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Learning styles of entrepreneurs in knowledge-intensive industries

Robert M. Gemmell (Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore whether there is a prevalent entrepreneurial learning style trait associated with successful knowledge industry entrepreneurial practice.


The paper reviews prior entrepreneurship studies utilizing experiential learning theory and examines the learning style preferences of 168 knowledge industry entrepreneurs to deduce a hypothesized entrepreneurial learning style. The entrepreneur participants’ Kolb Learning Style Inventory scores are modeled to explore causal links to individual and firm level entrepreneurial success.


Preference for the Kolb Active Experimentation (AE) learning mode over Reflective Observation (RO) predicts adoption of a key entrepreneurial innovation behavior and significant entrepreneurial performance benefits. In contrast to published theories, the RO learning mode exhibits surprising negative effects on entrepreneurial performance. Data analysis also reveals that 90 percent of sampled co-founder/partners had at least one partner with the hypothesized entrepreneurial style.

Research limitations/implications

The study fills a major research gap in entrepreneurial learning literature by identifying learning style traits associated with entrepreneurial success. The study findings can also be used by educators, practitioners and investors to help identify, appraise and develop entrepreneurial talent.


The study provides novel insights into the learning styles of practicing technology entrepreneurs by establishing a significant preference within this community for the AE and Concrete Experience learning modes. The study illustrates the negative effects of the RO learning mode which has previously linked to successful entrepreneurial practice.



The author would like to acknowledge and thank Dr David A. Kolb for his assistance with helpful comments and perspectives on this research paper.

This paper forms part of a special section Entrepreneurial learning dynamics in knowledge intensive enterprises.


Gemmell, R.M. (2017), "Learning styles of entrepreneurs in knowledge-intensive industries", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 446-464.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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