Entrepreneurship and high-technology ventures

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International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 27 September 2011



McGowan, P., Cooper, S. and van der Sijde, P. (2011), "Entrepreneurship and high-technology ventures", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 17 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijebr.2011.16017faa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Entrepreneurship and high-technology ventures

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, Volume 17, Issue 6

Why are high-technology small firms (HTSFs) so important? The role of high-technology firms in economic growth and innovation practice has received a great deal of attention in the past due to their contribution to economic development and to job and wealth creation. Increased levels of technology-based entrepreneurship are, thus, seen as key to the policy agendas of economic development agencies in many industrialised and newly-industrialising countries (Oakey, 1995; Cooper, 1998). Small, high-technology firms, in particular, are increasingly seen to contribute significantly to the creation of new jobs and to the innovative capacity of regional economies through knowledge transfer and strategic linkages with universities, larger firms and research centres. Whilst many developed countries have traditional strengths in and advantages for the development of technology ventures many continue to face challenges in establishing and growing such enterprises to scale.

While higher education institutions (HEIs) are a source of knowledge in many technology-related areas, a challenge here is to consider how best to translate this knowledge into commercial value whereby academic entrepreneurs in such institutions take that knowledge forward to create new ventures or integrate it into the activities of existing enterprises through third-party licensing agreements. Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial new venturers in the technology sector, be they from academia or from the commercial world, are often not best placed to launch and develop their enterprises successfully because, while they are highly qualified in some aspect of science, engineering and technology (SET), they often lack the key entrepreneurial management competencies and core networks of contacts needed for new firm formation and growth. Other obstacles seen as likely to arrest small, high-technology firms from growing include accessing key resources needed for development. Brush et al. (2001) distinguish six types of resources:

  1. 1.


  2. 2.


  3. 3.


  4. 4.


  5. 5.

    physical; and

  6. 6.

    human resources.

At the root of the contributions to this special issue lie how these resources are sourced by the entrepreneur and how they are provided via different support networks/organisations.. For example, universities can provide access to technological and human resources, incubators and science parks provide physical resources, governments provide subsidy schemes, banks and (formal/informal) investors provide access to financial resources, incubators and SME support agencies may provide (access to) organisational resources and strategic marketing networks give (access to) social resources and key market opportunities. Together organisations and institutions that provide access to these resources via their services comprise a growing entrepreneurship industry in itself (McGowan et al., 2008). The various agencies involved in supporting the efforts of aspiring technology entrepreneurs are challenged to provide a supportive environment which will increase the potential for such ventures to survive and grow.

Evidence suggests that, following secondary and, typically, tertiary education, most of those who might establish a technology-based venture on their own/with others, first work for one or more employers prior to doing so (Cooper, 2006; Harrison et al., 2004). Such an “entrepreneurial apprenticeship” may provide aspiring new technology entrepreneurs with an opportunity to develop some of the knowledge, skills, networks and confidence needed to identify and exploit commercial opportunities, with most would-be technology entrepreneurs establishing businesses in their mid-to-late thirties (Cooper, 2006; Harrison et al., 2004). Developing a thorough understanding of product/service markets and devising suitable strategies to access, serve and support their customers are major challenges for founders of technology-based businesses generally (Aldrich and Zimmer, 1986; Chandler and Jansen, 1992; Cooper, 2006; Harrison et al., 2004). Women, in particular, despite the increase in their number studying science, engineering and technology subjects at University level, are a constituency grievously under-represented in what are traditionally seen as male-dominated sectors. It has been increasingly recognised that they are, however, a constituency with significant potential to contribute to economic development through greater entrepreneurial new venturing activity in the high-technology sector.

If levels of technology venturing are to be enhanced and existing ventures are to experience higher growth it is important to understand more about how internal attitudes and management approaches and the provision of external support, from incubation to specialist inputs through the life of the venture, can help to enhance performance. Therefore, the papers in this special issue explore a range of internal and external issues for venture development. Thus, some papers in this special issue focus on the role of external agents and supporters of entrepreneurial new venturing (ENV) through to established firms experiencing growth. Other papers focus on the individual entrepreneur and the venture itself and how different behaviours of the entrepreneur can influence the venture’s development and growth.

There are five papers in this issue.

In the first paper, “Developing quality in female high-technology entrepreneurs’ networks”, Alison Hampton and Pauric McGowan explore the importance of networking for female technology venturers focusing, in particular, on the significance of quality issues in networking practice for female entrepreneurs operating in what is recognised, traditionally, as a fundamentally male-dominated sector. Using an in-depth interview approach, and NVivo to analyse data, 18 female entrepreneurs operating SET-based ventures in Northern Ireland were interviewed over a period of 12 months. The authors provide insights into the dynamics of female entrepreneurial networking practice within this context and explore aspects of network types and composition, the nature and frequency of engagement between network actors and changes in network composition and activities over the business life-cycle. In addition to exploring quality issues in the women’s networking practices they consider the implications for government policies aimed at encouraging a greater level of engagement by women in high-technology venturing.

Alsos, Hytti and Ljunggren, in their paper “Stakeholder theory approach to technology incubators”, consider the difficulties of assessing the effectiveness of incubators, due to the often multiple and conflicting objectives of different stake-holders. They use stakeholder theory to investigate how technology incubators attempt to balance the expectations of the various stakeholders and how doing so shapes those incubators and their potential for success. A case-study methodology is utilised to provide insights into how incubator managers balance those complex and conflicting goals, and how suboptimal solutions are chosen, more often than not, to balance and fulfil expectations sufficiently in order to ensure survival. The authors contribute to the critical analysis of the technology incubator ideal and in doing so provide three strategies for balancing stakeholders expectations.

Ahmad and Ingle, in their paper “Relationships matter: case study of a University campus incubator”, build upon themes presented in the two previous papers by focusing on the role of the incubator manager and factors likely to contribute to relational quality. The research presented is conducted within a University setting, and focuses on the incubator manager’s relationship with those who are his or her client companies within the incubator. Adopting a case-study approach they identify how incubation is dependent upon the quality of human relationships and occurs through a process of co-production in dyads and triads. Without voluntary and active participation of client firms the mechanism that facilitates co-production breaks down. They conclude that in the incubation process there are many small micro-processes, each with its own norms, dynamic and stages depending on relational quality that will have a bearing on the potential for effective incubation management.

In their paper “Business support for new technology-based firms: a study of entrepreneurs in North Wales”, Jones and Parry build upon a number of themes explored in previous papers and reflect on aspects of support for technology venturing. Using a purposive sample of eight small technology firms the authors provide insights to key areas of business support used by technology entrepreneurs in North Wales to launch new ventures. While considering the challenges that new venturers face in accessing business support, they identify how technology entrepreneurs in the research access direct and indirect support, including local and central government support, as well as that from banks, universities, technology incubation units and other collaborative networks. The research provides evidence for these support agencies and networks as to the more important aspects of business support needed for new technology based firms, contributing to the potential for increased business success within economically-deprived regions.

Finally, Miller, McAdam, Moffett and Brennan, in their paper “An exploratory study of retaining and maintaining knowledge in university technology transfer processes”, focuses on the University Science Park Incubator where knowledge in a variety of forms needs to be retained and maintained. Related to themes developed in other papers in this issue the research aims to investigate the networking competencies of stake-holders involved in university technology transfer processes using absorptive capacity theory. The authors explore how knowledge is retained externally and maintained through a network of key relationships. The paper establishes a research agenda for knowledge retention in technology transfer where traditionally the emphasis has been on development of knowledge. Further the authors establish absorptive capacity theory as a framework for providing a consistent theoretical basis for exploring the role of stakeholders in this area.

We would like to thank all of those who originally expressed an interest in submitting a paper to the special issue, those who did, and with whom we have worked to develop the final set of papers and last, but by no means least, the anonymous reviewers whose feedback on papers has been immensely valuable in helping us bring the special issue to fruition.

Pauric McGowanDepartment of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Strategy, University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland UKSarah CooperUniversity of Edinburgh Business School, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Peter van der SijdeThe Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Aldrich, H. and Zimmer, C. (1986), “Entrepreneurship through social networks”, in Sexton, D. and Smilor, R. (Eds), The Art and Science of Entrepreneurship, Ballinger, Cambridge MA, pp. 3–23

Brush, C.G., Carter, N., Gatewood, E., Greene, P. and Hart, M. (2001), An Investigation of Women-led Firms and Venture Capital Investment, report, the US Small Business Administration – Office of Advocacy and the National Women’s Business Council

Chandler, G.N. and Jansen, E. (1992), “The founder’s self-assessed competence and venture performance”, Journal of Business Venturing, Vol. 7, pp. 223–36

Cooper, S. (2006), “Exploring the pre-entrepreneurial careers of high-technology entrepreneurs”, International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning, Vol. 16 No. 5, pp. 341–54

Cooper, S.Y. (1998), “Entrepreneurship and the location of high-technology small firms; implications for regional development”, in Oakey, R.P. and During, W. (Eds), New Technology-Based Firms in the 1990s, Paul Chapman, London, pp. 247–67

Harrison, R., Cooper, S. and Mason, C. (2004), “Entrepreneurial activity and the dynamics of cluster development: the case of Ottawa”, Urban Studies, Vol. 41 Nos 4/5, pp. 1045–70

McGowan, P., Van der Sijde, P. and Kirby, D. (2008), “The role of universities in the entrepreneurship industry, promoting the entrepreneurship agenda in HEIs”, The Industry and Higher Education Journal, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 49–59

Oakey, R.P. (1995), High-technology New Firms: Variable Barriers to Growth, Paul Chapman, London

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