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    The role of business incubators in developing entrepreneurship

    Meckel, PingPing (2014) The role of business incubators in developing entrepreneurship. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


    Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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    Extant literature in business incubation has been criticised for focusing on quantitative measures of success while failing to offer a comprehensive, process-focused understanding of the phenomenon. This study addresses that gap by linking established theoretical frameworks from both entrepreneurship and learning to theorise the business incubation process and to offer a new conceptual framework that captures the process of opportunity identification and development within a business incubator. This contributes to knowledge by offering a fresh perspective on how the entrepreneurial process might be studied within a business incubator environment. The study draws on qualitative data and documentary evidence from a range of stakeholders associated with a university Business Incubation Centre (BIC), including in-depth interviews with twenty incubatees. Through a series of narratives detailing the lived experience of incubatees the study identifies six distinctive pathways through the incubation process, which allow the process to be conceptualised as a process of opportunity identification and development. The process of opportunity development within the business incubator is explored further using experiential and social learning theories as heuristic tools. This leads to a more nuanced conceptualisation of business incubation as a learning process that begins with prior knowledge at the opportunity identification phase, progresses through the acquisition of new skills and knowledge necessary to develop an opportunity and concludes with a transformation phase where new knowledge (business ideas and opportunities) is acted upon. Alongside this, the study finds that the incubation process can transform identities as individuals undertake a journey to ‘become an entrepreneur’. The findings indicate that knowledge alone may not fully explain the entrepreneurial process. It is the dynamics of learning that offers a greater understanding of how information, experience, skills and identity can be transformed into new knowledge, which in turn leads to opportunity identification and development. This suggests that although a high stock of knowledge may be important prior to entering a business incubator, it is learning that is crucial to the opportunity development process, where new knowledge is created by combining prior knowledge with new information and experience. Crucial to this process is a supportive learning community where incubatees receive relevant information in an atmosphere of trust. The study has a number of implications for incubator managers. Firstly attention and scarce resources should be focused on providing relevant information and encouraging an atmosphere of learning and mutual support. Secondly managers should adopt a less ‘managerial’ approach and be prepared to act as mentors to support and encourage incubatees. Thirdly recruitment practices should be revised to include a more holistic appreciation of potential incubatees contribution to the learning community as well as an assessment of their business plans. For policy makers the study suggests that a successful business incubator does not necessarily require a large financial investment in state-of-the-art premises and technology. Appropriate management training together with carefully selected incubatees can create an effective learning community where opportunities are developed and transformed into enterprises and individuals into entrepreneurs.

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