Social norms in a hyped research field

Published: 2021-08-26

We know that entrepreneurs depend on their social networks to grow their ventures. Still, we do not know much about how they actually go about to form new network contacts. Conducting a comparative study on entrepreneurial networking in Silicon Valley and Berlin, Anna Brattström, researcher and Senior lecturer in Entrepreneurship at LUSEM, did not only get some interesting insights into this process. It also gave her the Carolyn Dexter Award. The award was presented during The Academy of Management Annual Meeting this summer, it is an all-Academy award given to the paper that best meets the objective of internationalizing the Academy of Management.

Anna Brattström studies the people side of innovation and entrepreneurship. How people come together, work together and stay together over time.

The study is coauthored with Katharina Scheidgen, postdoctoral researcher at Leuphana University in Germany. It is an embedded, multiple case study that compares entrepreneurial networking across Silicon Valley and Berlin. Since both Silicon Valley and Berlin provide urban, international and dynamic environment for entrepreneurship, it is typically assumed that entrepreneurs would rely on similar practices, independent on in which of these two contexts they would operate. The qualitative data from this study, however, shows that entrepreneurship is ultimately a social process and as such, shaped by social, context-bound norms. This leads entrepreneurs to mobilize their networks in very different ways in Silicon Valley compared to Berlin – with long term consequences for how their network evolve over time.

A hyped research field

Anna is, since years back, interested in studying the people side of innovation and entrepreneurship. How people come together, work together and stay together over time. 

“We tend to focus a lot on the business side – but unless you get the people side to work, there is little chance of succeeding as an entrepreneur,” she says.  

To become an entrepreneur, or work with entrepreneurs, seems to be more popular than ever:

"There is a lot happening within the innovation and entrepreneurship field right now. And that is something our students and partner companies also perceive. Becoming an entrepreneur seems to be the coolest thing to do at the moment. Most innovation-oriented companies try in different ways to work more closely with entrepreneurs or to become more entrepreneurial. There is a bit of a hype around this phenomenon and we see an entire industry growing up around supporting entrepreneurship.”

Speaking of students, what is difficult about coaching young people to become entrepreneurs?

“Many of our students are eager to try out life as an entrepreneur, but it is important to acknowledge that there are huge risks involved. Many are called, but very few actually succeed…I think we have a responsibility to not get drawn in to the hype, but to provide a more realistic understanding of what entrepreneurship implies," Anna says.

Can you use your theoretical knowledge in entrepreneurship in your work as a researcher? 

"In many ways, research work actually resembles entrepreneurial work. Most of it is done in teams. It is useful to pool different competences and resources and it is more fun for most people to work in teams. And both researchers and entrepreneurs commit to their teams voluntarily – because we like each other and because we believe we can do cool stuff together. These makes these types of groups strong in terms of their social bonds, but boundaries can also be more fragile, since people often enter and leave the group over time," Anna says.

"Another similarity is that both entrepreneurs and researchers do explorative work. At the outset of a project, we do not know what the result will be, nor how to get there. As we then work together, we need to establish norms, relationships and roles in our teams, and to make sure that those roles and relationships are able to evolve over time. This makes both research groups and entrepreneurial groups resemble small, emergent organizations – which I as an organizational researcher find very interesting."                     

In near future

In near future Anna will continue to study the current industry and hype around entrepreneurship. This summer, she also became runner-up for conference best paper at the International Product Development Conference (IPDMC) for a study on Innovation theater. Innovation theatre are innovation activities that create an impression of being innovative or entrepreneurial, but that do not really lead to tangible outcomes.

“I conduct a lot of interviews around innovation theatre at the moment. It is interesting that so many people are able to come up with examples of innovation theatre in their organizations. And it is interesting to see how theatrical these examples are: a stage, carefully lit, where top managers outline an ambitious agenda; props, including popcorn machines and an office DJ, to generate the right entrepreneurial vibe; and an audience – organizational members – that are entertained and engaged. We try to understand this phenomenon of innovation theatre. What it is, as well as what type of both positive and negative consequences it might have.” 

Anna is looking forward to more research. The Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship currently have two PhD positions open for students that are interested in exploring how cultural norms are shaping activities in the entrepreneurship industry: activities taken to promote entrepreneurship in society and organizations. Anna will be involved in the recruitment process and also be supervising the students together with her colleague Professor Diamanto Politis.

"I'm really looking forward to take these students on and let them delve into these questions. And I will be happy to share my network with these new PhD:s, as well as with any other colleague who would be interested!”

At last, the question that must come, has the Corona situation affected your work and networking, Anna?

"I think that I have deepened my relations with colleagues within my network and I have been able to keep up my work well. But I haven’t created many new contacts. Usually I broaden my network during physical conferences but during the pandemic I have found it difficult to make new contacts during digital conferences and meetings."

Thank you so much Anna for this "colleague check"!


What makes a successful entrepreneur?

According to Anna this is vital to make a good entrepreneur:

  • Strong network
  • Knowledge about the specific business
  • Capital to invest
  • Persistance and flexibility

Learn more about Anna's research in The Research Portal.

The Carolyn Dexter Award

Each year, the Academy of Management (AOM) presents awards to members in recognition of outstanding contributions, professional accomplishments, and distinguished service at AOM’s Annual Meeting. The Carolyn Dexter Award is a so called All-Academy award. These awards are distinguished by the breadth and length of the work and the winners are nominated by an inclusive process through Division or Interest Groups. A winner is chosen from the finalists by dedicated award committees. 

Learn more