Small Business Economics

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 53–76 | Cite as

What makes student entrepreneurs? On the relevance (and irrelevance) of the university and the regional context for student start-ups



Student start-ups are a significant part of overall university entrepreneurship. Yet, we know little about the determinants of this type of start-ups and, specifically, the relevance of context effects. Drawing on organizational and regional context literature, we develop and test a model that aims to explain student entrepreneurship in a contextual perspective. Based on unique micro-data and using multi-level techniques, we analyse nascent and new entrepreneurial activities of business and economics students at 41 European universities. Our analysis reveals that individual and contextual determinants influence students’ propensity to start a business. While peoples’ individual characteristics are most important, the organizational and regional contexts also play a role and have a differentiated effect, depending on the source of the venture idea and the stage of its development. Organizational characteristics, like the prevalence of fellow students who have attended entrepreneurship education, influence whether students take action to start a new firm (nascent entrepreneurship) but do not seem to support the actual establishment of a new firm. In contrast, the latter is less dependent on the university context but more strongly influenced by regional characteristics. Overall, our study contributes to our understanding of the emergence of start-ups in the organizational context of universities and has implications for initiatives and programs that aim at encouraging students to become entrepreneurs.


University entrepreneurship Students Regional context Organizational context Multi-level analysis Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey (GUESSS) 

JEL Classifications

L26 M13 M14 O18 



Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 2013 Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference, the ICSB 2014 World Conference and the 2014 Academy of Management Annual Meeting. We thank Philipp Sieger and Denis Grégoire for comments on earlier versions of this paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heiko Bergmann
    • 1
  • Christian Hundt
    • 2
  • Rolf Sternberg
    • 3
  1. 1.Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and EntrepreneurshipUniversity of St. GallenSt. GallenSwitzerland
  2. 2.Geography Department, Urban and Regional EconomicsRuhr-Universität BochumBochumGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Economic and Cultural GeographyLeibniz Universität HannoverHannoverGermany

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