Cultural and creative entrepreneurs: understanding the role of entrepreneurial identity

Daniela Werthes (TIME Research Area, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany)
René Mauer (ESCP Europe, Berlin, Germany)
Malte Brettel (Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, RWTH Aachen, Aachen, Germany)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Publication date: 8 January 2018



The purpose of this paper is to explore whether and how entrepreneurs in the cultural and creative industries develop an entrepreneurial identity. It also aims to expand research on cultural and creative entrepreneurship.


The study is based on longitudinal qualitative cases and analyses the potential entrepreneurial identity development of eight cultural and creative entrepreneurs from Germany. The researchers create a framework to ascertain whether and, if so, how cultural and creative entrepreneurs develop an entrepreneurial identity.


The findings suggest that cultural and creative entrepreneurs do develop an entrepreneurial identity and incorporate their cultural and creative identity into that entrepreneurial identity whereas self-reflection is a key driver in the development.

Practical implications

Cultural and creative entrepreneurs are a key driver of economic development. Hence, it is important to generate a more detailed understanding of their entrepreneurial mind-set and their behaviour.


The study suggests that cultural and creative entrepreneurs actively develop an entrepreneurial identity and that self-reflection, communication with other entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial experience are the main drivers of their identity development. Nevertheless, their cultural and creative identity does have an influence on their entrepreneurial identity. In addition, the study demonstrates how such entrepreneurs develop their identity.



Werthes, D., Mauer, R. and Brettel, M. (2018), "Cultural and creative entrepreneurs: understanding the role of entrepreneurial identity", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 290-314.

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited


Entrepreneurs are different from who I am

(A cultural and creative entrepreneur interviewed during the study).

Worldwide, the cultural and creative industries (CCI) have a strong economic impact (Cunningham, 2004; Potts, 2009; BMWi, 2014b, 2015; Lhermitte et al., 2015). According to the German Ministry of Economics, CCI consist of the following sub-industries: music, publishing/book market, art market, film, broadcasting, performing arts, architecture, design, press market, advertising, software and games, and others (BMWi, 2014a). Next to their economic contribution, CCI also influence ethics and moral values and play an important role in urban development (O’Brien, 2013). “It is their knowledge and creativity elements together with the link to art, culture and entertainment – and intersection with markets – that gives them increasing importance today” (de Bruin, 2015, p. 281). However, one cannot deny the economic aspect of entrepreneurship (Jones and Spicer, 2009). CCI display strong growth and are worldwide considered a driver of economic growth (Cunningham, 2004; Matheson, 2006; UNESCO, 2013; BMWi, 2014b). Cultural and creative entrepreneurs (CCI entrepreneurs) are the economic driver of and also key agents in the industry (Hartley et al., 2013). However, CCI entrepreneurs struggle with their entrepreneurial identity. One common attribute among them is that they do not regard themselves as entrepreneurs and avoid acting entrepreneurially. Ideally, CCI entrepreneurs combine CCI values and business values (Lampel et al., 2000; Chaston, 2008; Bērziŋš, 2012; Chaston and Sadler-Smith, 2012). However, this often does not work in reality. Business economics are often neglected or seen as an inhibitor to creativity (Rae, 2012). Many CCI entrepreneurs prefer to work as “creative practitioners” with the “primary goal of creative fulfilment and lifestyle” (Rae, 2012, p. 612). It is common currency to believe that economics crowd out creativity (Eikhof and Haunschild, 2007). Therefore, CCI entrepreneurs feel that they have to decide between CCI values and business values. They feel that business values contradict their personal values and their cultural and creative identity. They regard business only as a means of realising their cultural and creative ideas.

Entrepreneurship research has demonstrated that entrepreneurial identity has a strong impact on entrepreneurial behaviour (Donnellon et al., 2014; Fauchart and Gruber, 2011; Hoang and Gimeno, 2010). The concept of identity answers the question “Who am I?” (Kreiner et al., 2006). However, CCI entrepreneurs do not perceive themselves as entrepreneurs (Eikhof and Haunschild, 2007; Rae, 2007; Chaston, 2008). Some scholars have analysed how CCI entrepreneurs can act in an entrepreneurial way; yet, there is still a lack of knowledge on CCI entrepreneurship. Without a better understanding of CCI entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial identity, it is difficult to enhance their entrepreneurial performance and to ensure the economic relevance of CCI.

The aim of this study is to create a framework that closely examines the identity development of CCI entrepreneurs. To address this research focus, the study combines entrepreneurship research and research on CCI entrepreneurs, bridging identity and entrepreneurship research. The paper follows Eisenhardt (1989), Yin (2009), and Langley (1999) and conducts a longitudinal multiple case study with eight German CCI entrepreneurs to set up a process approach aimed at exploring identity development. The data collected from the participants help create a better understanding of CCI entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial identity.

This study supports findings that CCI entrepreneurs do indeed develop an entrepreneurial identity. However, their CCI identity remains an important aspect of their entrepreneurial identity. Furthermore, the results reveal that identity development is a process the entrepreneur has to engage in actively, and one that is influenced by distinct factors. The findings indicate that entrepreneurial experience and communication with other entrepreneurs help CCI entrepreneurs develop an entrepreneurial identity. The results also advance existing scholarship by applying a longitudinal process approach to the identity formation of CCI entrepreneurs (Langley, 1999).

The next section provides the theoretical foundation and reviews the literature relevant to this study. This is followed by an explanation of the method and the analysis of the results. The concluding section outlines theoretical and practical implications of the study and suggests avenues for further research.

Theoretical foundation

The study draws on three streams of research. The first stream is on the literature that has a critical view on CCI entrepreneurship. The second one is on the psychological profile of entrepreneurs themselves; it also covers CCI entrepreneurs (Cunningham, 2004; Matheson, 2006; UNESCO, 2013). The third one is on identity and how it is related to entrepreneurship.

All that glitters is not gold – a critical perspective on CCI

In 1998, by publishing their Creative Industries Mapping Documents, the government of the UK acknowledged the high status of CCI and raised public awareness of the industries (Oakley, 2004; Flew and Cunningham, 2010). Nowadays, countries like the UK, New Zealand, or Australia regard CCI as one of their most important industries (Flew and Cunningham, 2010). These countries actively promote CCI and set policies to foster CCI growth (Potts, 2009). Despite their economic importance, however, CCI attract criticism (e.g. Blair et al., 2001; Hesmondhalgh, 2008; Oakley, 2004, 2014).

These points of criticism mainly refer to the working conditions in CCI, which are often characterised by irregular work, short-term contracts, little job protection, unequal earnings, underpayment, exploitation of workers, entry barriers, and an oversupply of personnel (Hesmondhalgh, 2008; Oakley, 2004). In CCI, it is common to recruit on the basis of social contacts and the social capital. Researchers like Banks (2014) and Oakley (2011) show that in the UK these working conditions facilitate a social and ethnic homogeneity that excludes women, ethnic minorities, and the working class. Already privileged individuals – i.e. white, highly educated, young, and male – form the majority in the CCI workforce and expand their impact on the industry (Banks, 2014; Hesmondhalgh, 2008; Oakley, 2004, 2011, 2014). For other countries, however, these findings do not necessarily hold true. In Germany, for example, around 40 per cent of the CCI workforce are women (BMWi, 2017b).

Furthermore, CCI often tend to exploit employees, who are mostly very young and highly skilled volunteers, but demand very low to no wages (Oakley, 2011). In addition, there is a global oversupply of staff, which makes it difficult to obtain a job (Oakley, 2014). These conditions force CCI employees to pursue several jobs to gain an income and ensure their livelihood (Eikhof and Haunschild, 2007; Lindström, 2016).

Furthermore, Oakley reveals that several points of criticism regarding CCI refer to state politics in the UK. First, it is difficult for the authorities to support CCI in an adequate manner. The authorities do try to support small businesses by setting-up programmes that help the workforce enter the market, but they neither help improve the working conditions nor do they support members of the workforce when they are in the market (Oakley, 2004). For members of the CCI workforce, this implies that they have to adapt to worsening conditions and to existing jobs (Oakley, 2011). This frequently leads to the exploitation of employees and lower wages, which forces increasing numbers of staff to work without pay.

Second, CCI have to deal with massive underinvestment (Oakley, 2004) and for decades, policy has ignored specific challenges of CCI, like the uncertain financial condition for employees in CCI. Nevertheless, politicians put high pressure on CCI and have very high expectations of them – according to Oakley (2014), in the UK they see CCI as a “way out of the [economic] mess” (p. 68). In Germany, politicians see also CCI as a key economic driver (BMWi, 2017a). The authorities focus on the growth rates of CCI, which they perceive as a powerhouse that “constantly punch[es] above [its] weight” (Banks, 2014, p. 3), and members of the CCI workforce have to be all-rounders to meet the expectations of economic overperformance placed on them. Third, the authorities commonly assume that CCI are non-specific to regions (Oakley, 2004). In reality, however, the region in which they are based plays an important role in CCI development (Lange, 2005; Oakley, 2004). According to Banks et al. (2000), CCI establish themselves in areas that meet specific criteria such as availability of cheap and flexible working places. Furthermore, CCI employees have to have the possibility to build local networks, relationships, and collaborations and to engage in cross-sector fertilisation to mobilise their creative potential. Therefore, contrary to the assumptions of politicians, it is not possible to replicate CCI everywhere; hence, regional differences need to be taken into account (Oakley, 2004; Foord, 2008).

Despite the criticism, CCI attract many individuals whose degree of attachment to their work is above average (Oakley, 2011). A significant number of these individuals are CCI entrepreneurs. In Germany, for example, CCI entrepreneurs constitute about 25 per cent of the CCI workforce (BMWi, 2017b).

However, not all CCI entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs by choice, but are instead forced into entrepreneurship to carry out their practice (Oakley, 2014). Studies have found that these individuals never wanted to become self-employed and do not enjoy entrepreneurship. They need to adapt to a market characterised by “a huge oversupply of labour” (p. 150), need money to make their livelihood and perceive entrepreneurship as the easiest way out of a disadvantageous situation (Oakley, 2014). Furthermore, CCI entrepreneurs have to face several downsides in their work: they have to deal with insecurity, disagreement with the quality of their work, casualisation, long working hours, self-exploitation, and a need to network (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011). Additionally, there is a lack of suitable entrepreneurship education in CCI (Thom, 2014), and the education systems in the UK and Germany do not allow for the formation of highly skilled self-learners needed in CCI (Oakley, 2004). Despite some CCI entrepreneurs being forced into entrepreneurship, most employees and entrepreneurs in CCI are far more passionate about their work than those in other industries are. On one hand, being a passionate CCI entrepreneur can enable self-realisation and autonomy. It is possible for CCI entrepreneurs to achieve self-realisation through their work and to develop talents that give them a sense of purpose and meaning. On the other hand, entrepreneurship can lead to unprofitable self-exploitation (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011; Oakley, 2014). The boundaries between work and personal life can blur. Nevertheless, “entrepreneurship […] is an integral part of artists’ professional lives, and the development of an adaptive entrepreneurial identity is, in turn, a fundamental element of entrepreneurship” (Bridgstock, 2012, p. 131).

The psychological profile of an entrepreneur has not yet been defined

There are various reasons why people may be motivated to become entrepreneurs (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011). What entrepreneurs have in common, however, is that they have to meet market needs to earn money with their venture.

Some researchers assume that an entrepreneur has certain characteristics and attributes. According to Gibb (1987), these are: initiative, strong persuasive power, moderate rather than high risk-taking ability, flexibility, creativity, independence/autonomy, problem-solving ability, need for achievement, imagination, high belief in controlling one’s own destiny, leadership, and hard work. However, the literature does not agree on whether these are the main entrepreneurial characteristics.

Research also tries to define a comprehensive psychological profile of entrepreneurs (Begley and Boyd, 1987; Babb and Babb, 1992). However, Babb and Babb (1992) acknowledged that “it is difficult to translate the abstract concepts of an entrepreneur into objective and operational criteria for purposes of classification” (p. 354). Research has so far not found “the ‘holy grail’ of what made entrepreneurs the way they are” (Brännback and Carsrud, 2009, p. xvii). Still, research has identified some attributes that are prevalent among entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs tend to be creative and innovative and have some internal locus of control (Kirzner, 1985; Poorsoltan, 2012). Furthermore, they have to be able to act in conditions of uncertainty and have a need for achievement and growth (McGee et al., 2009; Poorsoltan, 2012). Chell (2008) names a need for achievement, locus of control and risk-taking propensity as “the big three” traits of an entrepreneurial personality. However, she sees them critically and calls for research to identify new traits to describe the personality. In their study, Fuller et al. (2011) argued that “entrepreneurs must combine advanced thinking processes and time and life-management skills, sustaining a multi-dimensional focus for many months at a time and by implication, a high degree of entrepreneurial competence, agility and foresight” (p. 81). Begley and Boyd (1987) created a psychological profile of entrepreneurs by comparing need for achievement, locus of control, risk-taking propensity, tolerance of ambiguity, and type a personality for entrepreneurs, and managers of small businesses. Their results show that entrepreneurs have a higher need for achievement, risk-taking propensity, and tolerance of ambiguity. However, there is still no agreement on the entrepreneurial personality, and the entrepreneurial mind-set requires further research. According to Chell (2008), entrepreneurs are embedded in their socio-economic environment, which subjects them to rules and social norms. Next to social components, it is learning, personal development, and the psychological apparatus that build entrepreneurs. This aligns with Karataş-Özkan and Chell (2010), who see learning and personal development as essential for entrepreneurs. According to Karataş-Özkan and Chell (2010), CCI entrepreneurs are “made” and have specific areas for learning: participation in selected networks, influencing opinion-formers, and being talked about in the right way.

Whereas traditional entrepreneurship goes along with the stereotypical entrepreneur whose aim is to follow capitalism and an unfettered accumulation of resources (Banks, 2014; Kirzner, 1985), CCI entrepreneurs have a contrasting mind-set and a different set of values. They are motivated by their own cultural concerns and not only want to make a living with their business, but also create art and develop their creativity (Banks, 2014; Banks et al., 2000; Lindström, 2016). They strive for flexibility and freedom and help build the social and ethical foundation of a society (Banks, 2014). CCI entrepreneurs engage in social and political action to give something back to society (Banks, 2006).

Fuller et al. (2011) stated that “creative industries have a distinct character that challenges traditional models of research into business innovation and entrepreneurship” (p. 80). To perform satisfactorily, CCI entrepreneurs have to combine economic values with creative values. Ideally, they have both business and creative strategies, and meet both. In reality, however, CCI entrepreneurs lack knowledge of business management and neglect business strategies (Küttim et al., 2011). CCI entrepreneurs face “a different order of managerial and organisational challenges” (Bērziŋš, 2012, p. 9). They feel that they have to decide between CCI values and business economic values. CCI entrepreneurs incorporate creativity, talent, and skills into their business idea, but are only able to follow either business or artistic principles (Bērziŋš, 2012; Küttim et al., 2011; Fuller et al., 2011). They have to balance three aspects simultaneously: artistic, financial, and self-development needs. However, some even regard commercial gains as unethical (Naudin, 2013). Furthermore, CCI entrepreneurs have difficulties locating appropriate funding sources (Wilson and Stokes, 2005). CCI entrepreneurs are linked with the following characteristics: high tolerance of ambiguity, perseverance, autonomy, creativity, and self-reliance. Furthermore, they hold tacit knowledge, have individual skills, competence, and commitment, and their mind-set is creativity based (Fuller et al., 2011; Poorsoltan, 2012). CCI entrepreneurs strive for autonomy and creativity. However, CCI entrepreneurs have different entrepreneurial mind-sets according to the sub-industry they operate in (Matheson, 2006; Oakley, 2004). Whereas some entrepreneurs in tend to realise their own individual vision which is not related to the market, others rely on the market to determine the output (Oakley, 2004). Design focuses on industry and commerce (Matheson, 2006). It is the market that has a vision and the designer is the one to translate the vision into a product (Oakley, 2004). This reveals the contrast between individual creativity and formulaic market-tested products (Oakley, 2004). However, CCI entrepreneurs can benefit from using both principles. On one hand, commercial growth and individual entrepreneurs create new markets. This helps CCI entrepreneurs as their products receive a bigger audience and they can more easily access willing buyers. On the other hand, however, the entrepreneurs have to balance individual creativity and commercialisation to not get exploited by the market (Banks, 2010).

Identity affects entrepreneurial behaviour

An entrepreneurial identity is related to the founder of a business who operates in the markets and takes entrepreneurial actions to run the business (Donnellon et al., 2014; Lindström, 2016). To build a new venture, it is necessary to form an entrepreneurial identity. The entrepreneurial identity refers to questions such as “How does an individual position him- or herself in the role of an entrepreneur?” “Who is the individual?” and “What does the individual do?” (Donnellon et al., 2014; Navis and Glynn, 2011). An entrepreneurial identity evolves over time and affects entrepreneurial capabilities and activities. It is considered critical to developing entrepreneurial competence. Throughout the process of identity development, entrepreneurs face the challenge of determining how their entrepreneurial identity fits into their existing identities and roles (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011; Hall and Du Gay, 1996; Navis and Glynn, 2011; Patten, 2016). The literature argues that an identity is especially relevant in entrepreneurship (Navis and Glynn, 2011), but research so far has not fully examined how an entrepreneurial identity evolves (Donnellon et al., 2014; Fauchart and Gruber, 2011).

Identity theory (Stets and Burke, 2000; Stryker and Burke, 2000) deals with the concept of the self and the nature of normative behaviour. The self has multiple components. These components are identities that relate to the self-definition and are also called role-identities. Each individual occupies different roles that determine her or his behaviour. Individuals behave depending on the understanding of their role. To define the self and the occupied role and to develop an identity, social interaction is necessary (Hogg et al., 1995). Through a process of self-categorisation or identification, an identity is formed (Stets and Burke, 2000) which allows individuals to glean meaning and orientation in life (Huyghe et al., 2016). Research literature presents several opinions on how to assess identity. Hall and Du Gay (1996) have a critical perspective on the existing concepts of identity. They call for an understanding of identities within a specific context that is internally differentiated. Shepherd and Haynie (2009), however, perceived identity as critical to psychological health. To achieve satisfying performance and emotional well-being, entrepreneurs have to act in line with their identity. Individuals can use entrepreneurship to express their identity (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011). However, Jones and Spicer (2009) claimed that an entrepreneurial identity is not for everyone and that there can be discrepancies between how people perceive themselves and who they actually are.

Identity is “a lifelong process of construction” (Chasserio et al., 2014, p. 130); it is neither stable nor is it innate. It changes over time (Kreiner et al., 2006) and is formed in a dynamic process that requires self-reflection (Gioia et al., 2013). Furthermore, individuals do not have just one identity, but several micro-identities (Kreiner et al., 2006; Shepherd and Haynie, 2009). To ensure psychological well-being, these micro-identities need to be balanced (Shepherd and Haynie, 2009). Individuals generally have four strategies to manage multiple micro-identities: to compartmentalise, delete, integrate, or aggregate their micro-identities (Pratt and Foreman, 2000). “Compartmentalised identities” means that multiple identities exist, but there are no synergies among them. It is also possible to delete identities. When identities are integrated, they merge into a distinct new identity. Finally, in aggregated identities, all identities are retained and synergies are created between them (Pratt, 1989; Pratt and Foreman, 2000; Kreiner et al., 2006). According to Gioia (1998), identity is “a general, if individualised, framework for understanding oneself that is formed and sustained via social interaction” (p. 19). This is in line with Stets and Burke (2000) who see a close link between identity and social identity and describe social identity as related to being part of a social group. Hall and Du Gay (1996) also stated that an identity forms in “relation to what it is not” (p. 4).

In their analysis on identity, Kreiner et al. (2006) concentrated on two sub-groups: personal and occupational. The former relates to the individual self, a person’s traits and qualities. It incorporates values and beliefs, and individuals act according to these core values. Personal identity helps individuals distinguish themselves from others and to maximise their self-esteem (Brewer, 1991).

Occupational identity, in contrast, is part of the social identity and manifests in jobs and social situations. In social situations, the “I” becomes a “we”, and the individual self-worth is now related to the self-worth of the group (Brewer, 1991). This is relevant to entrepreneurship, as entrepreneurship is a highly social discipline (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011). The occupational identity conforms with Tajfel and Turner’s (1986) social identity theory (SIT). According to SIT, humans do not only have a personal identity; they also have a social identity. Individuals need to distinguish themselves from others (personal identity), but at the same time, they need to have similarities with others (social identity). Similarity and interaction with social groups make them feel part of the social world and are necessary to develop a full identity. Entrepreneurs form their entrepreneurial identity by interacting with others. Interaction with others is an important aspect of venture creation, and SIT can explain entrepreneurial behaviour (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011; Kašperová and Kitching, 2014).

SIT also helps us understand “how identification leads individuals to behave and act in ways that confirm their identities” (Fauchart and Gruber, 2011, p. 936). Furthermore, SIT describes the relationship between social identity and behaviour and the role of social groups. It deals with intergroup processes and the self-concept of individuals in groups. Individuals perceive themselves as members of a social group. According to this perception, they divide the world into in-groups and out-groups.

In-groups mean that the individuals identify with these groups. The individuals affiliate with these groups and see them as a part of their self-concept. The individuals perceive their in-groups as superior to their out-groups. Being part of in-groups is especially relevant in CCI, because many projects and jobs in this area originate in networks and partnerships (Blair et al., 2001; Ingrisch, 2012). Blair et al. (2001), for example, showed that in the UK film industry, networks are essential for getting a job.

Out-groups, compared to in-groups, are often subject to prejudice or might even be discriminated against to enhance the superiority of the in-group. The individuals do not perceive overlaps between themselves and an out-group. An out-group and its members can even be seen as potential adversaries (Korschun, 2015). To maintain a positive self-concept, individuals need to have a positive self-image of their personal and social identities.

Considering the existing literature, this study answers the following research question:


Do CCI entrepreneurs develop an entrepreneurial identity over time and if so – how?

This pays tribute to identity formation as a dynamic process.


According to Eisenhardt (1989), qualitative research allows to develop an understanding of dynamics in settings and the analysis of behaviour that takes place in a real-world context and is closely linked to social connections. A multiple case study approach with replication logic (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007; Yin, 2009) enables researchers to devise theory from cases.

To investigate the identity development of CCI entrepreneurs, this study applies a longitudinal multiple case study analysis with a process approach based on Eisenhardt (1989), Langley (1999), and Yin (2009). The analysis explores eight entrepreneurs from Northern Germany, all located in the same city and all part of a programme to support their venture creation. It documents their entrepreneurial behaviour and psychological reactions over 18 months and examines their development. The first nine months included monthly interactions with the entrepreneurs to document their behaviour. After this period, data collection paused for nine months and resumed with semi-structured follow-up interviews about 18 months after first meeting the entrepreneurs. This process of data gathering allowed the researchers to analyse whether and how the entrepreneurial identity of the participants had evolved over time (Langley, 1999). Data were triangulated with information on the entrepreneurs’ background found on the internet (Yin, 2009).


The German Government regards CCI as an important contributor to economic development (BMWi, 2017b) and therefore created an initiative for CCI (Initiative Kultur & Kreativwirtschaft). This initiative aims to improve the competitiveness of CCI, and especially of CCI entrepreneurs. In this context, the German Government has set up a Competence Centre for CCI (Kompenzzentrum Kultur und Kreativwirtschaft). It offers coaching and support programmes for CCI entrepreneurs to help them improve their businesses without neglecting CCI.

To gather data, this study cooperated with one of the support programmes offered by the Competence Centre for CCI. It is designed to help CCI entrepreneurs to incorporate business strategies along with their creative strategies and to manage their ventures more professionally. Interested entrepreneurs had to apply to participate in the programme and underwent a multi-step selection process. This was to ensure that their business ideas were feasible and that they were motivated to develop more professional business models.

The final study includes eight participants in the analysis. These eight participants are CCI entrepreneurs engaged in venture creation; they represent 7 of the 11 sub-markets of CCI (cf. Table I). The initial study sample comprised ten participants. One case was excluded as the entrepreneur had moved to another region and could no longer attend meetings. The other case we excluded later in the analysis due to our study’s focus on individual entrepreneurs; the team consisted of four individuals. To be included in the study, the entrepreneurs needed to be present at least four out of eight interaction points with the researchers. The participants are similar to the extent that they are CCI entrepreneurs who want to combine creative with entrepreneurial values, and they are entrepreneurs without employees. However, they substantially differ in their individual entrepreneurial experience and entrepreneurial behaviour. This allows insights into the development of an entrepreneurial identity.

For the first nine months of data collection, these entrepreneurs participated in the programme, received coaching and attended workshops. This helped them develop a business model with a good balance between cultural and creative values and economic and market values. Please refer to Appendix 1 for an overview of the workshop and coaching topics.

Data sources

The paper draws on qualitative data. The researchers obtained the data for the eight participants using the following sources: data from observing peer counselling workshops and coaching sessions within the programme and follow-up interviews; data from the internet and published elsewhere to gather background data on the entrepreneurs; and e-mails and phone calls to the programme manager to exchange ideas and impressions about the entrepreneurs. As a primary source, data were generated from the peer counselling workshops attended and from the coaching sessions with the entrepreneurs. The workshops took place during the nine-month programme. In these workshops, the entrepreneurs individually had one hour to present a current challenge or development, and the group – the other entrepreneurs in the programme and two coaches – discussed the situation and suggested solutions, if needed (for the structure of the workshop cf. Table AII). During the individual coaching sessions, the entrepreneurs reported their recent developments, current performance and challenges to two coaches. The peer counselling workshops and the coaching sessions were recorded, transcribed, and coded by the researchers for the purpose of this study. During the workshop and coaching sessions, there was no intervention. However, after the peer counselling workshops and coaching sessions, the researchers clarified questions by talking to the entrepreneurs. Furthermore, after each session, the researchers briefly discussed the entrepreneurs’ individual development with the programme manager. Nine months after the programme’s conclusion, the researchers conducted extensive interviews with the entrepreneurs. These interviews via Skype/telephone were semi-structured and also recorded, transcribed, and coded. Prior to the interviews, two external researchers checked and revised the interview guidelines to ensure research standards. These researchers were experts in qualitative entrepreneurship research; they suggested minor adaptations and then agreed on the interview guidelines. Primary data led to 48 interaction points with the entrepreneurs. Primary data were collected from March 2014 to November 2015. From March 2014 to December 2014, the researchers attended the entrepreneurs’ peer counselling workshops and coaching sessions. In November 2015, the researchers conducted the final semi-structured interviews. Data publicly available on the internet and in internal documents were used for background checks. Furthermore, the researchers discussed the results with the entrepreneurs individually.

Data analysis

The analysis follows the methodology of Eisenhardt (1989) and the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. All primary data were recorded and transcribed. Coding was conducted using the software Atlas.ti to organise the data in a consistent way. First, a profile for each entrepreneur was created. This included the business idea, CCI and entrepreneurial experience, their background, their motivation to work as an entrepreneur and their entrepreneurial behaviour as well as psychological reactions. Based on this, a within-case analysis was performed. This allowed the researchers to gather information on the entrepreneurs’ individual situation, the self-concept and the development of the entrepreneurial identity of each individual entrepreneur – if such an identity indeed evolved (Eisenhardt, 1989).

As a first step of coding, the self-concept (Who am I?) in the initial and the final situation was determined by analysing the individual entrepreneur’s explicit statements. This allowed us, first, to see how the participants defined themselves; second, to analyse whether this definition changed over time; and third, whether the entrepreneurs underwent a change in their individual entrepreneurial identity.

As a second step of coding, we analysed the observed changes. We also examined psychological reactions and entrepreneurial behaviour during workshops, coaching sessions, and interviews, investigating how these relate to entrepreneurial identity.

This was followed by a cross-case analysis (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2009; Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007). For the eight participants, the present study compares how their identity changed. For each of them, a flow chart was created. The flow chart represents their entrepreneurial identity and entrepreneurial behaviour. This allowed the researchers to examine patterns and regularities among the entrepreneurs (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 2007; Yin, 2009).

To ensure its high quality, the study follows Yin’s (2009) principles of quality measures for qualitative research: construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability. Therefore, two external researchers had access to the data to see whether they came to the same conclusions. They corroborated all presented findings.

Results for the formation of an entrepreneurial identity by CCI entrepreneurs

Subsequently, the study analyses the process of whether and how CCI entrepreneurs develop an entrepreneurial identity. It follows a process logic and examines the journey from the initial entrepreneurial motivation to the entrepreneurial identity. Throughout the analysis, illustrative quotes of the entrepreneurs are provided. To make the analysis clearer, it is divided into two phases.

The data indicate that all eight participants initially have a dominant CCI identity, but over time, they form their entrepreneurial identity by adopting aspects of traditional entrepreneurial behaviour and combining this with their CCI identity. The findings reveal that all participants started as creative practitioners who aimed to develop into CCI entrepreneurs. The analysis confirms that they did indeed evolve into CCI entrepreneurs with their own entrepreneurial identity. Based on the following data, the authors suggest that identity development is a constant process for CCI entrepreneurs (cf. Figure 1). Furthermore, both the entrepreneurial identity and the CCI identity slowly evolve until they form a distinct entrepreneurial identity for CCI entrepreneurs (cf. Figure 2).

Phase 1: I am NOT an entrepreneur!

At the beginning of their entrepreneurial career, the participants behave like creative practitioners. They focus on the creative side of their business and neglect business economics. Their business ideas are based on creative talents. They do not see themselves as entrepreneurs but strive to realise their creative identity. Their main business purpose is to pursue their creativity.


The participants in this study were not forced into entrepreneurship, compared to other CCI entrepreneurs (Oakley, 2014). All eight actively made the decision to become entrepreneurs. Furthermore, all of them were highly motivated to work entrepreneurially. Kate and Jasmine[1], for example, quit their jobs to become entrepreneurs and to realise their creative talents. Whereas Kate was already working in graphic design, Jasmine changed her profession and became a writer. John, Stephanie, and Harry decided to become entrepreneurs after university rather than seeking employment. Anna, Maria, and Claudia have been entrepreneurs for several years already – however, they are unsure and unaware of their entrepreneurial identity. They all share similar motivational factors. The possibility to work independently and in a self-determined way plays a very important part in their decision to become an entrepreneur:

John: For me it’s the possibility to do what I like doing. And if I can do it together with friends – perfect! It’s great to earn money by doing something I enjoy. And I can do what I want and how I want it, and nobody is telling me what to do[2].

Stephanie: For me it’s an easy way to combine job and family. And I’m not dependent on a boss or anybody. I can make use of all the qualifications I’ve acquired and do what I like and what I’m good at. I also don’t have to adapt to a job but can create a job that suits my needs.

Jasmine: As an entrepreneur I can make my own decisions: I can create my own everyday work schedule.

Kate: I love making my own decisions. I decide what hours I’m going to work, not a boss or anybody else. Now I talk directly with the client to negotiate time schedules. I can decide for myself now.

These statements and the behaviour of the entrepreneurs do not reveal the self-exploitation some literature find fault with CCI (Banks, 2014; Blair et al., 2001; Hesmondhalgh, 2008; Oakley, 2004, 2011, 2014), but the statements support the literature that has determined several major motivational drivers for CCI entrepreneurs. These are: to create a job in line with their own needs and ideas; to have freedom; to have a flexible working environment that allows them to combine work and family; and to develop their ambitions and aspirations (Blair et al., 2001; Ingrisch, 2012). These arguments go along with the CCI values defined earlier: creating art, earning a living and enjoying flexibility and freedom (Banks, 2006, 2014; Banks et al., 2000; Lindström, 2016). Furthermore, self-realisation and autonomy are important drivers for becoming an entrepreneur (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011). Nevertheless, the study reveals when they start to behave entrepreneurially and become entrepreneurs, the study’s participants still do not regard themselves as entrepreneurs.

CCI identity but “no entrepreneurial identity”

At this stage, the creative identity is the determining and dominant one. The CCI entrepreneurs see themselves as creative people whose values might even be “threatened” by business. They already undertake entrepreneurial actions and display entrepreneurial behaviour, but if they ask themselves “Who am I?”, they will not reply “I’m an entrepreneur”. Stephanie, for example, explicitly says that she is not an entrepreneur yet. And Jasmine considers herself too emotional to be an entrepreneur. This is supported by the views of the other participants:

Anna asks: Who am I? What am I? How do I define my entrepreneurial identity?

Claudia states: I’m not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are just out to make money. But making money is not my main interest – although of course I need some. My main interest is to make films.

Harry also says: That’s just not me [i.e. an entrepreneur].

At the beginning of their entrepreneurial actions, the participants underestimate the meaning of their own entrepreneurial identity. However, not being aware of one’s own entrepreneurial identity makes entrepreneurship harder:

Maria recalls: When I wasn’t aware of my worth to the customers and couldn’t convey to them who I really am, I also couldn’t communicate to them what I’m doing.

Claudia also has doubts about her role in entrepreneurship:

She asks: How should I present myself? I don’t even know what to do with the award I got for one of my films!

Jasmine, however, learned quite quickly the importance of her own personality. For her, CCI entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial identity are a key success factor in CCI business. She thinks that for writing, an individual’s personality and identity are even more relevant than in other CCI sub-industries:

I didn’t know about the importance of your own personality for building a business. I started to realise more and more that this is especially true in the cultural and creative industries. You cannot hide or disguise your personality. For me, it was one of the biggest challenges finding out who I am and what I want to do.

So far, these entrepreneurs do not regard themselves as entrepreneurs. They focus on their creative values and identity and define entrepreneurs as a negative out-group. Applying SIT, we can see how they want to retain a positive self-concept and maintain superiority within their in-group. They describe entrepreneurs as “dudes in suits” (Harry), “people who just want to make money” (Claudia) or “[people] who are lacking emotion” (Jasmine). They do not recognise these characteristics and traits in themselves, tending to see themselves as the opposite. Entrepreneurs are bundled together into a negative out-group. In order to retain a positive self-image and superiority within their in-group, CCI entrepreneurs hold a negative image of entrepreneurs and define them as “different”. The question about entrepreneurial identity is answered by delimiting themselves from other entrepreneurs.

With their in-group, however, they share creative values and have to rely on tacit knowledge such as talent and creativity (Lampel et al., 2000). This supports the findings of Daskalaki and Blair (2002), who reveal that tacit knowledge is crucial in the film industry. Furthermore, the in-group faces the difficulty of producing goods that provide a subjective experience and that do not have a clear standard of quality (Lampel et al., 2000).

Phase 2: I am an entrepreneur

As long as CCI entrepreneurs do not regard themselves as entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs are different and have a negative image. Nevertheless, CCI entrepreneurs must act entrepreneurially if they want to earn a living with their work.

When taking entrepreneurial action, Stephanie, Maria, and Claudia discovered that for setting up a business, the entrepreneurs themselves and their identity do matter. Stephanie, for example, did not have a clear image at the beginning. She did not know who she was and what she wanted to do. For her, it was a really important task to figure out her image and form a clear picture of herself. Similarly, Maria changed her entrepreneurial strategy. Starting off without involving her personality in projects, she went on to discover that she is her own success factor. While Anna knew about the importance of her entrepreneurial identity, she had problems developing this identity:

Maria: First I tried to not involve my personality in projects. But what actually makes my work successful and interesting is tied up with me as a person – how I work on topics. At the beginning, I didn’t know what my role was or what my core competencies were. So I was really afraid to go out and talk to people. But now that I do know, I’m not afraid anymore.

Anna told us: To start my business, I still need to find my identity as an entrepreneur. I would like to know how I can achieve that.

The findings show that the definition of out-group changes when the participants start to act entrepreneurially:

Jasmine discovered that: entrepreneurs from different industries are in situations similar to mine.

Furthermore, the participants change their role definition of “entrepreneurs”. They discover that they can form their own entrepreneurial identity and do not have to follow unfettered capitalism as do other entrepreneurs. They can build their own entrepreneurial identity – a combination of their CCI identity and capitalistic entrepreneurial behaviour.

However, this requires several actions from the entrepreneurs. It does not occur on its own that CCI entrepreneurs start changing their in-group and building their own distinct entrepreneurial identity.

For all participants, a process started in which they gathered entrepreneurial experience and developed their entrepreneurial identity. This process involved the following aspects: self-reflection; communication; individual means; and definition of core values. Whereas self-reflection, communication, and definition of core values are a continuous process in identity development, individual means refer to aspects that happen once during the process:

  1. Self-reflection: throughout the nine months of the programme, all of the CCI entrepreneurs received coaching and attended workshops that helped them to self-reflect constantly on their entrepreneurial behaviour and personal values:

    For example, Maria states that “social responsibility and a sense of responsibility are some of my core values;” for Claudia is it important “to make social injustice visible.” And Jasmine says.

    I’ll probably never win a prize for literature. But hey, I can make a living from my writing. For me, that’s far better than getting any prizes.

    Self-reflection helped them in two ways. First, it helped them determine what kind of entrepreneur they wanted to be and which role they wanted to occupy. Second, they began to realise that they had similarities with other entrepreneurs; for both types, “business know-how and making money are essential if you’re going to survive” (Maria).This supports the findings of Brewer (1991) who states that self-reflection is necessary to develop an identity:

  2. Communication: to discover similarities with and the role-specific behaviour of other entrepreneurs, CCI entrepreneurs have to communicate with these. When the participants started to act entrepreneurially, they encountered other entrepreneurs and saw that these faced similar situations or had similar challenges to manage. Furthermore, they discovered that interacting with other entrepreneurs helped them define their own entrepreneurial role and identity:

    John, for example, states that: Talking to entrepreneurs who operate in similar areas is one of the things that has helped me most when becoming an entrepreneur myself.

    Stephanie says: I purposely set up a cooperative with other creative entrepreneurs so that we could support each other with advice and feedback and get different opinions. This has been really valuable to me.

    For Maria, “networking and interacting with others helps you to work entrepreneurially.”

    Jasmine: Talking to entrepreneurs from other industries has really helped me.

    Next to self-reflection and communication, there are several other individual aspects that the entrepreneurs consider important for their entrepreneurial identity. We summarise them under one group: “Individual Means”:

  3. Individual means: the individual means are based on the individual entrepreneurial needs. CCI entrepreneurs need these means to develop their entrepreneurial identity. For Stephanie and Kate, for example, it was very important to get an office of some kind. Both felt the need to have a room for inviting and meeting clients. For Stephanie, it felt impossible to be an entrepreneur and not have her own office:

    Stephanie says: To feel like an entrepreneur, I have to have some sort of office. For me it makes huge difference whether I’m at home, working at my desk with my children and my housework around me – or whether I’m in an office with a showroom where I can receive clients.

    Kate feel[s] much more professional, being in an office community.

    Jasmine had to adapt to the new financial situation of not having a regular monthly income. However, she needs “the financial pressure to take entrepreneurial actions”. After some months of first entrepreneurial steps, Jasmine felt the need “to get herself a pen name” to shape her entrepreneurial identity further:

    And Claudia knows that: I need to attend more workshops and seminars. They really have helped me become an entrepreneur.

  4. Definition of core values: values still play an important role for CCI entrepreneurs. They do not take up every offer, but carefully select the ways in which they earn money. John, for example, regards respect as an essential criterion for his work:

    He recently turned down an offer to make a music video. It would have been quite well paid, but the material was really, you know, antisocial. It was this gangster rap stuff. It’s not my kind of thing and I don’t want to be associated with it.

Instead of making the music video and earning a lot of money, he decided to stand up for his values and not accept the offer. For Maria, values play a very important role; for every project she takes on, she donates money for social purposes:

Maria: I really have to identify with the projects I do. And I definitely am an entrepreneur. Just maybe my goals [social responsibility and sense of responsibility] are a bit different from those of traditional entrepreneurs.

Claudia: I feel strongly involved in the films I make. For me, it’s not just about selling a product.

Kate: Before I start working on a project, I make sure the client and I get along well and that I find the project interesting. I won’t jump through hoops or work on projects that don’t appeal to me.

In the course of entrepreneurial actions, CCI entrepreneurs adapt their role definition of entrepreneurs. They discover what being an entrepreneur and acting entrepreneurially entails and forms their own role definition of entrepreneurs. Finally, entrepreneurs become part of the in-group, and the CCI entrepreneurs start defining themselves as “entrepreneurs”:

John: Sometimes I need to be braver and expand more. There are still some things I could do much better. But I definitely regard myself as an entrepreneur now.

Stephanie: The way I’ve just described an entrepreneur [as someone with a specific vision and lots of energy and who wants to create something and fulfil their ambitions] – well, I suppose I’ve just described myself.

Jasmine: The entrepreneur I’ve just described [people who identify with the products they offer and who can earn a living by being self-employed, and enjoy their work], that’s how I see myself. I enjoy my work, but I also take the market into consideration and I know why I’m doing what I’m doing. It feels good to me.

John sums it up: Gaining experience and trying things out is what helped me most to become an entrepreneur.

The participants defined themselves as entrepreneurs – however, the CCI entrepreneurs build a distinct entrepreneurial CCI identity with elements of an entrepreneurial identity (i.e. following market values) and a CCI identity (i.e. focusing on creativity and creative values). They form an entrepreneurial CCI identity in which their cultural and creative identity still plays an important role. For Jasmine, both her creative and her entrepreneurial side are really important. It is not necessary for CCI entrepreneurs to renounce creative values in order to become an entrepreneur. It is possible for them to combine creative and economic values and to adopt a business strategy that accommodates both. Stephanie, for example, says that she would never separate entrepreneurship from CCI. For her, CCI entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs who draw pictures or write texts but otherwise cannot be separated from other entrepreneurs:

John: I am an entrepreneur, but I don’t want to greatly expand my company. My core business is creativity and providing creative services.

Claudia: I am definitely not a traditional entrepreneur. Making money with my business is not what motivates me. I want to make a really good film. But of course, I also need money to make my film. So yes, well, somehow I am an entrepreneur, but I do care about my product.

To develop their entrepreneurial CCI identity, it is important for CCI entrepreneurs to interact with other entrepreneurs, be they fellow CCI entrepreneurs or traditional ones. They realise that the “boundaries” they had drawn up were too strict and that the “out-group” does not only have differences but also similarities. The entrepreneurs adapt their social identity. At the beginning, they considered entrepreneurs to be their “out-group” and held many prejudices about what entrepreneurs were. A process of self-reflection and interaction with other entrepreneurs allows them to better understand traditional entrepreneurs and to make entrepreneurs part of their in-group and their own social identity. Their self-image improves, and they can start to act entrepreneurially without contradicting their image of themselves and their core values. Furthermore, the participants build their own role-definitions of CCI entrepreneurs and the kind of entrepreneur they would like to be. These role-definitions entail behaviour of traditional entrepreneurs, i.e. earning money by serving market needs (Kirzner, 1985), together with CCI values and behaviour. CCI entrepreneurs use their CCI identity to create their very own entrepreneurial CCI identity. This identity allows them to operate in the market without neglecting their CCI values and the foundation of their business, which lies in creativity.

To develop their entrepreneurial identity, CCI entrepreneurs undergo a process where they adapt and manage their identities. At the beginning, they see themselves as creative people (in-group) who are different from entrepreneurs (out-group), regardless of whether they already act entrepreneurially or not. To retain a positive image of the in-group, they have preconceptions about, prejudices against and a negative image of the out-group. With increasing entrepreneurial experience, their perception of the out-group changes, and they increasingly discover similarities between the in-group and the out-group. Eventually, they include entrepreneurs in their in-group and define themselves as such. Furthermore, they adapt their role-definition of CCI entrepreneurs. They see themselves as CCI entrepreneurs who combine a business with a CCI identity and include creative as well as business values in their venture.

In this specific study, an entrepreneurial identity helps the CCI entrepreneurs develop their entrepreneurial behaviour, and it has more positive than negative effects on the entrepreneurs.

Jasmine, Claudia, and John, for example, not only increased their self-confidence but also became more successful financially:

Jasmine: The publisher has to create my image and market me. That’s not my job.

I’ve overperformed financially and have already made enough money to carry me through the first six months of the next year.

Claudia: Now I actively ask for payment. At the beginning, I didn’t have the courage to do that.

John: By the end of July I had already met my financial goals for the whole year. And I’ve developed ‘bigger balls’, so to say: I’ve got more self-confidence now and feel more secure.

This, however, contradicts some of the CCI literature, for example, Banks (2014), Hesmondhalgh (2008), Lindström (2016), and Oakley (2004, 2011, 2014). Whereas critical literature on CCI entrepreneurship highlights negative working conditions, such as underpayment, oversupply of workforce, or barriers of entry, the findings of our study only reveal high workloads and long working hours for the entrepreneurs. Stephanie, John, and Jasmine, for example, perceive high workloads as challenging in their daily work life – however, they do not feel overworked; instead, they pursue work routines reducing the workloads. Whereas Stephanie and John foster collaborations, Jasmine improves her work routines to “be able to handle things”.

Furthermore, they do not perceive any oversupply of workforce or any strong competition:

Jasmine, for example, feels that: other writers aren’t competitors. I see them as colleagues who have a different focus.

Anna, Maria, and Kate have a similar mind-set:

Anna: There aren’t many of us working in architectural psychology. So we are very respectful and appreciative of each other. And we’re spread out all over Germany and have different specialisations – so there is no competition.

Maria: I don’t think we have a problem with competition. The only problem is that nowadays everything already exists. But still, I think it’s the idea together with the people that make a business successful, so everybody has their own focus.

Kate: I know there are many others doing graphic design. And they are doing terrific work! But I don’t think it’s worth comparing them to me. I have my very own style and people notice this. I cooperate with another graphic designer whose style is similar to mine. But he is not competition. He has other clients and as long as I work in my specific niche, I don’t have to care about competition.

It is only Claudia who thinks: “The competition is really tough”.

The data of this research provide evidence for a positive impact of an entrepreneurial CCI identity. Developing an entrepreneurial CCI identity and having a business strategy that follows CCI principles along with business principles can help CCI entrepreneurs overcome some of the negative working conditions in CCI. Including business principles in their entrepreneurial strategy allows CCI entrepreneurs to receive adequate payment and to deal with any oversupply of workforce. CCI entrepreneurs do not develop an entrepreneurial identity that mainly focuses on financial aspects, but they build an entrepreneurial CCI identity that allows them to operate in the market without abandoning their CCI principles. The entrepreneurs develop their own identity that fits their specific niche and allows them to build their own market. However, one cannot regard an entrepreneurial CCI identity as the “holy grail” that solves all problems for CCI workers.


This study applies a longitudinal case study approach with eight CCI entrepreneurs from Germany to analyse the development of their entrepreneurial identity. It shows that CCI entrepreneurs do develop a distinct entrepreneurial CCI identity, and it examines how this development takes place.

The paper makes several theoretical contributions.

First, it helps build a bridge from entrepreneurship to identity research. Whereas Shepherd and Haynie (2009) stated that entrepreneurs have to balance their micro-identities for their well-being, this study analysed how one of these micro-identities develops. It showed that identity development is a process that requires experience, communication, and self-reflection. Communicating with other entrepreneurs and gaining entrepreneurial experience allows CCI entrepreneurs to discover that entrepreneurs from different industries face similar challenges and may pursue other goals than financial success. Furthermore, self-reflection is important for identity development. Constantly reflecting on their entrepreneurial behaviour allows the entrepreneurs to define their occupied role and to form their in-groups and out-groups (Stets and Burke, 2000; Stryker and Burke, 2000; Tajfel and Turner, 1986). This study reveals that it takes time to develop an entrepreneurial identity and supports Kreiner et al. (2006), who see an identity as something flexible that evolves over a period of time. The study supports the importance of an entrepreneurial identity: their entrepreneurial identity helps CCI entrepreneurs to act more entrepreneurially, rendering entrepreneurship easier for them.

Furthermore, the findings indicate that CCI entrepreneurs do not abandon their CCI identity when developing their entrepreneurial identity. Instead, they establish a distinct entrepreneurial CCI identity that makes it easier for them to behave as entrepreneurs without neglecting their CCI values.

Second, this study helps advance the literature on CCI entrepreneurship. So far, research has concentrated on the differences between CCI entrepreneurs and traditional entrepreneurs, on the industry characteristics of CCI and on the challenges that CCI entrepreneurs face (Eikhof and Haunschild, 2007; Küttim et al., 2011). This research, however, shows that CCI entrepreneurs are able to incorporate an entrepreneurial identity with their social identity. In addition, our findings reveal how CCI entrepreneurs define their own role as CCI entrepreneurs and the behaviour they should display when occupying this role.

Other studies only focus on CCI to reveal the difficult working conditions in this field (see Hesmondhalgh, 2008; Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011; Oakley, 2004). This study stands in contrast to some of the literature: it explores CCI entrepreneurs who are actually dealing with the challenges of CCI entrepreneurship. They actively seek support and revise their work processes. Our findings provide empirical evidence that CCI entrepreneurs do not necessarily get exploited, but that they can benefit from an entrepreneurial identity as it helps them receive adequate payment and deal with the oversupply of workforce.

The CCI literature typically distinguishes the working processes in the sub-industries (Mathieu, 2012; Hartley et al., 2013). The results of this study, however, do not reveal differences in entrepreneurial development in distinct sub-industries. Instead, the findings show that CCI entrepreneurs across all CCI industries arrive at their own role definition of entrepreneurs in the course of their entrepreneurial development. To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to show how CCI entrepreneurs evolve from creative practitioners, and how they deal with the challenge of developing their own entrepreneurial CCI identity. It reveals how CCI entrepreneurs can operate between the extremes of commercialisation and “art for art’s sake”. Rae (2012) stated that “the challenge of developing a sustainable business model for a new creative enterprise is at the heart of the learning process and current understanding is both theoretically and practically limited, representing an important area for enquiry” (p. 606). This paper goes a step further: instead of focusing on the status quo, this study contributes longitudinal research and is able to depict a process of entrepreneurial identity development in CCI which allows CCI entrepreneurs to manage a business by combining their creative values with business economics. However, CCI entrepreneurs do not become the type of entrepreneur they pictured in phase 1. Instead, they build their own kind of unique entrepreneurial CCI identity. However, entrepreneurs have to engage actively in identity development: to define themselves and their role as entrepreneurs eventually, CCI entrepreneurs rely on entrepreneurial experience, communication with other entrepreneurs and self-reflection. The study supports McIellen et al. (2011), who call for entrepreneurship programmes that increase the self-awareness of entrepreneurs. Third, the results also add to the knowledge about identity development. Every few weeks, the entrepreneurs in the programme had to undergo a reflection process: they had to ponder the past weeks and their entrepreneurial behaviour. Furthermore, they had to reflect the motivation for their behaviour. Through this process, they recognised behavioural and psychological patterns and it was easier for them to categorise themselves and their entrepreneurial role (Stets and Burke, 2000). Constantly reflecting on the self helps develop an identity as it facilitates role definition and the building of in-groups and out-groups.

Finally, the study provides insights for support programmes. Ideally, support programmes help CCI entrepreneurs establish and sustain their business. However, there is a lack of understanding of CCI entrepreneurs. To educate independent CCI entrepreneurs, support programmes have to enable them to develop an entrepreneurial CCI identity. To do so, such programmes have to meet the need of the entrepreneurs to understand the entrepreneurial behaviour and CCI entrepreneurs’ mind-set. To be successful, support programmes for CCI entrepreneurs should offer participants the opportunity to communicate with other entrepreneurs, to self-reflect and to recognise their own core values.

The existence of more of such successful support programmes would enable CCI entrepreneurs to further drive the economy without having to neglect their core values. Furthermore, our findings help enhance existing support programmes for CCI entrepreneurs. This study analysed the development of entrepreneurs in a particular support programme. Our results enabled the programme managers to examine the success of the programme and to obtain an objective assessment of the participants’ entrepreneurial development. Furthermore, the study shows how important it is for programme managers to gain experience with entrepreneurial activities. Our study is also valuable for nascent entrepreneurs who have yet to develop their entrepreneurial identity as it provides them with a roadmap that helps them self-reflect their identity development critically. We also point out how they can enhance the development process. In this context, it is important to note that entrepreneurs have to engage actively in entrepreneurial actions and mind-sets. By acting in an entrepreneurial way, entrepreneurs form the basis for their entrepreneurial identity. Support programmes should thus be aware of how critical entrepreneurial activities are in the development process and should ensure that such activities are incorporated in the programme.

Knowledge about the identity development process is also interesting to entrepreneurs in other industries, and sustainable entrepreneurs especially could benefit from it as they focus on more than just economic values. Experienced entrepreneurs can also draw insights from our findings. They can critically self-reflect their entrepreneurial identity and identity development process, and establish whether their core values are inherent in their entrepreneurial identity. Moreover, they can examine whether they should adapt their entrepreneurial identity to increase their entrepreneurial activities.


This study analyses the entrepreneurial identity development of CCI entrepreneurs. It thereby advances research on CCI entrepreneurship. Data were generated in real-time, and a longitudinal qualitative research design with eight CCI entrepreneurs was applied. The findings show that creative practitioners develop into CCI entrepreneurs and form their own entrepreneurial identity, which comprises aspects of both traditional entrepreneurship and CCI principles. Research so far has shown that CCI entrepreneurs challenge traditional business models. They commonly struggle with entrepreneurship, as business economics are believed to drive out cultural and creative values. However, this study reveals how CCI entrepreneurs develop a distinct entrepreneurial CCI identity. First, the entrepreneurs have to be motivated to act entrepreneurially; ideally, their decision to engage in entrepreneurship should be voluntary. It is common for CCI entrepreneurs to start with a business that concentrates on their creative talents. Second, the entrepreneurs have to take several actions allowing them to combine business with creative strategies. They have to self-reflect on their business and to define their individual means and values. Furthermore, entrepreneurship is a social discipline, and entrepreneurs do not develop in a vacuum. Therefore, they have to communicate with other entrepreneurs and their market. Third, through these actions, CCI entrepreneurs change their role definition of an entrepreneur. Gaining entrepreneurial experience, they manage to combine business with creative strategies and to arrive at their very own role definition of a CCI entrepreneur. This development makes CCI entrepreneurs change how they define their “in-groups” and “out-groups”. While initially perceiving traditional entrepreneurs as “opponents”, CCI entrepreneurs later on discover similarities with them and let go of potential prejudices. Finally, they make them part of their “in-group”. CCI entrepreneurs develop an entrepreneurial identity and recognise the need to make money; at the same time, they still manage to retain their core values and CCI principles and act accordingly. With our findings, we advance CCI entrepreneurship in theory and practice: to the best of our knowledge, our study is the first to show how CCI entrepreneurs develop an entrepreneurial identity that allows them to act entrepreneurially and to stand up for their CCI values. Furthermore, this study contributes to research on entrepreneurial identity. It supports research highlighting the importance of an entrepreneurial identity. Our study also reveals the need for CCI-specific support programmes and indicates on which aspects such programmes should focus.

Despite its valuable theoretical and practical contributions, our study is subject to some limitations which further research should address. Research on CCI entrepreneurship is still in its infancy. Therefore, this study can only rely on limited existing knowledge in this area. Further research should focus on CCI entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial development. Furthermore, the study sample is limited to eight entrepreneurs in one specific programme. On one hand, this makes the data more interesting, as the study works with highly motivated entrepreneurs; on the other hand, less promising entrepreneurs are not involved in the research process.

As the final follow-up interviews took place nine months after the programme ended, we could not track the development during this period in real-time, but had to rely on the entrepreneurs’ memories. However, this still allowed us to establish whether the participants had been successful entrepreneurially and whether they had developed an entrepreneurial identity. Furthermore, not all entrepreneurs attended the same number of workshops and coaching sessions. This did not result in any major negative consequences, however. In each session, all present entrepreneurs reported what had happened since the last session. With our longitudinal case study approach, the authors were thus able to track and analyse identity changes on an individual level, thereby developing a deeper understanding of the CCI entrepreneurs.

Further research should include entrepreneurs from different industries and examine whether there are any industry-specific differences in identity development. Furthermore, it would be interesting to see how an entrepreneurial identity changes over time. Future studies could investigate whether entrepreneurs adapt the definition of their entrepreneurial role and develop additional social identities. Further research should also include less promising entrepreneurs to reveal the negative consequences of CCI entrepreneurship. Furthermore, it would be of interest to examine differences between cultures regarding the development of entrepreneurial identities as well as the role of gender in CCI entrepreneurship.

The study helps CCI entrepreneurs develop their entrepreneurial identity. Furthermore, it suggests to organisers of CCI support programmes where and how they should intervene. This research provides evidence that identity development does take place for CCI entrepreneurs; however, it takes a long time. Therefore, future identity research should apply a longitudinal case study approach.


The development process of the entrepreneurial identity of CCI entrepreneurs

Figure 1

The development process of the entrepreneurial identity of CCI entrepreneurs

Path of identity development for CCI entrepreneurs

Figure 2

Path of identity development for CCI entrepreneurs

The participants

Entrepreneur Product/Service Sub-market Gender Background/relevant experience Number of interaction points Type of interaction points Entrepreneurial experience
John A combination of texts, photos and videos for newspapers, magazines and firms Other/press market Male Studies in journalism
Working in different editorials (including filming)
5 Coaching
Stephanie Interior design (rooms and ACCESSORIES) Art, design Female Studies in product design 5 Coaching
Maria Architectural psychology Architecture Female 10 years of working with architectural psychology 8 Coaching
Anna Public relations agency Other/press market Female 15 years of self-employment, including own PR agency for 8 years 7 Coaching
Drawings Art
Jasmine Author for children’s media Publishing/book and broadcasting Female Studies in theatre and literature (specialisation in the literature for children, pedagogy, screenplays and media)
Editor at a radio station
6 Coaching
Claudia Making films with street-experts on socially interesting topics Film Female Studies in film making
Working in film industry for 18 years now
7 Coaching
Harry Product design and production Design Male Studies in product design/industrial designer 4 Coaching
Kate Product design illustrations Design Female Apprenticeship and studies in design
Working as a part-time employed designer
6 Coaching

Source: Own illustration

Schedule of the programme of the entrepreneurs

Date Kind of training
19 March 2014 Kick-off presentation
31 March 2014 and 1 April 2014 Workshop “Peer Counselling”
15 April 2014 Workshop “Game Thinking”
7 May 2014 and 8 May 2014 Coaching
9 May 2014 Networking dinner
26 May 2014 and 27 May 2014 Workshop “Peer Counselling”
9 July 2014 Workshop “Communication”
23 July 2014 and 24 July 2014 Coaching “Peer Counselling”
25 August 2014 Workshop “Business Model Canvas”
1 October 2014 and 2 October 2014 Coaching
11 November 2014 and 12 November 2014 Coaching
20 November 2014 Workshop “Acquisitions & Negotiations”
3 December 2014 and 4 December 2014 Workshop “Peer Counselling”

Source: Own illustration according to the programme

Detailed overview of the workshop “peer counselling”

No. Minutes Method
I. 5 Determining the person (advice seeker) who will seek advice on his/her current challenges
II. 10 Advice seeker describes a current challenging situation and formulates a question that will be answered with the help of the group
III. (if necessary) 5 Group gives feedback on the question
IV. (if necessary) 5 Redefinition of the question
V. 15 Group asks about the challenge and about background information on the question
VI. 10 Group discusses the situation and their impression of it (the advice seeker is excluded)
VII. 5 Advice seeker comments on the discussion
VIII. 10 Group develops suggestions for a solution
IX. 5 Advice seeker explains how he/she will proceed with challenge
X. (if necessary) 5 Group and advice seeker give feedback on the proposed methods

Source: Own illustration



The names of the participants were changed by the authors to guarantee the participants’ anonymity.


This citation and all the following entrepreneur citations are the authors’ own translations from German.

Appendix 1. Overview of the programme for the entrepreneurs

Table AI

Peer counselling: for the detailed process of the workshop “Peer Counselling” please refer to Table AII.

Game thinking: what is game thinking and why is it relevant for me as an entrepreneur.

This workshop uses insights from game development on products and services, thereby improving the quality and the user experience of products/services.

Communication: this workshop reveals downsides and upsides of communication. It analyses the “corporate language” of the entrepreneurs and sheds light on the communication with customers.

Business model canvas: this workshop supports the development of an entrepreneurial strategy and answers the question of how CCI entrepreneurs can leverage their competences.

Acquisitions and negotiations: this workshop focuses on the customers: how can these be acquired, how to build relationships with them, and how to negotiate with them.

Appendix 2

Table AII


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Further reading

Klamer, A. (2011), “Cultural entrepreneurship”, Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 141-156.

O’Connor, J. (2010), The Cultural and Creative Industries: A Literature Review, 2nd ed., Great North House, Newcastle upon Tyne.


A DAAD scholarship enabled the work on this study.

Corresponding author

Daniela Werthes can be contacted at: