Entrepreneurship as Practice

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Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies

Dr Richard Tunstall is Lecturer in Enterprise; Enterprise and Innovation Discovery Theme Leader; and University Student Education Fellow at Leeds University Business School. His research focusses on social context, practices and processes in entrepreneurship research. Dr Neil Aaron Thompson is Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Organisation Studies at VU Amsterdam.

Delegates from the first EAP workshop in Amsterdam

Three years ago I organised a conference at Leeds which brought together entrepreneurship researchers across Europe with common interests in researching the social development of entrepreneurship.

Building on this, I founded the ‘Entrepreneurship Studies Network’ which focusses on social context, practices and processes in entrepreneurship, uniting these different European traditions in entrepreneurship research and forms the basis of my own work.

Over the last three years we have worked on developing these research streams and this has led to the formation of a new group - ‘Entrepreneurship as Practice’ - which aims to build a community of likeminded scholars that employ practice theories to further advance entrepreneurship studies.

This community aims to demonstrate how different practice theories can be used to answer new questions, shine new light on classic entrepreneurship questions, and introduce novel methodologies to the field. In doing so, we wish to bridge the divide between practitioners and scholars in order to engage in a more mutually beneficial dialogue. 

The first Entrepreneurship as Practice meeting was held in February in Amsterdam. The inaugural workshop was organised by Dr Neil Thompson, Dr Eveline Stam, Dr Karen Verduyn (Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam) and Professor Bill Gartner (Copenhagen Business School) at the VU Amsterdam.

It was partially funded by the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies(SAMS), Amsterdam Business Research Institute (ABRI), and of course the Entrepreneurship Studies Network itself (a special interest group of the Institute for Small Business (ISBE)).

The workshop was a call to scholars to participate in (re-)energising ideas about entrepreneurial practices, considering ways to extend entrepreneurship studies by turning from the seminal ‘what’ question in entrepreneurship  (what do entrepreneurs do?) into a ‘how’ question (how do they do it?) by creating strong links to practice theory.

While researchers increasingly recognise the importance of entrepreneurial action in creating value through new startups in national regions and local communities contexts, how entrepreneurial behaviour, startup processes and the local context come together as 'everyday practice' remains presumed rather than deeply understood.

Practice theories provide a unique perspective of social and human phenomena, and when pursued coherently, suggest the need to move away from focusing on who entrepreneurs are to what practices they and those around them take part in. Despite the promising application of practice theory as an area for entrepreneurship research, entrepreneurial practice has received relatively little attention from entrepreneurship scholars. This may seem surprising, as in popular media we often hear a call to focus on practice, yet it is hardly researched - a gap we aim to fill.

The purpose of the workshop was twofold: to build a community of likeminded scholars wishing to employ practice theories to further advance entrepreneurship studies, and to discuss how the different practice theories can be used to answer new questions in the field.

After Dr Bill Gartner’s introductory presentation about the state of entrepreneurship research, two esteemed keynote speakers, Dr Susi Geiger (University College Dublin and University of California, Berkeley) and Dr Davide Nicolini (Warwick), presented about the benefits and challenges of practice theories, and how practice theories can be used to theorise 'larger' organisational phenomenon (you can view the video presentations here).

Over the two days, sessions were organised for the 20 participants to present their ongoing conceptual and empirical work using practice theory.

The evening programme included a visit to InStock, a food-waste rescue restaurant, keeping with the theme that culinary, consumption, and waste practices have far reaching consequences for the natural environment.

Overall, the workshop was a huge first step towards making practice theory a recognised and attractive area of entrepreneurship research.

Members met again at the Academy of Management (AOM) Conference (Personal Development Workshop session: ‘Taking stock of the how question in entrepreneurship research’) in August and the 2016 RENT conference ('Critical Perspectives in Entrepreneurship Studies' track) in Belgium earlier this month.

Recently, we won funding from the Society for the Advancement of Management (SAMS) to host another workshop on Entrepreneurship as Practice in Dublin in February 2017. This will be hosted by myself, Dr Karen Verduijn at VU Amsterdam and Dr Orla Bryne at University College Dublin.

For further information about Entrepreneurship as Practice, visit the new website which has been launched to help facilitate connections between members.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University business school or the University of Leeds.