Entrepreneurial Identity

“Who am I?” / “Who are we?

Social identity theory (SIT) has long been a mainstay of social psychological thinking about politics and human behaviour in general. SIT is at its core a theory about in-groups and out-groups, as easily formed social constructions that can manifest with real consequences. Consider football hooligans beating each other over their team colours.

We all have multiple identities, and some scholars propose that the more central one's entrepreneurial identity, compared with family and other identities, the more likely they will start a venture, grow a startup, or developing a capability (Hayter et a., 2021).

In entrepreneurship, SIT is pointed at the entrepreneurial identity, defined as a set of attitudes, beliefs and behaviours reinforcing being an entrepreneur. According to Shepherd et al. (2018) "a meaningful self-identity is central to individuals’ psychological functioning and well-being"

"I am an Entrepreneur"

The literature suggests that Entrepreneurial Identity (EI) is important during early venture formation because it allows the startup to stand out ("I am different"). Yet being an entrepreneur also means finding belonging in the club of entrepreneurs, which can be helpful in an often challenging career path. 

EI can persist and continue to influence decision-making and actions when startups grow up into larger organizations--but also their feelings. This is why those who view EI as a kind of property view it not only as a potential asset, but also as a potential liability. Consider what happens when CEOs of large companies get too entrepreneurial.   

Those who view EI as a process, are apt to note that both proactive and reactive approaches could apply. Maybe EI is triggered by something external to the entrepreneur, or maybe its always there, driving decisions. Perhaps EI is be the source of entrepreneurs tremendous energy, passion and commitment that is often needed to be successful. Maybe it’s a mix of both. 

Scholars have looked at how EI is constructed and how it is enacted. Thanks to Radu-Lefebvre et al.'s (2021) review, we know that researchers have examined a stunning array of outcomes from enacting EI, including: passion, emotion, opportunity recognition, entrepreneurial intention, entrepreneurial behaviours, resource acquisition, venture creation, venture performance, venture growth, legitimacy, emancipation, and regional development. 

They also studied a bewildering array of antecedents of EI construction including: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, gender, ethnicity, occupation, class, body, family business, networks, incubators, media and pubic discourse, and education.

This theory has some connection with the addiction theory of entrepreneurship, that is when EI is taken to the extreme.  

Hayter, C. S., Fischer, B., & Rasmussen, E. (2021). Becoming an academic entrepreneur: how scientists develop an entrepreneurial identity. Small Business Economics, 1-19.

Radu-Lefebvre, M., Lefebvre, V., Crosina, E., & Hytti, U. (2021). Entrepreneurial identity: A review and research agenda. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 45(6), 1550-1590.

Shepherd, D. A., Patzelt, H., Shepherd, D. A., & Patzelt, H. (2018). Entrepreneurial identity. Entrepreneurial cognition: Exploring the mindset of entrepreneurs, 137-200.


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