Destination: self-employment

The self-employment figures in Germany will likely stagnate or may even decline, given recent demographic changes. This development provides the impetus of this thesis. To counteract this, it needs to mitigate individuals’ reservations to take up entrepreneurial activity. This thesis argues that comprehensive information about the typical characteristics of foundings could sensitise individuals toward entrepreneurial activity, induce aspiring entrepreneurs to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions and, moreover, help to increase these foundings’ prospects of success. In so doing, this thesis focuses on new venture creation and family business succession through family members among the several paths to self-employment, as these are the two most frequent types of foundings in Germany. In light of these types’ relevance for the German economy, economic drawbacks can be expected if the above-mentioned development becomes reality: a lack of competent start-up entrepreneurs or family successors and, therefore, to a stagnating or declining number of promising new venture creations or to shutdowns of profitable family businesses.

In sum, the objective of this thesis is to counteract a possible decreasing number of promising new venture creations and unnecessary shutdowns of viable businesses by portraying the typical characteristics, opportunities and challenges that accompany both entrepreneurial entry modes.

In order to achieve this goal, this thesis first conducts a literature review on the idiosyncrasies of both founding types. In so doing, the pivotal findings systematically describe these types by following the framework of William B. Gartner, who had already delineated the phenomenon of new venture creation in 1985 on the basis of four dimensions, viz., the environment, organisation, process and individual. In particular, this thesis refines the insights on the individual dimension of new venture creation and of family business succession.

Further elaborating new venture creation answers the question of which individuals have the requisite features to discover market opportunities and are willing to enter self-employment but have been left unaddressed in academic research and practice to date. Conceptual deliberations and empirical results reveal that this question applies to long-term international assignees. Job-related assignments increase these assignees’ spectrum of skills and abilities and the scope of their social contacts. These factors, in turn, facilitate the identification of market opportunities and – through playing a mediating role, added by career prospects – promote their propensity to get engaged in entrepreneurial activities.

The central issue of the ensuing elaboration on family business succession is which capabilities and attributes family successors must possess in order to hold a leadership position in the family enterprise. A requirement profile derived from a systematic review of academic research and interviews conducted with predecessors and family successors shows that successors are expected to have extensive and diverse hard and soft skills.

The thesis concludes by extending and updating Gartner’s (1985) conceptual framework for describing new venture creation. The abundance of characteristics that have been compiled throughout this PhD thesis and their recursive relationships convey the complexity and multidimensionality of founding processes. The results indicate that a holistic approach is needed to comprehensively understand entrepreneurial activity.

Moreover, juxtaposing the typical characteristics of new venture creation and family business succession provides interesting insights on the similarities and differences between both founding types. These insights offer widespread information on the respective opportunities, challenges and necessary abilities and skills for individuals on both career paths. This information can provide valuable hints to individuals interested in founding ventures to verify whether self-employment corresponds to their profile and can particularly support children of company owners with founding ambitions in weighing which kind of founding may best suit their personal profiles in order to achieve self-employment.

In sum, the results enhance the scientific and practical understanding of new venture creation and family business succession. The results on founding-relevant components and the relationships among them can serve as the basis for prospective research. For example, they can be implemented into software programmes as algorithms to simulate the interplay and dynamics of founding processes. Moreover, the findings on the similarities and dissimilarities of both founding types contribute to academic debates on the relevance of research contexts.

Schlepphorst, S. (2016): Destination: self-employment, Dissertation, Bonn.

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