Exploring who studentpreneurs are by understanding their lived experience as entrepreneurs

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While famous university dropouts (such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and more recently Mark Zuckerberg) have captured media attention, and there is an enterprising culture developing among students that it is ‘cool’ to be an entrepreneur, the academic literature is to a great extent silent about the phenomenon of studentpreneurs. Studentpreneurs are students who are already running a business and generating revenue. Studying such phenomenon is important for several reasons. First, it is part of the more general rise of entrepreneurial careers which is changing the structure of the economy and the structure of work. Second, it is interesting from a policy standpoint since governments around the world are dedicating significant resources to incentivise this type of activity and competing to attract entrepreneurs that come with the promise of economic growth. Third the rise of the entrepreneurial university and attraction of ‘student entrepreneurship talent’ is becoming a focus for universities. Developing students as entrepreneurs is not just about education or teaching; understanding their drivers, experience, identity and capabilities goes a long way in enabling a supportive context, informing policy but also potentially guiding practice. This study focuses on the lived experiences of studentrepreneurs. Phenomenology is the underpinning philosophy because it emphasises participants’ experience and understanding of certain phenomena. The aim of this research is to understand who studentpreneurs are by studying the lived experience of several studentpreneurs through long interviews. There are two areas of focus in this study: the types of identity work they go through during their entrepreneurial journey and the individual dynamic capabilities they develop during their venture creation. The study contributes to identity theory by elucidating the identity work of studententrepreneurs, using dynamic capability theory to understand their journey, explicitly revealing the importance of sensemaking and serendipity. The thesis has a theoretical and practical contribution. Practically it is useful for three groups: studentpreneurs themselves, advisors and administrators providing support, and entrepreneurship educators. Theoretical contributions include a typology of studentpreneurs, illucidation of the types of identity work they perform, and a framework of dynamic entrepreneurial capabilities of studentpreneurs. Practical contributions include tools for administrators of support programs for studentpreneurs such as an identification of studentpreneurs by profile and suggestions for fostering the development of studentpreneurs.
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