Dissonance in the academy: the formation of the faculty entrepreneur

Bridget D. Feldmann (Educational Administration and Foundations Department, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, USA)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Publication date: 29 July 2014



While interest in and demand for entrepreneurial universities has gained prominence in recent years (e.g. Clark, 1998; Etzkowitz, 2008; Thorp and Goldstein, 2010), there is minimal research on the learning experiences and career-making events that transform traditional faculty members into faculty entrepreneurs who are able to successfully apply their research knowledge toward endeavors that intersect with the private market. As a result, the purpose of this paper is to understand, from the perspective of faculty entrepreneurs, the lived learning experiences that contributed to their development from traditional faculty member to faculty entrepreneur. Specifically, this study explored the question on how faculty members who were founders or co-founders of a business learned “to work in entrepreneurial ways” (Rae and Carswell, 2000, p. 220). In general, individuals who are interested in pursuing a career as a professor are not generally socialized during graduate school to engage in technology transfer activities or encouraged to start businesses (Bercovitz and Feldman, 2008). This study also sought to understand how faculty entrepreneurs learn to persist in an organizational culture that does not always support entrepreneurial endeavors outside the scope of researching, teaching, and service.


A phenomenological qualitative research design was employed using in-depth, semi-structured interview questions. Entrepreneurial learning was the theoretical framework that grounded this study.


The data analysis process revealed six themes which offer insights on the learning experiences, contextual factors, and patterns of behavior that helped the participants to develop and to persist as faculty entrepreneurs.

Research limitations/implications

First, the data were dependent upon the learning experiences identified and articulated by the faculty entrepreneurs. There is a possibility that significant learning or career-making experiences were omitted or unintentionally not reported by the participants. Second, the author used a broad net when searching and recruiting for faculty entrepreneurs. Any faculty member who was in a tenure-track position and who had founded or co-founded an organization was eligible to participate in this study. However, the data analysis process may have yielded different results if the author had elected to study faculty entrepreneurs from a specific academic discipline or if the author had chosen to only interview faculty entrepreneurs who had founded a specific type of business. Third, this study focussed only on tenured faculty members who are currently involved with the businesses that they founded or co-founded. Subsequently, this study did not include any faculty members whose entrepreneurial pursuits were unsuccessful (i.e. closing the business). There is the possibility that former faculty entrepreneurs may have had similar learning experiences as the individuals who were interviewed for this study.

Practical implications

The findings may be instructive for traditional faculty members who are interested in applying their research findings and expertise with an entrepreneurial endeavor such as starting a business. In addition, these findings may be useful for higher education administrators who seek to cultivate an entrepreneurial learning environment in their institutions and for future researchers who want to expand the study of faculty entrepreneurs.


There is a gap in the literature on how traditional faculty members learn to couple their research knowledge and expertise with an entrepreneurial endeavor such as starting a small business. In addition, there has been minimal research that delineates how the faculty entrepreneur comes into existence at the individual level (Clarysse et al., 2011; Pilegaard et al., 2010). Subsequently, this is one of the first phenomenological qualitative research studies to examine the lived learning experiences of faculty entrepreneurs.



D. Feldmann, B. (2014), "Dissonance in the academy: the formation of the faculty entrepreneur", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 20 No. 5, pp. 453-477. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEBR-08-2013-0124

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