illuminating the link between a founder’s
identity and actions in the course of creating a new
firm, we relied on theoretical sampling. This ap-
proach increased the probability that we would
collect different and varied data on founder identi-
ties and actions and would have the opportunity to
determine their range of variability (Glaser &
Strauss, 2006; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Theoreti-
cal sampling involves data gathering that is “driven
by concepts derived from the evolving theory and
based on the concept of “making comparisons,”
whose purpose is to go to places, people, or events
that will maximize opportunities to discover vari-
ations among concepts and to densify categories in
terms of their properties and dimensions” (Strauss
& Corbin, 1998: 201). We continued to collect data
until we reached what Strauss and Corbin (1998)
referred to as theoretical saturation—that is, the
point at which no new insights emerged from ad-
ditional interviews regarding a particular type of
founder identity, the different types of founder
identities seemed well developed in terms of
their properties and dimensions and demon-
strated variation, and the relationships between
founder identity types and their behaviors and
actions in new firm creation seemed well estab-
lished and validated.
Data Sources
Multiple sources of data are critical to qualitative
research because they facilitate triangulation and
validation of theoretical constructs. Data from sev-
eral sources informed this research.
Interviews. In total, 56 interviews were con-
ducted with the founders of 49 firms. If firms had
been founded by more than one individual, we
conducted additional interviews with the cofound-
ers in as many cases as possible to understand their
identities and to obtain additional insights on the
firm creation process. We do not count interviews
with nonfounders in our interview statistics, but
we did use information provided by a number of
nonfounders to augment founder-reported data.
Firms were identified through the use of three com-
plementary strategies, as detailed below.
Introduction from the Academy of Sports Sci-
ence and Technology. We began our study by con-
ducting five interviews with founders introduced
to us by the Academy of Sports Science & Technol-
ogy in Lausanne, an organization that has links to
many entrepreneurs in the sports-related equip-
ment industry.
Identification through conferences, sport-re-
lated magazines, and websites. We searched
through a variety of public sources (such as the lists
of firms presenting at the International Society for
Sports Engineering (ISEA) Conference and the In-
ternational Sports Trade Fair (ISPO)), the advertiser
indexes of several sports-related magazines (e.g.,
TransWorld Snowboarding,Ski Magazine,Skiing
Magazine,Bicycling Magazine), and several sport-
related websites (e.g.,
We also searched the online directory of Swiss
firms ( with keywords such as
“sport” and “equipment” and the names of specific
Snowball sampling. We also identified firm
founders through the technique of snowball sam-
pling, in which interviewees are asked to recom-
mend additional interviewees (Denzin & Lincoln,
2000). For instance, to increase variation in our
data, we triggered recommendations by asking
“Whom do you know who sees things differently?”
(Miles & Huberman, 1994: 29).
All interviewees were asked a series of open-
ended questions, which were augmented by fol-
low-up questions that allowed deep probing of the
interviewees’ answers as well as questions that
served to clarify answers (Spradley, 1979). Ques-
tions addressed the following broad issues: (1)
founders’ experiences in founding their firms, in-
cluding how they came upon their initial product
offerings and how they engaged in a variety of
2011 939Fauchart and Gruber
firm-organizing activities; (2) the founders’ experi-
ences in running the firms, including specific
decisions made in the areas of hiring initial em-
ployees, manufacturing, sales and marketing, in-
tellectual property, and sourcing raw materials;
(3) the founders’ relationships with a variety of
stakeholders; (4) the founders’ views of compet-
ing firms; and (5) the founders’ backgrounds. To
encourage candor, interviewees were guaranteed
anonymity. As part of the study design, we
did not inquire about identity directly, as doing
so may have led subjects to rationalize their be-
haviors, motivations, and actions (Spradley,
1979). At the conclusion of the interviews, we
asked interviewees to comment on issues that
they had not yet brought up.
Interviews, which were generally conducted by
telephone and recorded to facilitate data analysis,
ranged in length from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours
(70 minutes was the average). Because our inter-
viewees spoke French and German as their mother
tongues, interviews were conducted in these lan-
guages, transcribed, and then translated into Eng-
lish (the language common to the authors).
Website and archival data. Whenever possible,
we analyzed public materials related to the firms
whose founders we interviewed (e.g., websites,
magazine articles); these materials helped us gain
general background information prior to an inter-
view, better understand (and visualize) the range of
product offerings of the firms, acquire information
on the firm’s history, and augment and validate the
(basic) data supplied by the founders.
Data Coding and Analysis
Our review of social identity theory indicated
that the meanings embedded in a particular iden-
tity emerge through social contacts and compari-
sons. Since individuals “construct themselves” to
have a set of core characteristics that define their
self-concepts, their identity orientations are re-
flected in the types of identity statements they
make. Having identified the identities, identity re-
searchers assess the link between these identities
and an individual’s behaviors and actions.
In keeping with the social identity literature and
guidelines for coding and analyzing qualitative
data (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin,
1998), we identified identity meanings by analyz-
ing our transcribed interviews. Studying the inter-
views line by line, each of us first coded all re-
sponses that provided information on the identity
meanings that the interviewees associated with be-
ing a founder (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss &
Corbin, 1998). We then compared how we classi-
fied each sentence or group of sentences (interrater
agreement: .91) and discussed any differences in
our coding until we reached agreement. For each
interviewee, we transferred the identity-related in-
formation to a common file to make that informa-
tion more readily accessible.
After all identity-related content was transferred
to the common file, we focused our analysis on
those identity meanings that provided information
on an individual’s social identity, and we catego-
rized these identity meanings according to the
three main dimensions that researchers use to de-
fine social identity: an individual’s (1) basic social
motivation, (2) basis of self-evaluation, and (3)
frame of reference (cf. Brewer & Gardner, 1996). For
each of these three dimensions, we examined the
meanings that pertained to it and iteratively fleshed
out distinct thematic groupings of these meanings
(i.e., “themes” [Strauss & Corbin, 1998]). This cod-
ing process led to three distinct themes for each of
the three social identity dimensions. For instance,
for the dimension “basic social motivation,” the
meanings could be grouped into the three themes
“self-interest,” “support and be supported by a
community,” and “advancing a cause.”
As a result, the revised common file provided
coded information on the founders and their social
identity dimensions, enabling us to determine each
founder’s social identity. Specifically, for each of
the three dimensions of social identity, we ana-
lyzed whether a founder’s meanings pertained to
one particular theme or to multiple themes in that
We captured the result for each dimen-
sion of social identity in a score using the format
), where x
indicated the relative share of
content pertaining to a particular theme in that
dimension. For instance, if the meanings that the
founder associated with new firm creation all per-
tained to the first theme, his/her score was (1.0; 0;
0) for that dimension; if half of a founder’s mean-
ings pertained to the first theme, half to the second,
and none to the third, his/her score was (0.5; 0.5; 0).
Once the scores for each founder were obtained, we
performed another iteration of our content analysis
to verify the scores.
To derive the founders’ social identities, we ex-
amined the scores of all three social identity di-
The themes identified for the social identity dimen-
sions “basis of self-evaluation” and “frame of reference”
can be seen in Table 1.
For example, in the identity dimension “social mo-
tivation,” the meanings individuals associate with new
firm creation may pertain to the theme “self-interest,” to
another theme within this dimension, or to multiple
themes within this dimension.
940 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
mensions and found two principal groups: (1) in-
dividuals whose meanings pertained to one theme
in each of the three dimensions (the pure types)
and (2) individuals whose meanings were spread
out across different themes in at least one social
identity dimension (the hybrid types). Among the
pure types, we then searched for regularities in the
arrangement of scores and found three distinct
groups of founders. Individuals in a given group
shared the same arrangement of scores for each of
the three social identity dimensions. Using the dis-
tinct meanings these three groups of founders
associated with new firm creation, we labeled
their social identities as the “darwinian,” the
“communitarian,” and the “missionary” identi-
ties (see below).
Having derived the social identities of the found-
ers, we assessed whether their identities led the
founders to make decisions related to the creation
of their new firms that corresponded to the mean-
ings of their social identities. In a final step, the
dimensions, the founder identities, and their corre-
spondence to the focal set of firm-related decisions
were validated with a professor of psychology who
was not otherwise involved in the study.
An identity provides an individual with a cogni-
tive frame of reference with which to interpret both
social situations and (potential) behaviors and ac-
tions. We begin our analysis by describing the vari-
ance of meanings that individuals associate with
being a firm founder and, drawing on this assess-
ment, discuss the three pure identity types and the
hybrid types (which combine elements of the pure
types) that we identified. We then analyze the link
between founder identity and a founder’s decisions
in terms of (1) market segment(s) served, (2) cus-
tomer needs addressed, and (3) resources/capabili-
ties deployed, as these decisions are considered to
strategically define a new firm (Abell, 1980).
Founder Identities and Meanings
Following the data analysis procedure outlined
above, we explored three primary dimensions of
meaning that are fundamental in defining an indi-
vidual’s self-concept as a firm founder (cf. Table 1):
basic social motivation as a founder, basis of self-
evaluation in the founder role, and frame of refer-
ence as a founder (Brewer & Gardner, 1996):
Individual’s basic social motivation as a
founder. As Table 1 indicates, considerable vari-
ance exists along this dimension. For some individ-
uals, being a founder means (1) that they can make
money and build their own financial wealth; for
other founders it means (2) that they can advance
the community with their innovative equipment
and benefit from the support of the community in
return, or (3) that they can pursue their political
vision and advance a particular cause (such as a
social or an environmental mission).
Individual’s basis of self-evaluation as a
founder. We observe high variance on this dimen-
sion as well, because some founders evaluate them-
selves in terms of (1) their ability to act profession-
ally and apply solid business competencies,
whereas others see (2) their authenticity (e.g., in
terms of bringing a truly useful product to fellow
community members) or (3) their socially respon-
sible behavior as critical for their self-evaluation.
Individual’s frame of reference (i.e., relevant
others) as a founder. Individuals also possess
starkly different frames of reference as firm found-
ers, as some view (1) the competition as the rele-
vant comparison group in the “social space,”
whereas others view (2) a particular community
(i.e., the sports community), or (3) society as a
whole as the relevant reference in the “social
space.” Specifically, we note an important differ-
ence between the second and third group, as a
community orientation is based on interpersonal
relationships, but a societal orientation is associ-
ated with impersonal collectives.
Our interviews revealed that most founders in
the sample could be classified as having one of
three pure identities, each of which differs system-
atically from the others along the three dimensions
of identity meanings just described. As noted in the
Methods section, we labeled these three pure iden-
tities the “darwinian identity” (left column of Ta-
ble 1), the “communitarian identity” (middle col-
umn), and the “missionary identity” (right
column). Several founders possess a hybrid iden-
tity that combines elements of the primary types.
Table 2 shows the distribution of these identities in
our data set.
In the following, we use data from founders that
have one of the three primary, pure identities to
illustrate our conceptual findings cleanly. The hy-
brid identities are discussed as an extension to our
analysis. Furthermore, because some of the firms in
our sample were created by a team of founders, we
comment on the role of founding teams in this
extended analysis as well.
Individuals with at least 80 percent of their mean-
ings associated with a single theme in a given dimension
were coded as having one theme in that dimension.
2011 941Fauchart and Gruber
Darwinian identity. The first main type of
founder identity observed in our sample, the dar-
winian identity, is one that we would expect when
thinking about new firm creation, because it is as-
sociated with traditional business-oriented mean-
ings. Individuals who fall into this category focus
their attention mainly on establishing strong and
profitable firms. Although they generally feel some
attraction to the sport domain in which their firms
operate and also practice the sport at times, they
devote most of their attention to activities aimed at
ensuring the firm’s success. As the comments
shown below illustrate, these founders started their
firms with the primary motive of making profits
and accumulating personal wealth.
I was thinking of a way to make money; it was a very
strong motivation. If I hadn’t had money troubles, I
would certainly not have started out on this adven-
ture. I would have kept the models to myself. (E.R.,
scooter firm founder)
It is the goal when one creates a firm; it is to increase
its value and, if one earns a little less at the begin-
ning, one can expect a bonus on the partial or total
sale of the firm. (J.M.M., sport equipment firm
In keeping with this strong interest in profit, dar-
winian founders value a professional, “business
school” approach to creating and running a firm
and pay close attention to managing their firms
according to solid business principles. Not surpris-
ingly, darwinians oftentimes express the idea that
they could have started the business in another
domain, emphasizing their generic approach to
firm creation.
Getting into this with the competencies we had was
a very calculated risk. Because having business
competency and technical proficiency...isalready
something remarkable, it’s an enormous advantage
to our project....That’s the difference between our
brand and other emerging brands: these others are
often created only by skiers. I don’t want to be mean,
but they have no idea about the business aspect.
What I see with our skiers, you can’t ask them to
prepare a business plan or do market research. It’s
clearly not their job, not their competency. So
what’s attractive to stores and so on is that they see,
“Oh, there’s a very organized business part to this
project. We’re not going to order skis that will not be
delivered” and that kind of thing. (S.R., ski firm
I could have done that in many other domains of
activity....Ithink one can choose many different
domains of activity and understand what is it all
about, understand the ins and the outs and then find
the relevance of a given offer, of a proposition, but
Identity Dimensions
Identity Dimensions Variance in Meanings
Basic social
motivation (as
firm founder)
firm creation enables the individual
to pursue his self-interest
(making money, creating personal
wealth, building a business that
will be inherited by the next
Support and be supported by a
firm creation is indiscernible from
the individual’s involvement in
a community (firm both
supports and is supported by
the community because of
mutually beneficial
Advancing a cause
Firm creation supports the political
vision of the individual and the
ambition to advance a particular
cause (social,
environmental, etc.)
Basis of self-
evaluation (as
firm founder)
Business-related competences as
the basis for self evaluation:
being professional is perceived as
Authenticity as the basis for self-
evaluation: bringing something
truly useful to the community is
perceived as critical (based on
intimate knowledge of and care
for the needs of fellow
community members)
Responsible behavior
Responsibility as the basis for self
evaluation: contributing to a
better world is perceived as
critical (truly responsible people
do act)
Frame of reference/
relevant others
(as firm founder)
-Competing firms as the primary
frame of reference
-Being distinct from other firms
seen as core to the
entrepreneurial process
Community benefiting from
-Social group as the primary
frame of reference
-Offering products (services) that
support the community seen as
core to the entrepreneurial
-Society as the primary frame of
-Demonstrating that alternative
social practices are feasible and
leading by example seen as core
to the entrepreneurial process
942 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
you must believe in yourself without lying to your-
self, without bluffing yourself. (N.R., ski clothing
firm founder)
Tomorrow, that could be something else. I’m not
attached to the product. What pleases me for now is
the project. (P.F., sport equipment firm founder)
Darwinians view competing firms as the primary
external point of reference in their social space.
Being new and generally small producers, they try
to achieve competitive advantage by differentiating
their firms from the competition. Competing firms
are seen as rivals, yet darwinians also tend to value
the competitive exchange as a process that allows
the best firms to prevail.
[Our objective] is to make industry—leading prod-
ucts in terms of design, materials/manufacturing
and graphic—and compete against the mainstream
brands with a product that is fairly priced and offers
similar or better technology....Competition is a
healthy thing—it makes all of us strive to create a
better product at a cheaper cost....I would also
like to say that, on the flip side of this topic, I
definitely do not believe in supporting a local in-
dustry if it can’t create a competitive, high-quality
product. (T.W., ski firm founder)
I think it’s really a battle. Between people who are
truly in the same segment, I think we all try to be the
most innovative and the strongest. (M.C., bike firm
And I really worked on positioning the brand in the
market and in finding my raison d’être in this ex-
tremely competitive and narrow market. (N.R., ski
clothes firm founder)
Communitarian identity. The second main type
of founder identity observed in our sample is the
communitarian identity. Founders with this type of
identity were typically strongly engaged in a sport
domain and often started getting into entrepreneur-
ship as they gradually realized that the sports
equipment they had designed for themselves was of
interest to fellow community members.
For 3–4 years, I tinkered in my grandmother’s ga-
rage, making boards for my buddies, for buddies’
buddies, like that....I also worked on another
board for myself, precisely the swallowtail, this
powder board. And I started to sell them, as I had
my friends, and I knew a lot of people in the ski-
snowboard field, and also in windsurfing (. . .). Ev-
eryone knows each other, and my friends kept say-
ing, “K, why don’t you do this, more of this?.” . . . I
was in a field where I had friends all over the place,
in Chamonix, in Tignes, and when I showed up at a
resort for some event, because I was still doing
monoskiing, “Oh, K, there you are, have you got
your boards? I’ve got a friend who’s been harassing
me for a week, he wants one, I’ll introduce you.” . . .
People were coming up to me, saying, “are you
crazy? Your boards are great, I tried this, I had the
best time.”
[Interviewer: they encouraged you?]
They encouraged me, yes, because for me, starting a
business was like attaching a ball and chain to my
foot. (K.K., snowboard firm founder)
These founders are enthused by their ability to
contribute to the community with their innovative
products and value the support they receive from
fellow community members in their entrepreneur-
ial endeavors. They see their activities as founders
as an important catalyst for the development of the
community and for achieving recognition by
their peers.
At some point one seeks for recognition. We all have
a need for recognition. Being not good enough to go
on the podiums, I realized that I could give good
Sample Characteristics
Characteristic Darwinians Communitarians Missionaries Hybrid
Number of firms in sample 19 13 6 11
Average firm age
55 54
Average age of founder
43 35 38 40
Highest education level
High school 1 1 1 1
University 12 6 4 5
Other 5 5 2 5
Industry (including multiple answers)
Ski/snowboard/snowscooter 3 9 1 9
Bicycle/scooter/roller 6 2 0 0
Measurement in sports 2 0 0 0
Other 9 2 6 2
Firm founded by individual/team 10/9 8/5 5/1 6/5
At time of the interview.
2011 943Fauchart and Gruber
advice, that I could improve the equipment. It came
like that. (S.C., ski firm founder)
I was playing on my name a bit as well, to tell you
the truth; I rely on the fact that I have a history . . .
I’m an active rider, out on the slopes, with some
background, so I can rely on that, it’s a little added
plus, that’s also what allows me to . . .
[Interviewer: so you told yourself, well, with my
reputation, I should sell a little, enough to recover
my investment, at least.]
Yes, precisely, that’s it exactly....There was lots of
demand behind me, lots of people I know. When
you’ve been on the slopes for a while, you see lots of
people, and many of them would say, yeah, come
out with the skis and we’ll get them, and that’s what
happened—actually, that’s how it works . . . I think
if all that hadn’t been there, I might not have done it.
(S.P., ski firm founder)
In line with their strong identification with the
community, communitarians believe that authen-
ticity is the core asset that they can bring to their
venture. In particular, they argue that because of
their status as sports enthusiasts they have unique,
firsthand insights into the needs of fellow commu-
nity members and thus can design “authentic”
products that not only meet real needs but also
allow for strong identification between the firm
(the founder) and community members. In partic-
ular, they frequently mention that they are able to
produce higher quality and care for their custom-
ers, but that business-oriented founders do not
identify with their offerings and provide customers
with standardized, off-the-shelf products.
There needs to be authenticity, you need to be a
sportsman. (T.V., bike firm founder)
Snowboarding is something created by people who
are passionate about it, not businessmen, that things
are not just business, there’s also those who are in it
for the passion of practicing the sport. What we do
in terms of quality, no big brand is capable of doing.
We want to get clients by identification . . . in big
industry, there isn’t much identification. (S.P., ski
firm founder)
In front of our customers, we have a better credibil-
ity than their commercial stuff because we know our
products and market better than they do. (J.B., ski
firm founder)
Fellow community members—“similar others”—
serve as a communitarian founder’s primary frame
of reference in the social space. In this vein, com-
munitarians have a strong sense of “we-ness” when
it comes to their relationships with a community’s
members and make a clear distinction between
people who are in the group and outsiders. The
relationship that these founders have with their
community is highly emotional because it revolves
around shared passion for a sport.
Kitesurfers—these are guys who come from fun-
boards, passionate guys like in snowboarding, guys
who make their own boards in their garages, like in
snowboarding 15 years ago, and we end up with a
multitude of brands, and there’s a lot of sharing, no
competition, what I like is the mood, the environ-
ment. I like that because it brings me back to 15
years ago, in ideology and environment, and I enjoy
it. (SP, snowboard and kitesurf firm founder)
I have invented the practice, so of course the people
know me. So far, I have organized 80% of the com-
petitions, but now there is a Swiss federation and
there is a federation in France, they are all friends of
mine and they all have taken up the torch. It is them
who organize, but I am always around with my
snowscoots to help the riders—but I do not ride
anymore. In the beginning I was riding and, of
course, I won the first competition.
[Interviewer: Hum, it is too easy when one has in-
vented the practice!]
[laughs] Yes sure. This was at Avoriaz and there
were 70 persons, and there were only 20
snowscoots, they were struggling to get one. These
are unforgettable memories.
What I like most is to arrive at a world champion-
ship in snowscoot, and to be able to tell to myself
that there are 150 guys from 12 different countries,
that the parking lot is full of cars with snowscoot on
the top and that the guys speak only of that. (F.P.,
snowscooter firm founder)
Missionary identity. The third pure type of
founder identity observed in our sample is the mis-
sionary identity. Missionary founders believe that
firms can be powerful agents of change in society
and engage in new firm creation to establish a plat-
form from which they can pursue their political
visions and advance particular causes, generally of
a social or environmental nature.
I am not an artist, but I have discovered that one can
express himself through a firm with its employees,
its networks, its projects and its logos....Bymak-
ing T-shirts in India, you are able to build schools. I
have already built nine schools; because you use
7,000 litres of water each day, you build recycling
facilities, and also we pursue social projects, ecolog-
ical ones; it is something that is coherent....Money
is just an engine for an entrepreneur, it is not a goal.
The goal is not to earn money, it is to have revenues
to pursue your projects, possibly to live well, but
one should not confuse ends and means. (R.C., sport
clothing firm founder)
Well, the goal is not to grow the firm and become
rich. Rather, we want to reach a point where we are
completely satisfied with the high level of sustain-
944 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
ability inherent in our products, from “cradle to
cradle.” Especially, we want to show to others that
better business processes are possible....In addi-
tion, we want to devote resources towards support-
ing the [name] foundation with the money we earn;
its goal is to support social and ecological projects.
My cofounder is already the president of this foun-
dation! (M.Z., sport clothing firm founder)
Missionaries live by the principle that their ac-
tions can positively affect the well-being of others
and seek to act in a responsible, transparent, and
empathetic manner to make the world “a better
place.” They view their firms as entities that engage
in activities that make “sense” and in this respect
self-evaluate their behaviors and actions through
their contribution to the social world and/or
“planet earth.” To advance their cause, missionar-
ies not only offer products but also see their whole
firm and the way in which business is conducted as
a role model for society.
A firm that succeeds is a firm that makes products
that make sense. When making a product, three
questions must be answered: (1) Why do we do it? If
it is for money, it is useless. (2) How do we do it? So,
under which conditions? (3) And where do we do it?
Traceability. For me, a firm that succeeds is a firm
that makes sense. Then, incidentally, it should not
lose money. (R.C., sport clothing firm founder)
I do not want to sell only an innovation, an innova-
tive product. I want to build a firm that is a social
model....This is a role model for an ethical busi-
ness—here and internationally. (B.B., sport shoe
firm founder)
Success means to me that I want to reach a large
number of people, make them realize what sustain-
able consumption in terms of clothing means. (M.S.
sport clothing firm founder)
Missionaries advocate new social practices that
they perceive as having universal scope. They be-
lieve that the purpose of their firm is to show that
alternative practices are feasible and to demon-
strate to society how the status quo can be changed
(e.g., the way society consumes its resources, the
way society engages with the planet). In this sense,
the “relevant other” for missionaries is not a par-
ticular group of individuals or firms but society
at large.
We absolutely need to save our planet, this topic
needs to be of primary concern to all of us!...I
have difficulties in defining a target group, it is
everyone—everyone is wearing clothes and every-
one should do so in a sustainable fashion....Inten
years, there should only be sustainable clothing!
(M.Z., Sport clothing firm founder)
Businessmen, they only see the short term. What
will decide the evolution of the society will be the
long term. We must reintroduce politics. We must
think in terms of civilization; we are only passing;
we are nothing; we must see things as a trend; all the
remaining is cosmetic. A coherent firm must under-
stand that money is just the oil for the engine. (R.C.,
sport clothing firm founder)
The Influence of a Founder’s Identity on New
Firm Creation
To reiterate the social identity theory argument,
when an identity is salient, it predicts the behav-
iors that an individual will adopt. Thus, in the
context of the present study, we would expect that,
for example, a founder with a communitarian iden-
tity would act in ways that match the particular
meanings he or she associates with being a firm
founder (Table 1). In keeping with this fundamen-
tal prediction from social identity theory, our find-
ings suggest that founders with different identities
differ systematically across the set of key entrepre-
neurial decisions that are explored in the present
study. Our findings are summarized in Tables 3
and 4 and are explained in greater detail below.
Founder Identity and Core Strategic Decisions in
New Firm Creation
Market segment(s) served. Our interviews indi-
cate that darwinian founders work at identifying
Quantitative Description of Founder Actions
Firm count 19 13 6 11
Market study prior to launch 11 0 4 7
Diversification within sports 12 4 3 4
Diversification outside sports 8 0 1 0
Salaried employment (beyond founder) 15 3 6 6
Marketing expenditures 13 0 6 6
Patented innovation 9 1 1 6
2011 945Fauchart and Gruber
the most profitable markets in their sport domains.
These founders typically produce equipment either
for the average customer in the mass market or for
a rapidly growing market segment. Although they
may start off in an inferior market segment, they
do not stick with it but keep on exploring other
Apart from the bicycle market, there seems to be
very professional market for HID search lights,
which means military or so-called law enforcement:
police, fire-fighters, those. (D.K., diving light firm
At the beginning we were thinking especially of
professional, high-level sports....Wetargeted the
equipment manufacturers and I think we were right
on this. This market is probably there; it exists....
However, there is another market that we think to-
day has a real demand: it is what we call the con-
firmed amateurs, which is made of sportsmen of
good level, open to new technologies, and ready to
buy equipment, including quite expensive ones.
(R.P., sport equipment firm founder)
In particular, darwinians believe it is a personal
strength that they are not deeply involved in the
sport for which they are selling equipment. For
instance, they claim that the immersion of commu-
nitarians in their sport and their close association
with their clientele make it harder to adopt an
objective view of the market and to identify addi-
tional, potentially more lucrative target markets
that provide opportunities for diversification and
growth (Penrose, 1959). As a case in point, quanti-
tative evidence obtained from our sample indicates
that darwinian founders pursue diversification op-
portunities much more often than do communitar-
ian founders (see Table 3).
Yes, but I truly love the product and I know it. But
the fact that I am not a keen biker allowed me to
really listen to many people, rather than drawing
from my own life. (B.V., bicycle firm founder)
[People who are very involved in the sport and who
create a business] are called “nerds.” They are so
specialized in their area, in their sport, so active in
a particular sport, they are blind to what sport the
general public needs. And that’s where many fail.
[They] can’t accept that you make your money with
the general public. (P.F., training equipment firm
When you listen to those people, you would think
the entire world consists of core customers....You
have to go away from that and go to a lower-level
mentality, to the normal general consumer, so to
speak. That is a very important process. I don’t have
any problems with that because I have always been
a consumer. (A.F., mountain bike firm founder)
The communitarian founders usually produce
for people who are like themselves, that is, users
who practice the sport in question regularly
(Franke & Shah, 2003; von Hippel, 1988). Unlike
darwinian founders, who typically conduct market
studies prior to launch (Table 3), they often do not
realize that a market exists until they have already
designed and made a prototype of their product for
themselves. Feedback from friends and other com-
munity members who try out the prototype and
then ask for it typically leads to the realization that
there is market demand and that a firm can be
created to satisfy that demand (Shah & Tripsas,
2007). Although some of these customers may be
sport professionals, most are intense amateurs who
are passionate about the sport.
Our customers are people who know us: profession-
als or passionate amateurs who are looking for an
original product. (J.B., ski firm founder)
[My customer] is either someone who skis very reg-
ularly despite work, or it’s someone who’s not a pro
in the etymological sense of the word, but who is
someone who’s going to spend all winter in the
snow. (S.P., ski firm founder)
Missionaries choose their market to be congruent
with their political vision; that is, they define it in
a way that promises to advance their cause in the
most powerful manner. For instance, as some of the
missionaries in our sample seek to change a general
consumption pattern in society, they address the
mass market and build a distribution system that
allows them to reach the average consumer.
Our market is basically everyone who wears sports
clothing, as everyone should wear sustainable
clothes! Hence, our products have a style that ap-
peals to the general public....Atthemoment we
sell our goods through our webshop, through agents
in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and through
distribution partners in other countries. (M.Z., sport
clothing firm founder)
What I seek to accomplish is to reach as many peo-
ple as possible and let them know the problems of
modern consumption and offer them an alternative
when it comes to their clothing. And we also plan
on doing the same with snowboards. (M.S., sport
clothing firm founder)
Customer needs addressed. The three types of
founders also diverge markedly in terms of the
customer needs that their firms address (Table 4).
Darwinians typically design a product that meets
customer needs already known to be important for
a wider audience, such as ease of use or safety
(Riggs & von Hippel, 1994). Addressing this kind of
need is consistent with darwinians’ motivation to
establish a profitable firm and to produce a com-
946 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
mercially appealing product. Thus, although their
products typically do not incorporate novel func-
tionalities, they may still represent an improve-
ment over what has been offered in the market-
Kids today don’t need to buy an 80–100 euros pair
of Nikes in order to walk, but they will buy them
because they want to because Nike has the ability to
make products that create the desire. This is a
strength that I believed in from the beginning . . .: if
they desire this product, well, then they’ll buy it.
[Interviewer: and what made this bike different from
the ones already on the market?]
It was a little bit about its look, the design, the
assembly. Yes, it was pretty. (M.C., bicycle firm
There is no innovation in the technology. The inno-
vation has to do with applying it to sports. I in-
vented nothing, I took existing tools, existing needs,
and applied these tools to these needs. (P.F., sport
equipment firm founder)
Communitarians usually create products that ad-
dress novel kinds of customer needs in their sport
domains. They often start by creating a product for
their own use because their own customer needs
are not satisfied by current market offerings. Hence,
their newly developed products often embody an
entirely new dimension of functionality that some-
times even opens up new practice areas in the
sport. The customer needs addressed with the new
product reflect those needs that the founder expe-
rienced himself and that led to the development of
the new product (Franke & von Hippel, 2003).
Yes it is me, I have invented that....Istudied at the
Hotel School in Glion and after having received our
diploma, we had two or three months without doing
anything and with friends we were living in a small
chalet in the mountains. There was no snow and we
were snowboarding on the grass. We were putting
water on the slope and, of course, it was not conve-
nient and we got bored. So I suggested something I
had had in mind for three years; well, to create a
BMX bike for snow. We made it during the night,
we cut a snowboard and used a part of a scooter
we had. We tinkered all night and in the morning
there was a snowscoot in front of the chalet! (F.P.,
snowscooter firm founder)
Missionaries offer products that are intended to
change the consumption patterns of customers to a
more environmentally friendly and/or socially re-
sponsible pattern. Thus, by buying the product of a
missionary founder, consumers not only fulfill
their basic needs but also show their responsibility
toward fellow citizens because consumers “vote”
with their consumption.
Founder Identity Types and Core Strategic Decisions in New Firm Creation
Decisions Darwinians Communitarians Missionaries
-Produce for the average consumer or for
quickly growing segments (the criteria
of likelihood and value drive the
choice of market served)
-Tend to serve additional segments over
time/extend applications to new
segments to achieve firm growth
-“Our customers are like us” (the
criterion of similarity drives the
choice of market served)
-Stick to initial segment
addressed because it is the only
place perceived as legitimate
-Produce for those consumers where
they expect the greatest social
impact; ultimately society is their
-May serve additional segments, if
this allows the firm to leverage its
socio-political mission
Customer needs
-Tend to address known dimensions of
merit (e.g., safety, ease-of-use)
-Derived from market analysis
-Tend to address novel kinds of
customer needs
-Derived from own needs
-Tend to address new social
practices (e.g., new modes of
consumption or production)
-Derived from what the founder
would like the world to become
and resources
-Focus on cost-effective and mass-
production methods (which are
necessary to reach profitability)
-International sourcing of production
capabilities (if needed)
-Value intellectual property rights
protection/help in achieving
business goals
-Tend to use highly
individualized and artisanal
production methods (products
often considered works of art)
-Reliance on personal capabilities
-Reluctance to use intellectual
property rights protection
within community/would run
counter to sharing values
-Focus on socially responsible
production methods
-Sourcing from suppliers that match
strict criteria (according to
-Demonstration of firm capabilities
to diffuse the exemplary model
2011 947Fauchart and Gruber
The more you buy and seek to use your so-called
buying power, the more the objects make your exis-
tence heavy. The more you have, the less you are.
Look around you. People ask one another, “Does
that shirt suit me well?” instead of asking “Are you
feeling well? No?” It is incredible! And what I do is
that I sell clothes that make sense. (R.C., sport cloth-
ing firm founder)
We want to educate consumers, show them what it
means to buy clothes in a more responsible and
sustainable manner. Here, the topic of sustainability
should be of concern to everyone—just like it is
already with other everyday topics such as clean
driving or responsible food supply. (M.S., sport
clothing firm founder)
Capabilities and resources deployed to pro-
duce goods. Darwinians, communitarians, and
missionaries also differ markedly with regard to the
capabilities and resources deployed to produce
their goods (Table 4). Corresponding to their strong
interest in firm profit, darwinians focus on cost-
effective, mass production methods, often out-
sourcing production to factories in low-wage na-
tions. They tend to protect their production
processes and designs so they can shield them-
selves from competing firms.
But we knew that if we increased the volume, we’d
buy cheaper....Andweareonly now four years in,
finding solutions that will allow us to lower the
prices, but that’s normal—that’s entirely normal.
The first four years are pretty much brand develop-
ment and product development. Then there’s a
given moment when you begin to really turn a
profit. (S.R., ski firm founder)
Thus, we have the whole production department
centralized in Taiwan, where many parts are man-
ufactured nowadays because of market require-
ments; therefore, our bikes are put together there
and also distributed from there. (M.C., bike firm
I just think we are very exciting because we are
backed by lots and lots of patents, which makes it so
much more thrilling....Andifyouspend 180,000
euros on patents alone, like we have done, then you
are talking about a serious business. (F.B., mountain
bike firm founder)
In contrast, communitarians tend to use highly
individualized, artisanal production methods.
They typically consider their products works of art
and pay a great deal of attention to each unit pro-
duced. Moreover, as communitarians value the ex-
change with fellow enthusiasts, they believe that
preventing others from using their ideas (produc-
tion processes, designs, etc.) may inhibit progress
in the field.
What happens in a major brand is, the guy is making
powder boards; they’re going to make a mold, and
there’s a guy paid minimum wage to make a mold,
and—boom—in a week, the whole stock is in. What
I think people like, with me, is the artisan side of it,
the manual, personal aspect. I make each board my-
self; I know what goes into every board. I apply
myself to that because my biggest nightmare is get-
ting a return. I really don’t want someone coming to
me saying, “Shit, I bought this board last week, and
there’s something wrong with it. This came un-
glued.” That’s horrible for me. (K.K., snowboard
firm founder)
I’m more into a sharing logic. Everything I do, all
you have to do is go to my site to see I’ve got total
transparence: how I lay my fibers, where I lay them,
my suppliers—it’s all told. (S.P., ski firm founder)
With this type of product you cannot be the only one
to make it, otherwise it is not a sport anymore. If you
want you can try to protect your product, but you
should not prevent the others from doing similar
products. (F.P., snowscooter firm founder)
Following the ideal of creating a socially/envi-
ronmentally responsible firm, missionary founders
take great care in building production capabilities
and resources that can serve as exemplars for “bet-
ter” practices and thus have the potential to inspire
a more widespread adoption in their industry and
beyond. Applying a holistic understanding of what
it means to be a responsible producer, they spend
much effort on finding suppliers that share their
world view and principles, and invest in building
long-term relationships.
We take extreme care in establishing production
processes that meet or exceed the strictest environ-
mental criteria, we want to be the role model....
Unfortunately, there are firms that simply pretend
that they are concerned about the environment, the
so-called “greenwashers”...they do the bare min-
imum in order to advertise with that. (M.Z., sport
clothing firm founder)
It starts from an idea that we want to have clean
suppliers. And to have suppliers that are clean, you
have to have long-term relationships because we
ask them to make a certain number of investments
and so you cannot do what they call cherry-pick-
ing....What we are doing is that we are looking for
some people who are in the same spirit as us....It
has to be long-term negotiations. When they say,
“Not now, I cannot,” you believe them; you are not
trying to economize on the last penny....We do
group sessions with the suppliers...andwework
on themes like sustainable development. We have
lessons that are organized every two or three years to
talk about family planning, condoms, working con-
ditions—all that is necessary for sustainable devel-
opment. (D.A., manager, supplies and product
948 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
It is important to note that in the darwinian and
communitarian cases, the choice of the firm’s sup-
pliers was largely unaffected by the founder’s iden-
tity. Although communitarian founders focused on
artisanal production methods, some of them pur-
chased their materials from the same sources as
their darwinian counterparts, and they also applied
a primarily cost-benefit logic when making pur-
chasing decisions. This observation gives rise to a
more fundamental one, as our findings indicate
that identity will affect only those strategic deci-
sions that are identity-relevant along the dimen-
sions of the meanings that the individual associates
with being a founder. In other words, if a particular
strategic decision is unrelated to these meanings,
founders will base decisions on some standard cri-
teria they are aware of—such as the aforementioned
cost-benefit logic in the case of communitarians.
Extension to the Analysis: Hybrid Identities and
the Role of Founding Teams
To provide a clean illustration of our findings,
the analysis has thus far focused on the three pure
types of identities found in our sample. Beyond
these pure types, our sample also contains 11 indi-
viduals with what we call a hybrid founder iden-
tity, one that combines elements of the pure types
(Table 1). Most of these hybrid founder identities in
our sample are characterized by a combination of
meanings from the communitarian identity and the
darwinian identity, and our analysis suggests two
main ways in which this combining seems to occur.
First, the founder has a background that combines
business experience with community experience.
For example, one such founder had worked at a
large ski firm before starting his own firm while
also enjoying his membership and his status in the
sports community. Second, it seems that external
pressures drive the founder to make concessions to
appeal to investors, who typically demand high
levels of financial performance. In terms of their
core strategic decisions, our analysis indicates that
founders with hybrid identities evolve in many
different and—from an identity perspective—hard-
to-predict directions. For instance, in the case of
founders who combine elements of the communi-
tarian and the darwinian identities, we found that
they sometimes base their strategic decisions on
meanings associated with one of the identities, or
that a particular strategic decision combines the
meanings of both identities.
Our sample also contains firms that were estab-
lished by a team of founders, rather than an indi-
vidual. These cases provide some insight into the
role of multiple founder identities in new firm cre-
ation (cf. Drnovsek, Cardon, & Murnieks, 2009).
Specifically, by distinguishing cases of homoge-
neous and heterogeneous founder teams, our data
analysis suggests that individuals who share the
same type of identity will behave and act in a
highly consistent manner when setting up their
firms. For instance, in the communitarian cases, we
saw that the prospective founders typically met
each other while performing the sport and thought
it would be interesting to start a firm because of
shared aspirations to pursue their passion for the
sport and contribute to the community. Our data
also contain a few cases in which the founders have
different types of identities and differing notions
about what goals the firm should pursue, which
activities it should undertake, and so on. These
different views were often the subject of intense
negotiation between the founders, so divergent
identities can be a major source of conflict within a
founding team. Oddly enough, founding teams in
our sample usually were not aware that the root of
their conflict lay in their divergent social identities
but believed the conflicts to be simple differences
in opinion. For instance, in one of the ski firms we
examined, the founding team was comprised of a
communitarian and a darwinian who had repeated
disagreements about the way in which the skis
should be manufactured and marketed. Ultimately,
the darwinian founder left the business and went to
work in the soft drink industry, and the communi-
tarian founder launched a new ski firm. Comment-
ing on his former darwinian colleague, the commu-
nitarian noted:
I think it stemmed from a lot of discontent on the
manufacturing and administrative side of the busi-
ness. Not to put words in his mouth, but he became
increasingly more frustrated with production, out-
put, and administrative response from our supplier.
He decided he had grown weary and frustrated with
manufacturing and wanted to leave the partnership.
I do not know what he will do. But I will continue to
build skis here. (S.D., ski firm founder)
We began this study by noting that classical en-
trepreneurship theory portrays the prospect of
monetary gain as the primary motivation for creat-
ing a new firm. Our findings critically extend this
conception, as founders in our sample could fre-
quently be classified as belonging to one of three
pure social identity types, with each of these types
associating distinct meanings with their entrepre-
neurial activities: darwinians, who have a type of
identity that we would expect to dominate in in-
dustry settings, given the norm for what it means to
2011 949Fauchart and Gruber
be a successful firm founder in a competitive mar-
ket system; communitarians, who deviate in funda-
mental ways from the darwinian norm by viewing
their firms as social objects; and missionaries, who
also deviate from the darwinian model by seeing
their firms as political objects.
Beyond documenting the existence of these pure
types of founder identities and describing their fea-
tures, our study provides evidence of how these
identities are reflected in distinct entrepreneurial
behaviors, actions, and outcomes. In particular, our
analysis provides detailed examples that indicate
stark differences along several core strategic dimen-
sions of new firm creation, thereby illustrating how
founders seek to behave and act in ways that are
consistent with their self-concepts.
Although our findings offer a number of impor-
tant insights into the field of entrepreneurship, one
of the main contributions of the present study is a
novel typology that provides a multidimensional
conceptualization of firm founders (cf. Table 2), as
well as a powerful explanation for why founders
with different types of identities make vastly dif-
ferent decisions in new firm creation (cf. Table 4).
To clarify the implications that the proposed typol-
ogy may have for theory development in entrepre-
neurship and related research, it is important to
assess whether the relevance of the three pure
founder identity types is likely to extend beyond
the current empirical context and how the pro-
posed typology relates to existing typologies in en-
First, in terms of the typology’s empirical rele-
vance, we cannot necessarily expect all three
founder identities to be of equal importance in all
industries. The results of this study suggest that
founders with darwinian identities are more com-
mon than founders with communitarian or mis-
sionary identities. Specifically, we estimate that in
most industries, founders with missionary identi-
ties are the rarest, because of the inherent tension
between pursuing a political mission and ensuring
firm survival. As an illustration for our typology
that reaches beyond the area of sports, consider
banking, one of the most traditional economic sec-
tors in which all three types coexist. Banks founded
by darwinians represent most banks in modern
economies, yet it seems reasonable to speculate
that many countries contain a nonnegligible num-
ber of communitarian banks whose founders want
to build better and sustainable local communities
by, for example, offering employment opportuni-
ties for local residents, keeping local capital in the
communities, providing a local investment option
for shareholders, and funding community proj-
ects—in addition to providing quality banking ser-
As in the sports-related equipment industry,
it seems likely that missionary founders represent
the rarest type of founder in the banking industry.
Consider the example of the Alternative Bank of
Switzerland, founded by several individuals who
were active in ecological and social movements.
Being aware of the responsibility banks have in the
functioning of modern economies and questioning
the predominant economic logic encountered in
banking, the founders established a new type of
bank that follows universal principles of social re-
spect, pursues ecological responsibility and trans-
parency in its operations, and plays an active role
in the ecological and social transformation of the
national economy (König & Wespe, 2006).
As for founders with hybrid identities, it seems
that such individuals may be fairly common in
most industry settings and that they may become
even more prevalent in coming years, given the
increasing demands placed on traditional business
firms to internalize social and environmental re-
sponsibility. In a globalized world, nations and
groups of nations are faced with declining capaci-
ties to establish market frameworks that guide eco-
nomic behavior (Scherer & Palazzo, 2007). In this
vein, as Sachs suggested, “Each company needs to
be part of the solution and needs to stretch its
activities beyond normal market activities. This
does not mean to turn the company upside down or
into a charitable institution, but rather to identify
the unique contribution the company may make as
part of a broader effort to solve a major social chal-
lenge” (2008: 321). These solutions may manifest
themselves in a variety of business initiatives, in-
cluding corporate social entrepreneurship pro-
grams (Hemingway, 2005).
The missionary founder identity identified in our
research may remind readers of the “missionary organi-
zation” described by Mintzberg (1989). Looking at the
approaches that these organizations pursue to fulfill their
missions, Mintzberg identified three different forms: “re-
formers,” “converters,” and “cloister missionaries.” Fu-
ture inquiry into the approaches that the missionary
founders identified in our research use to pursue their
missions may uncover similar forms. We thus might be
able to establish a link between findings based on the
application of social identity theory in entrepreneurship
and Mintzberg’s observations.
In this vein, the frequently used term “community
bank” does not necessarily refer to an institution with a
communitarian approach to banking; community banks
often follow purely darwinian business principles.
950 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
Second, in terms of its relationship to other ty-
pologies, the conceptual framework that appears to
be most closely related to the one developed in the
present study is the “growth vs. lifestyle ventures”
typology (e.g., Morris, Schindehutte, & Allen,
2005). In this typology, “growth ventures” are char-
acterized by a founder’s strong aspirations for
wealth creation, whereas the founders of “lifestyle
ventures” aim at generating sufficient personal in-
come to pursue other goals in their lives that they
deem more important. Beyond observing that this
typology neither draws on a distinct theoretical
base nor specifies how the aspirations of founders
manifest themselves in their strategic decisions,
one may, prima facie, be tempted to perceive some
resemblance between the darwinian firms and the
growth-oriented ventures on one hand, and be-
tween the communitarian firms and the lifestyle
ventures on the other. This perception may be fu-
eled by the fact that we studied founders in the
sports-related equipment industry, a domain that
has some natural association with lifestyle. How-
ever, from a social identity perspective, lifestyle,
along with other goals, can be a goal in the “utility
function” of any type of entrepreneur; in fact, our
data indicate that lifestyle considerations play a
role with a number of founders of all types. For
instance, some darwinians choose to live in small
alpine villages so they can enjoy a desired lifestyle
(spending time on the slopes, in nature, etc.) and
run their firms at the same time. In the aforemen-
tioned example of the banking industry, although
all three types of founder identities seem to coexist,
given the nature of banking, one would not be
tempted to think of lifestyle as important to any of
the three. Hence, although they appear to be re-
lated, the growth versus lifestyle typology and the
social identity typology lead to examination of en-
trepreneurship from different vantage points and,
as a consequence, the two typologies offer distinct
contributions to the literature.
Furthermore, our typology of founder identities
and the associated insights on what it means to be
an entrepreneur can be related to the domain of
political philosophy, a domain characterized by a
long and profound discourse on what it means to be
a “human agent, a person, or a self” (Taylor, 1989:
3). In fact, scholars of political philosophy often
distinguish among three fundamental conceptions
of human nature (Beitz, 1979; Taylor, 1989) that
show intriguing parallels with the three founder
identity types identified in the present study: the
atomistic self, the communitarian self, and the cos-
mopolitan self.
First, following Hobbes (1651/1962), one way of
conceiving of human nature is to see a person as a
wolf to another person. In this view, the individual
is an “atomistic self” who is self-sufficient, outside
society, independent, and focused on the pursuit of
private interest, and for whom social relationships
are driven primarily by rivalry (Rawls, 1971).
A second way of conceiving of human nature is
to see a person as a situated self—that is, a com-
munitarian self. In this view, “Man is by nature a
member of a community [and a] social ani-
mal...because he is not self-sufficient outside a
polis” (Taylor, 1985: 190; see also Sandel, 1981).
Individuals are shaped by the values of their com-
munity, want to nurture their relationships with
their community, and believe that they have obli-
gations toward it (Kymlicka, 1989; MacIntyre,
1995; Walzer, 1983).
Finally, a third way of conceiving of human na-
ture is to see a person as a citizen of the world,a
concept framed by Diogenes of Sinope (Laërtius,
1925), and thus as a “cosmopolitan self” who is a
member of a single, universal human community in
which all are subject to the same moral standards
(Kant, 1795/2003). In this view, the task of world
citizens is to “make all human beings more like our
fellow city dwellers” (Hierocles, quoted in Nuss-
baum, 1997: 9; also see Levinas, 1990; Pogge, 1992).
Implications for Entrepreneurship Research
The results presented in this article can inform
theory development in entrepreneurship in several
ways. Most generally, our findings suggest that so-
cial identity theory has the potential to serve as a
valuable platform from which to expand general
understanding of entrepreneurship. This approach
establishes a common frame of reference for ex-
plaining the different meanings that founders asso-
ciate with the creation of a new firm—notably,
meanings that reach well beyond the classical view
that founders are driven primarily by the prospects
of personal monetary gain (e.g., Schumpeter, 1942).
Furthermore, as individuals strive for behaviors
and actions that are consistent with their identity,
the social identity approach helps to explain why
founders choose to pursue particular behaviors and
actions in new firm creation, thereby providing
novel insights into stark differences among differ-
ent firms’ creation processes and outcomes.
The link between founder identity on the one
hand and behaviors and actions on the other seems
to be particularly tight in the case of communitar-
ian and missionary identities, given that behaviors
and actions common to these types of identities
form a relatively small subset of all potential ac-
tions that may be pursued when creating a new
firm. The meanings internalized by darwinians are
2011 951Fauchart and Gruber
somewhat more abstract, suggesting a larger scope
of potential actions; however, for a variety of rea-
sons, darwinian founders also restrict themselves
to a subset of potential actions when setting up a
firm. For instance, their pursuit of only “profes-
sional” approaches and their strong profit and
growth orientations lead them to discard some mar-
ket segments, some types of production processes,
and more radical innovations. Therefore, a found-
er’s social identity establishes an important re-
strictive corridor, because only some behaviors
and actions are considered appropriate in entre-
preneurship and not others—a circumstance that
could also be a fundamental source of conflict
when a team of founders is composed of individ-
uals with different identities.
In this regard, it seems unfortunate that scholars’
understanding of many topics in entrepreneurship,
such as the choice of a firm’s target market or its
resource deployment strategies, relies largely on
the assumption that founders make decisions in a
calculating manner (e.g., by applying cost-benefit
analyses or analyzing market attractiveness using a
range of indicators). The findings presented in this
study suggest a more nuanced view of entrepre-
neurial decision making in that the sampled found-
ers frequently applied criteria related to how well
decisions matched their identities. Therefore, fu-
ture studies may revisit some of the earlier findings
on decision making in entrepreneurship from this
The findings of this study also enrich under-
standing of the early stage of entrepreneurial op-
portunity identification. Specifically, we have seen
that individuals who have a particular identity
identify and exploit opportunities along major di-
mensions (such as target market and the resources
utilized to cater to that market) that are systemati-
cally different from those identified by individuals
with other types of identities. Furthermore, we
have observed fundamental differences in the type
of value creation potential that individuals associ-
ate with their opportunities, as darwinians look for
opportunities that will lead to personal monetary
gain, but communitarians strive for opportunities
that will allow them to support and be supported
by their community. Missionaries look for oppor-
tunities that have the potential to advance their
cause. Hence, it seems that, because identity serves
as a cognitive frame for interpreting experience and
because identity increases sensitivity to certain
cues for behavior, founders perceive as opportuni-
ties only those situations that are consistent with
their self-concepts as they strive for identity-rele-
vant actions in creating their new firms. Thus, an
individual’s identity can be considered a key factor
in opportunity identification that is separate from
other factors discussed in the literature, such as
prior knowledge, different access to information,
and different cognitive abilities (Shane, 2003;
Shane & Venkataraman, 2000). Furthermore, our
findings suggest that the identity-based affinity to a
particular opportunity may explain why some
founders do not take alternative, perhaps finan-
cially more attractive opportunities into account
when they create new firms (Gruber, MacMillan, &
Thompson, 2008).
Along these lines, the results of this study also
offer intriguing insights on the different concep-
tions of firm performance that founders with differ-
ent types of identities associate with new firm cre-
ation. Darwinians view the financial performance
of their firms as their primary measure of success;
communitarians are mainly interested in support-
ing and in being supported by a particular commu-
nity, and they derive strong personal satisfaction
from being a useful and respected community
member. For their part, missionaries are primarily
interested in seeing that their political vision is
followed, supported, and implemented by as many
people as possible, so that the world can become a
“better place” according to their mission. Hence,
empirical studies as well as theories building on
the conventional assumption that founders engage
in new firm creation to achieve strong financial
performance outcomes could, to some extent, be
This study also has interesting implications for
research on entrepreneurial teams (Wright &
Vanaelst, 2009), because most research on this
topic examines demographic characteristics, such
as the educational background of team members, to
assess heterogeneity within founding teams (e.g.,
Franke, Gruber, Harhoff, & Henkel, 2008). Our re-
sults indicate that heterogeneity in founders’ iden-
tity seems to be an important team dimension that
to date has largely gone unnoticed in this area of
research. Looking at our data, we found it particu-
larly intriguing to observe that such heterogeneity
can be a fundamental source of team conflict, al-
though a team of founders may themselves simply
view their ongoing conflict as recurring differences
of opinion. Likewise, it seems that homogeneity on
the identity dimension can be a fundamental
source of positive energy and enthusiasm in entre-
preneurial teams.
Overall, this discussion indicates that the iden-
tity concept can lead to valuable insights on a
variety of topics that are core to the field of
entrepreneurship. Hence, from a methodological
perspective, researchers may want to develop
952 OctoberAcademy of Management Journal
scales with which to measure the identities of
firm founders to make the identity concept acces-
sible for large-scale empirical studies.
Implications for Related Literature
The results of our study also have implications
for the related literature on organizations and stra-
tegic management. First, our results add to research
on upper echelons (Finkelstein et al., 2009) by
showing how an agent’s social identity is reflected
in firm-level outcomes and, more generally, by il-
lustrating how the social identity approach can
help to explain organizational features. Specifi-
cally, because this approach emphasizes the impor-
tance of the social dimension in a person’s concept
of self, it can enrich current conceptualizations of
human agents in upper echelons research by high-
lighting the social meanings that humans attach to
their work-related activities.
Second, our findings provide novel insights for
the literature on organizational imprinting (Baron,
Hannan, & Burton, 1999; Boeker, 1988). This liter-
ature has focused on how a founder’s pre-entry
knowledge imprints an emerging organization. Al-
though the importance of pre-entry knowledge en-
dowments has been the subject of considerable the-
oretical and empirical research, we are unaware of
any study that highlights the fundamental influ-
ence that the founder’s identity can have on a
new firm.
Finally, our findings offer novel insights into the
ways in which firm heterogeneity arises in a par-
ticular industry (Zott, 2003) by highlighting the
role of founder social identity as an important
source of firm-level differences in a particular in-
dustry. These insights can also inform understand-
ing of the origins of competitive advantage, the
persistence of financially underperforming firms
(Gimeno, Folta, Cooper, & Woo, 1997), and the
different types of individual-level utility functions
in business settings (Podolny & Scott Mor-
ton, 2002).
Limitations and Opportunities for Future
In studying firm founders in the sports-related
equipment industry using a sampling strategy de-
signed to maximize heterogeneity, this research
identified three pure types of founder identities, as
well as hybrid forms. However, in spite of cross-
checks in other industry settings that provided ev-
idence in support of our results, more research is
needed to ascertain whether the findings of this
study can be more broadly generalized.
In addition, the patterns that emerged in this
research must be interpreted within the limitations
of a cross-sectional, exploratory research design,
particularly its inability to determine directions of
causality. The development of one’s social identity
is typically a long-term process that begins with
social observations made in childhood (Turner,
1968). In support of this notion, the limited data we
collected on the founders’ biographies suggest that
the differences in their identities had emerged early
in their lives. For instance, as an expression of their
identity, darwinian founders often chose to obtain
an education in management or economics before
embarking on their entrepreneurial careers, but
communitarians and missionaries often studied in
technology fields prior to launching their firms.
However, the founders we interviewed, like most
people, tended to reinforce and question their iden-
tities over the course of their careers because expe-
riences in the social sphere and the types of social
contracts in which they engage are fundamental to
their sense of self (Brewer & Gardner, 1996). Hence,
the founders’ behaviors and actions we observed
were likely to have resulted from their identities,
but their actions are also likely to have influenced
their identities via feedback received from the so-
cial environment. Yet, since the three pure types of
founder identities are associated with distinct
meanings that represent individual self-concept
and are based on very different worldviews, it
seems unlikely that their firms’ actions and the
founders’ subsequent observations of the associ-
ated outcomes would lead to the formation of these
distinct identities. However, since we cannot fully
rule out such a pattern in the present research,
in-depth biographical or longitudinal research proj-
ects would be useful in clarifying the causal rela-
tionships and feedback loops among the aforemen-
tioned concepts. For instance, future research
could study how a founder’s identity initially de-
velops, how social identity influences the specific
kinds of knowledge to which one is exposed, and
how such exposure may reinforce or challenge
one’s self-concept.
In this study, we looked at social identity on the
individual level, and at how it affects the firms
founders create, but our research raises interesting
questions about the critical link between individu-
al-level identity and firm-level identity (Barney et
al., 1998; Whetten & Godfrey, 1998). Preliminary
insights gathered from our data suggest two main
mechanisms through which the founder’s identity
shapes a firm’s identity as the founder strives for
identity-relevant actions on the firm level: (1) the
2011 953Fauchart and Gruber
founder’s hiring practices (which lay the founda-
tion for the firm’s organizational identity) and (2)
the founder’s activities in establishing the firm’s
outward presentation (which lay the foundation for
the firm’s corporate identity). For instance, our data
suggest that communitarian founders typically hire
other communitarians to ensure that their organi-
zation acts in ways congruent with the meanings of
their own identity. However, there are also cases in
which darwinians deliberately deviate from their
own identity by establishing a different type of
identity—particularly a communitarian one—for
their firms. In other words, it seems that a commu-
nitarian (missionary) identity on the individual
level is typically reflected in the same type of iden-
tity on the firm level, but not every communitarian
(missionary) firm identity is associated with the
same type of individual identity.
Another research opportunity would arise from
viewing our findings in conjunction with Cardon
and colleagues (2009), a study focused on entrepre-
neurs’ identity claims in terms of their preferred
roles within the entrepreneurial process (such as
launching the firm). Since our study made founder
social identity the focal study subject, when both
studies are viewed in combination, it seems that
the process-oriented role identities described by
Cardon and colleagues may function within each of
the three types of founders’ social identities iden-
tified in our study. Hence, future research could
attempt to integrate both identity concepts to fur-
ther refine researchers’ understanding of the effects
of founder identity on emerging firms.
The findings of the present research may also be
relevant to research on family businesses. For in-
stance, researchers may want to explore the identi-
ties of founders and their successors in such busi-
nesses, since divergence in the identities of
members of two generations may be an important
source of conflict and may explain why family
firms are run differently after their founders pass
the firms on to the next generation.
Finally, the results of the present study can serve
as a promising point of departure for an investiga-
tion of the mid to long-term financial performance
of new ventures founded by individuals with dif-
ferent types of identities. In this vein, one may
speculate that, although firms established by com-
munitarians are not founded with the objective of
creating financial wealth, at least some of these
firms may become growth businesses as their com-
munities grow. Similarly, missionary firms may ex-
perience significant growth once their missions are
more widely acknowledged in society.
Social identity theory has acquired the status of a
key concept in describing and explaining individ-
ual behavior and action (Gioia, 1998), yet knowl-
edge of the role of founder identity in entrepreneur-
ial processes and outcomes is in its very early
stages. Beyond providing a compelling explanation
for why founders who operate in a particular in-
dustry setting establish different types of firms and
pursue particular actions, and not others, the
strength of the social identity approach lies in its
ability to clarify the different meanings that found-
ers associate with new firm creation. Hence, by
helping scholars to better understand “what it
means to be an entrepreneur,” the application of
social identity theory to entrepreneurship provides
the opportunity to obtain fundamental insights into
founders and their entrepreneurial endeavors.
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Emmanuelle Fauchart ( is an affil-
iated member of the laboratory of econometrics of the
Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris and
an associate professor at the Business School, Lausanne.
She received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris 1
Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research interests include
norms-based intellectual property systems, innovation
strategies and regimes, the role of innovation and entre-
preneurship in industry dynamics, and the collective
strategies of communities of firms.
Marc Gruber ( is a full professor at
the College of Management of Technology at the École
Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He received
his Ph.D. from the University of St. Gallen and his habil-
itation from the Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich.
His research examines the processes underlying new
firm creation, entrepreneurial opportunity identification,
and technology commercialization.
2011 957Fauchart and Gruber
... However, though founders are typically driven by convictions and purpose (Barba-Sánchez & Atienza-Sahuquillo, 2017;Murnieks et al., 2019), creating a self-sustaining organisational climate also requires the ability to engage and include employees in this endeavour. Both the founder of the company and the organisational climate created in an early phase may leave an enduring mark on the evolving organisation (Baron, 2007;Baron et al., 1999;Fauchart & Gruber, 2011;Kelly et al., 2000;Marquis & Tilcsik, 2013). As such, the initial green ambitions and the dynamics of the founding team could have long-lasting consequences on environmental practice. ...
... The values and ideas of the founder may determine the fundamental strategic direction and provide the basis of the organisational climate (Fauchart & Gruber, 2011;Felin & Knudsen, 2012;Frese & Gielnik, 2014;Kuenzi & Schminke, 2009). In general, values-often defined as guiding principles (Schwartz, 1992;Schwartz et al., 2012)-may affect a broad spectrum of proenvironmental behaviours, because they are stable over time and across situations (Florea et al., 2013;Ruepert et al., 2017). ...
... To further investigate the effect of founder motivation on green climate and environmental behaviour, future studies are advised to explore these phenomena in larger samples. In addition, it would be interesting to relate motivational categories to research on founder identities, which has also been shown to influence business formation (Fauchart & Gruber, 2011;Wagenschwanz & Belz, 2017). Founder identity has been found to play a significant role in explaining social entrepreneurship in particular (Wagenschwanz & Belz, 2017), indicating that founder identity is highly relevant for green entrepreneurship. ...
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This study explores the psychology of green entrepreneurship and the role of the founder in establishing a green climate in organisations. The study examined the process of founding an environmentally sustainable organisational climate in small-scale Norwegian manufacturing companies. Focus group interviews were conducted and questionnaires were distributed in the field; subsequently, the founders participated in an in-depth follow-up interview to explore the evolving elements of the green climate. Thematic analysis revealed that the founders’ environmental focus had different origins, indicative of four motivational categories: opposition, frugality, activism and idealism. The founders played a crucial role in influencing employee green behaviour through both supervision and direct behavioural instructions. Moreover, the participants frequently mentioned the practical aspects of the environmental focus, while values and strategies were generally tacit. The findings indicate that the founders’ motivational position determined the trajectory of the development of a green climate.
... 4. There are different types of entrepreneurs namely Darwinian, Communitarian, and Missionary. Darwinian entrepreneurs are influenced by principles of causation whereby the interest in creating a comfortable living for themselves is used as a basis for doing business to make money (Fauchart and Gruber 2011;Alsos et al. 2016:12). In contrast, Communitarian entrepreneurs are motivated by principles of effectuation whereby doing business is primarily based on helping their community (Alsos et al. 2016:5). ...
... In contrast, Communitarian entrepreneurs are motivated by principles of effectuation whereby doing business is primarily based on helping their community (Alsos et al. 2016:5). Missionaries are inspired by principles of causation but differ from Darwinians because they are more interested in advancing a social cause than making profit (Fauchart and Gruber 2011;Alsos et al. 2016:19). Another category is that of social entrepreneurs. ...
... Scholars have further distinguished more categories of entrepreneurs namely Darwinians who do business primarily for a comfortable living, Communitarians who, while making profit, are inspired to help their communities, and Missionaries whose businesses are not primarily focused on profit but rather on advancing a social cause (Fauchart and Gruber 2011;Alsos et al. 2016:5, 12, 19;Welter et al. 2017: 313). However, the fact that profit is their shared feature, they all belong to the main category of traditional entrepreneurs. ...
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This study used social identity theory as an analytical frame and mixed methods involving qualitative and quantitative approaches to investigate whether the influence of Neo-Pentecostal Communities had facilitated identity transformation after conversion and subsequently contributed to business success among the Pentecostal Entrepreneurs of Lilongwe in Malawi. The qualitative part of this study engaged hermeneutical phenomenology to theoretically describe the identity attributes of the participants that had contributed to success of their businesses and how they had acquired them. The participants were Neo-Pentecostal Entrepreneurs in the small business category whose businesses had been successful in terms of growth of capital base and survivability for at least 6 years. Entrepreneurs with similar features but not affiliated with any stream of Pentecostalism also participated in this study to determine whether there was a difference. Results show evidence of the influence of Neo-Pentecostal communities on identity transformation. The quantitative part used statistics to test validity of the effect of Pentecostalism on the identity attributes that had contributed to business success among the participants. This study does not only help to explain the role of religion in development, but also sets the tone for rigorous missiological research to contribute to development theory and practice.
... Hence, we also focus on the individual identity level. At the same time, we recognise that the individual identities of founders, who often work in coworking spaces in the early-stage of their ventures, may also impact their ventures (Bouncken and Tiberius 2021;Fauchart and Gruber 2011;Foy and Gruber 2021;Sieger et al. 2016). ...
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Based on thirty interviews conducted in ten coworking spaces in Amsterdam and Paris, we ask whether and how members of coworking spaces engage in identity play, and what mechanisms related to space seem to enable such identity play. We identify four types of spatial mechanisms members and hosts of coworking spaces claim to create or engage in, and show how these relate to experimentation with professional identity. In so doing, we highlight possible material and spatial aspects of identity play. This paper contributes to the literature on identity play by drawing attention to the physicality and constitutive nature of the holding spaces necessary for identity play, and to research on coworking spaces by drawing attention to their possible identity effects.
... Finally, the most recent addition to the lean startup framework is the "Market Opportunity Navigator" developed by Gruber and Tal (Gruber & Tal, 2017) based on years of entrepreneurship research (Fauchart & Gruber, 2011;Gruber, Kim, & Brinckmann, 2015;Gruber, MacMillan, & Thompson, 2008). This tool helps entrepreneurs to figure out where to start the search for their business opportunity. ...
Conference Paper
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Using an action-research case study of a prominent telecom incumbent that established a moonshot factory, whose one of three missions was to explore distant and uncertain transformational bets to re-think digitally-enabled massive mental healthcare provision, we uncover and ad-dress the epistemological limitations of the lean startup heuristic in addressing such ‘wicked problems’ and related bets, involving heterogeneous, multiple stakeholders, operating at different time scales. We derived a novel epistemologically grounded and design-led framework for entrepreneurial renewal through corporate moonshot design and acceleration, i.e., wicked acceleration that might be applicable in different industrial contexts. In so doing, we extend the design science-based lean startup heuristic and contribute to the streams on design and entrepreneurship, experimentation vs. transformation, and corporate innovation acceleration to address wicked challenges.
... While founders engage in the strategic actions that are consistent with their identities (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011), the effectiveness of firm activities and corresponding outcomes is dependent on the attention given to a particular domain (Eggers and Kaplan, 2009). Recent research emphasizes the importance of fit between passion and activities necessary for the venture stage (Boone, Andries and Clarysse, 2020). ...
Full-text available
In this paper, we examine the differential effects of entrepreneurial passion (EP) on product innovation intensity through the mediating mechanisms of exploration and exploitation activities. Using time-lagged data from 260 new ventures from Ghana, we examine the direct relationships between the three domains of EP (i.e., inventing, developing and founding) and a new venture’s product innovation intensity (PII). Further, we test the indirect relationships between the three domains of EP and PII through the mediating mechanisms of a new venture’s exploration and exploitation activities. The empirical results provide a fine-grained understanding of the relationship between EP, exploration and exploitation activities and PII. Implications for theory and practice are also discussed.
Purpose High-tech start-up creation is associated with complex challenges originating from quick transformations in technologies and markets. To raise start-up survival and success chances, founders need to ensure a rapid conversion of a venture idea into a working business. This paper aims to explore how identity-related characteristics of founders influence the speed of the start-up creation process. Design/methodology/approach For this study, a longitudinal multiple-case-study design was selected to identify a vivid flow of decisions and actions taken by high-tech start-ups for analysis in depth. Over 20 months, a series of interviews were organized with founders of six start-ups located in the same business incubator in Russia. Also, a set of additional data sources was engaged, including publicly available data and internal documents provided by businesses. Findings The findings reveal contrasting dynamics of start-up creation processes among founders with differing role identities. Identity fit and identity misfit are suggested to be serious pull and push factors in the process of organizational becoming through the impact they have on the situational regulatory focus of founders. Originality/value The current research contributes to the entrepreneurship stream of research by extending the knowledge of how cognition affects the process of new venture creation.
Entrepreneurship is becoming one of Spain's economic driving forces. The Triple Bottom Line concept has gained notoriety in the last 30 years, creating a theoretical framework that justifies the measuring of the organizations' results not only economically, but also socially and environmentally, which has raised the awareness of the need to add Corporate Social Responsibility to the organizations' strategies. The goals of this study are to analyse the current state of entrepreneurship in Spain, to link entrepreneurship with CSR and to establish which aspects of CSR can be challenging for entrepreneurs.
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Background: Previous work on entrepreneurial intention suggests that intention does not necessarily lead to entrepreneurial action; this is referred to in the literature as the entrepreneurial intention-action gap. Current entrepreneurship literature has focused on this gap and how it occurs, but limited work focuses on the contextual factors, such as self-identity, family, and formal institutions, and their influence on the entrepreneurial intention-action gap. Aim: To determine the influence contextual factors may have on an entrepreneur’s ability to overcome the entrepreneurial intention-action gap; therefore, an inductive conceptual model is developed that encompasses these influences. Setting: This qualitative study was conducted with ten agri-entrepreneurs from different agricultural organisations in South Africa. Methods: Semi-structured interviews, with a reverse-flow approach, were conducted telephonically with participants. The study employed a generic qualitative research design and Atlas.ti was used to conduct thematic analysis to identify and analyse patterns (themes) that emerged from interviews with respondents. Results: The study inductively develops a conceptual model that could be empirically tested in future research to determine whether this model can be used to bridge the entrepreneurial intention-action gap. This model may be applicable not only to the agriculture sector but also to other industries. Conclusion: New knowledge regarding self-identity factors emerged from the findings. The article also supports existing literature by suggesting that family members have an influence on an individual’s success in becoming an entrepreneur. Finally, the unique dynamics of formal institutions in South Africa are presented and a contribution is made by shedding light on how entrepreneurs and formal institutions should collaborate to bridge the entrepreneurial intention-action gap.
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The literature acknowledges a distinction between immoral, amoral and moral management (Carroll, 1987; Crane 2000). This paper makes a case for the manager as a moral agent, even though the paper begins by highlighting a body of evidence which suggests that individual moral agency is sacrificed at work and is compromised in deference to other pressures. This leads to a discussion of the notion of managerial discretion and an examination of a separate, contrary body of literature which indicates that some managers in corporations may use their discretion to behave in a socially entrepreneurial manner. The underlying assumption of the study is that CSR isn’t solely driven by economics and that it may also be championed as a result of a personal morality, inspired by an individual’s own socially oriented personal values. A conceptual framework is put forward and it is suggested that individuals may be categorized as Active or Frustrated Corporate Social Entrepreneurs; Conformists or Apathetics: distinguished by individualistic or collectivist personal values. In a discussion of the nature of values, this paper highlights how values may act as drivers of our behavior and pays particular attention to the values of the entrepreneur, thereby linking the existing debate on moral agency with the field of corporate social responsibility.