Research Highlights: How Entrepreneurs ‘Make Do’ with the Resources at Hand in Peripheral Areas

(posted on behalf of @Tobias Pret and @Aviel Cogan, Research Committee) 

Entrepreneurship scholars have long been fascinated by entrepreneurs’ mobilization of resources, since their firms’ smallness and newness often severely constrain them. While much progress has been made in explaining how entrepreneurs ‘make do’ with the resources at hand through the concept of entrepreneurial bricolage, the contextual dimensions of this phenomenon has received less attention. Given that many peripheral regions, such as rural areas and depleted urban communities, suffer from a lack of access to high-quality human capital, infrastructure, suppliers, and markets, a focus on the impact of spatial contexts on such entrepreneurial practices is sorely needed. Steffen Korsgaard, Sabine Müller, and Friederike Welter explore these contextual dimensions in their recent Entrepreneurship and Regional Development (ERD) study, titled “It’s right nearby: How entrepreneurs use spatial bricolage to overcome resource constraints.”

Korsgaard explained recently that the paper was based on an idea they developed 10 years ago when Aarhus University “had Julienne Senyard visiting from Australia, and we would bounce about this notion of spatial bricolage.” He said the paper “grew out of Sabine’s Ph.D. work… She went out and studied entrepreneurs in three different rural areas in Denmark… basically collecting data at a regional level and also at the individual entrepreneur level.” As a result, they “had findings, you know, with tables and figures for three research questions, so it was… almost like a book that we condensed into one paper, but we felt that it was super meaningful and easy to read.” Korsgaard continued that the paper was “rejected a couple of times and eventually, [they] had to revise our idea. So we sliced it up, [taking] what we felt was probably the strongest contribution and [wrote] a very focused, very narrow paper… introducing the notion of spatial bricolage through the empirical case studies.”

Unfortunately, once submitted to ERD, “Reviewer number 2 … said, ‘I don't see the novelty in spatial bricolage as compared with other forms of bricolage, and what you’re basically doing in the paper is just coming up with a new term for something that’s already covered in the literature,’ which was… a pretty strong critique,” said Korsgaard. Though initially disheartening, this critique launched a particularly productive line of inquiry. Korsgaard explained that they then decided to “take a look at… some of the other types of bricolage that have been studied [to] see if we can map them out. And that was extremely rewarding, because that also sharpened our attention to this notion of ‘at hand’, which is… a metaphor that’s just part of the definition of bricolage. But I haven’t really come across any sort of really strong conceptualization of what that metaphor means… [I]t became quite clear that… it can manifest itself as networks in social bricolage; as ideas, culture, and values in ideational bricolage; and as physical resources in material bricolage… [T]he exploration of that [academic] landscape was… just incredibly rewarding and super interesting… and then positioning our contribution in that way …. So a big thanks to reviewer number 2 for pushing us to do that particular exercise.”

As might be expected, developing a paper over such an extended period of time caused some difficulties. For example, the second author left academia to work in the industry halfway through this journey. As Korsgaard described, “I think the most challenging was definitely having to go back and look at the NVivo files... Sabine had done a lot of work in NVivo – she was a real NVivo nerd and that actually was one of the reasons why she left for Lego… [T]he job she got at Lego would allow her to do a lot of that work and not the whole publishing backend of it… But there was this wonderful NVivo database, you know, with so many codes and so many layers that I had to go into and kind of figure out, and even though Sabine had done this amazing work and had this very structured database, it was still her data, and it was still her database, so it was a bit of a challenge for me going back into the data… and working it out.” But, just like the entrepreneurs they studied, the remaining authors were able to make do with the resources at hand to successfully develop our understanding.