Different types of entrepreneurs

Some notes on various types of entrepreneurs from my literature review. any references can be found in the “Reading List” tab of this blog…

Gulst and Maritz document various types of entrepreneur, based on a survey of entrepreneurial literature. (Gulst and Maritz 2009). The types include: nascent; novice; one-time; habitual; habitual (serial); habitual (portfolio). Our research will focus on habitual entrepreneurs (serial or portfolio). Another categorization scheme involves examining the prior experience and aptitudes of the individual: are they “natural-born” entrepreneurs or have they learned the skills of entrepreneurship over time (Shane 2010). Alternatively, types of entrepreneur may be categorized by investigating personality traits and behaviour, developing profiles based on characteristics such as confidence, optimism, persistence and passion.

Cope and Cave conducted in-depth phenomenological interviews with failed entrepreneurs and conclude that early-stage business failure represents a particularly traumatic yet significant entrepreneurial learning experience (Cope and Cave 2008) They see the process as a “learning journey” which is different for each individual. McKenzie and Sud delve further into hermeneutical territory, looking at the orientation of five entrepreneurs through detailed interviews (McKenzie and Sud 2008). This research adopts a different definition of entrepreneurs (and definition of failure): they suggest that entrepreneurs are individuals who can see “what is not there”, and that failure represents a deviation from the “entrepreneurs’ desired expectations”.

Other studies (Carland et al. 2002) provide insight into whether serial entrepreneurs have different motivations and attitudes than novices. Their research builds on an editorial by MacMillan, suggesting there are three types of entrepreneur: (1) those who survive the perils of startup life and rise to become CEO of their successful corporation; (2) those who achieve success and then drop out, and “never again venture into the perilous waters of entrepreneurial behaviour”; and (3) a third category of “business generator”, who enjoys the uncertainty and excitement of starting a new venture.” (MacMillan 1986: 241).

Evans and Leighton offer an analysis of US data, suggesting that: “The probability of departing from self-employment decreases with duration in self-employment, falling from about 10 per cent in the early years to [zero] by the eleventh year in self-employment” (Evans and Leighton 1989: 520). This suggests that the entrepreneurial lifestyle (working for oneself, with increased control over a future destiny) becomes stronger over time. Once sampled, it becomes difficult to give up.

However, despite these attempts to categorize the types of entrepreneur, perhaps there are simpler forces at work. In an interview with Mike Wright, Birley suggests that circumstances typically determine who becomes an entrepreneur: “there is no dichotomy between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs; with the right stimulus, the most unexpected people can become entrepreneurs.” (Wright 2001: 38).


About Keith Cotterill

After 25 years in finance and technology, I have returned to university to read for a doctorate at Cambridge. I am an active technology entrepreneur and investor as well as a researcher and divide my time between the UK and Silicon Valley.

Posted on June 22, 2011, in Entrepreneurship. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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