Contemporary Entrepreneurship Research

Contemporary Entrepreneurship Research
Gianluca Colombo

Etrepreneurship is a phenomenon of tremendous societal importance. It is also an elusive phenomenon, and researching entrepreneurship is therefore fun, fascinating—and frustrating at times. In this course “Contemporary entrepreneurship research” we will discuss concepts and ideas on how entrepreneurship can or should be researched. After a comprehensive treatment of entrepreneurship as societal phenomenon and scholarly domain, the core part of the course will discuss design, sampling, operationalization and analysis issues on several levels of analysis: individual, venture, firm, industry, region and nation. Numerous examples of problems and solutions from real research projects will be provided, as well as experience-based suggestions for further improvements in future work.
This advanced course implies a high level of personal involvement and contribution by participants. Please, read this syllabus very carefully before the beginning of the course.


Instructor: Gianluca Colombo
Objectives: The goal of the course is to introduce participants into the field of entrepreneurship research and the problems, theories and methods that are prevalent in (empirical) research on entrepreneurship. Participants should learn to ‘know the field’ and develop an ability to assess its strengths and weaknesses as well as its development trends.
Contents: Lectures will offer a perspective on the domain of entrepreneurship as a scholarly field, the main topics and approaches associated, and the most established research designs and methodologies adopted by scholars in the field.
Teaching: The instructor will lead discussion seminars. Student presentations. Selfstudy in groups or individually.

Course design: This course consists of two components: discussion and final assignment. Each activity accounts for 50% of the course grade. Students must take the course for a grade. For each topic, we will read and discuss a few articles. The set of articles for each lecture may include theoretical and empirical work, or both. The reading list is short for a seminar of this type. That is because I expect you to read every article and to think about them before coming to class. Our discussions will focus on the specific articles assigned as well as the general theoretical and other issues they raise.

Class Meeting Format: All seminar participants are expected to engage regularly in the discussions. In preparing, you should look at the goals that I have specified for each session and at discussion questions. See if you feel that your readings have helped you
attain these goals; if not, then think about what questions you might ask in class to help you do so. A good way to prepare for class is to think about both the “big story” of the day as well as the details of the articles. For the “big story”, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions about the theory/research area under review: (1) What are the core research problems or questions addressed by the theory/set of readings? (2) What is the typical meta-theory (e.g., concepts, assumptions, evidence, methods, etc.) beyond the approach used in the article? (3) Can you specify the general theoretical arguments typically used in the approach? (4) What is the state of the evidence with respect to various theoretical claims? Obviously, you may find these questions challenging if your knowledge of the approach is limited—but you should try to answer them anyway.
For the details, it may be useful to ask yourself the following questions about each reading: (1) What are the central theoretical questions addressed? What are the underlying assumptions? (2) What primary mechanisms are posited? (3) What is the (empirical or conceptual) evidence to support the argument(s)? How convincing? (4) What are the basic assumptions behind the analysis? (5) How could this analysis be improved? Be specific and practical (do not make suggestions that you could not realistically envision yourself implementing); and (6) Identify at least one way that the analysis is cleverer or smarter than the author knows. This could take the form of deriving a new argument or developing new ideas about other dependent variables. Another approach would be to apply the author’s reasoning under a different setting and explain why it might be useful.

Class Requirements:

  1. Attendance and active discussion in the seminars.
  2. Completion of one Final Assignment illustrated in the syllabus. The assignment topic will have to be approved by the instructor by (date TBD).

Readings: All articles will be available as reserve material in the Dept. Office, or made available in electronic format


Session 1. The domain of entrepreneurship research – Friday, January 22nd 9:00 – 11:00

  • Shane, S. & Venkataraman, S. (2000). The promise of entrepreneurship as a field of research. Academy of Management Review, 25(1), pp. 217-226.
  • Shane, S. (2012). Delivering on the promise of entrepreneurship as a field of research. Academy of Management Review, 37(1): 10-20.
  • ENT Division, Domain Revision Proposal 2011.

Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class. Reflect on the following issues: a) is it possible to reach an agreement about the definition of entrepreneurship as an empirical phenomenon and as a field of study? b) Is it possible (and useful) to trace clear boundaries between entrepreneurship and other fields of study (like, for example, strategy or marketing)? c) What is the potential and what are the difficulties inherent in defining entrepreneurship starting from the entrepreneur’s characteristics, starting from entrepreneurial opportunities, or starting from a combination of the two?

Session 2. The foundations of entrepreneurship as a scholarly field/1 – Friday January 22nd, 2016 11:30 – 13:30

  • Schumpeter, J.A. (1934) The theory of economic development. An inquiry into profits, capital, credit, interest, and the business cycle. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp.3-9 and 57-94.
  • Kirzner, I.M. (1973) Competition and entrepreneurship. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-9 and 30-87.

Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class.
Reflect on the following issues: a) What is the relationship between neoclassical economics and the perspective on entrepreneurship of Schumpeter and Kirzner? What are the concepts common to textbook economics (as you know it from previous PhD courses) and entrepreneurship theory as described in the work of these two authors? What are some new concepts and what are some missing concepts? b) What are the main assumptions/hypotheses behind the work of each of these two entrepreneurship authors emerging from their work? c) What are the main differences between the approach to entrepreneurship of these two authors according to the authors themselves? According to your personal reading of their work?

Session 3. The foundations of entrepreneurship as a scholarly field/2 – Thursday February 4th, 2016 9:00 – 11


  • Baumol W.J. (1990). Entrepreneurship: Productive, unproductive, and destructive. Journal of Political Economy, 98(5), pp.893-921.
  • Sobel, R.S. (2008). Testing Baumol: Institutional quality and the productivity of entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 23, 641-655.
  • SAME AS SESSION 2, but including Baumol’s perspective

Session 4. The nature of entrepreneurial opportunities. – Thursday February 4th 11:30 – 13:30

  • Short, J.C., Ketchen, D.J., Shook, C.L., &Ireland, R. D. 2010. The concept of “opportunity” in entrepreneurship research: Past accomplishments and future challenges. Journal of Management, 36, 40-65.
  • Alvarez, S. A., & Barney, J. B. 2010. Entrepreneurship and epistemology: The philosophical underpinnings of the study of entrepreneurial opportunities. The Academy of Management Annals, 4(1): 557-583.
  • Eckhardt, J. T., & Shane, S. A. (2003). Opportunities and entrepreneurship. Journal of Management, 29(3): 333-349.

Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class.
Reflect on the following issues: a) What is an entrepreneurial opportunity? How can entrepreneurial opportunities be defined? b) Are entrepreneurial opportunities “discovered” or “created” by entrepreneurs? c) What are the main sources/drivers of
entrepreneurial opportunities? d) Are there differences between opportunities discovered/created by individuals and by established organizations? What are these differences?
Session 5. Cognitive approaches to opportunity recognition/1 Conceptual. – Friday February 12th, 2016 9:00 – 11:00

  • Dutton, J. E., & Jackson, S. E. 1987. Categorizing strategic issues: Links to organizational action. Academy of Management Review, 12(1): 76-90.
  • Baron, R. A. 2004. The cognitive perspective: A valuable tool for answering entrepreneurship’s basic “why” questions. Journal of Business Venturing, 19: 221-239. 5
  • McMullen, J. S., & Shepherd, D. A. 2006. Entrepreneurial action and the role of uncertainty in the theory of the entrepreneur. Academy of Management Review, 31: 132 152.

Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class.
Reflect on the following issues: a) What are the main features of a cognitive perspective to entrepreneurship? b) What can a cognitive perspective bring to the development of entrepreneurship theory? c) Why and how are opportunities and threats different? On the opposite, what do they have in common?

Session 6. Cognitive approaches to opportunity recognition/2 empirical. – Friday February 12th, 2016 11:30 – 13:30

  • Baron, R. A., & Ensley, M. D. 2006. Opportunity recognition as the detection of meaningful patterns: Evidence from comparisons of novice and experienced entrepreneurs. Management Science, 52: 1331-1344.
  • Anderson, M. H., & Nichols, M. L. 2007. Information gathering and changes in threat and opportunity perceptions. Journal of Management Studies, 44(3): 367-387.
  • Gregoire, D. A., Barr, P. S., & Shepherd, D. A. 2010. Cognitive Processes of Opportunity Recognition: The Role of Structural Alignment. Organization Science, 21, 413-434.

Read critically the assigned articles. Be prepared to illustrate and discuss them in class.
Reflect on the following issues: a) What is the empirical evidence about the cognitive processes behind the recognition of opportunities and threats? Do individuals tend to see more opportunities or more threats? b) How can the cognitive processes behind opportunity creation/recognition be investigated? c) Is it possible to increase the chances that opportunities (vs. threats) are recognized, by leveraging existing knowledge of the underlying cognitive processes?