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

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Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. We refrain from including the national level in our analysis because this would have required a different research design involving a greater number of countries. Also, a preliminary analysis suggests that the proportion of variance at the national level is only small when accounting for the individual, organizational, and regional level.

  2. To the best of our knowledge, there is only one study that discovers a statistically significant negative impact of regional GDP/capita on nascent entrepreneurial activities (Bergmann and Sternberg 2007), the reasons of which were presumably related to the very specific and unusual situation after the burst of the dotcom bubble 2000–2002.

  3. The following 41 universities are included in the analysis (sorted by country): Austria: FH Salzburg; France: ESCP Paris; Euromed Marseille; Groupe ESC Troyes; Germany: Hochschule Aalen; Univ. Bayreuth; FH Coburg; Univ. Düsseldorf; Hochschule Esslingen; Zeppelin Univ. Friedrichshafen; Univ. Göttingen; FH Hannover; Univ. Hannover; Hochschule Konstanz; FH Ludwigshafen; Univ. Siegen; Univ. Witten/Herdecke; Westsächsische Hochschule Zwickau; Hungary: EJF—Eötvös József Foiskola (Eötvös József College); ME—Miskolci Egyetem (University of Miskolc); SZE—Széchenyi István Egyetem (Szechenyi Istvan University); Luxembourg: Univ. du Luxembourg; Netherlands: Erasmus Univ. Rotterdam; Hogeschool Utrecht; Hotelschool Den Haag; Nyenrode Business University; Rijksuniv. Groningen; Univ. Twente; Univ. Utrecht; FH Campus Wien; Switzerland: Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne; Haute école d'Ingénieurs et de Gestion du Canton de Vaud; Haute école de gestion Arc; Haute école de gestion de Fribourg; Haute école de gestion de Genève; HES-SO MScBA Lausanne; Univ. Bern; Univ. St. Gallen; Univ. de Fribourg; Univ. de Lausanne; Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften.

  4. We do find a small but statistically significant difference between the two groups for gender (females: early: 43.6 %; late: 47.7 %). However, our interpretation of this finding is as follows: male students spend more time per day using the internet (Kleimann et al. 2008) and are, thus, more likely to be early rather than late respondents in an online survey.

  5. Åstebro et al. (2012) estimate that 6.4 % of all graduates of US universities start a business within three years after graduation. For Germany, this share is about 5.5 % (Holtkamp and Imsande 2001). Thus, our estimate of the prevalence of nascent entrepreneurs appears reasonably high.

  6. The value of 3.5 years has been selected because it is widely used to distinguish owner–managers of new businesses from those of established businesses, e.g. in many studies based on Global Entrepreneurship Monitor data.

  7. The respondents had to answer the following question: “Where did the idea for this business come from?” Multiple answers were possible.

  8. The exact wording of these items can be found in Bergmann (2015).

  9. Because of our survey design, we are not able to make any claims about the representativeness of these findings.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Heiko Bergmann.

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Bergmann, H., Hundt, C. & Sternberg, R. What makes student entrepreneurs? On the relevance (and irrelevance) of the university and the regional context for student start-ups. Small Bus Econ 47, 53–76 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-016-9700-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-016-9700-6

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