Rethinking Collaborative Entrepreneurship: The Impact of Networks and Cognitions on Research Opportunities

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Haller, Meg
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Entrepreneurial behavior is an important and prevalent behavior among academic scientists - key members of the science and innovation workforce. In this setting, the academic-entrepreneur is one who develops and markets their research production in order to increase personal or institutional profit, influence, or prestige (Louis, Blumental et al. 1989). Scholars studying the question of why some individuals have a greater inclination towards entrepreneurial behavior can be organized into two schools of thought. In the first school, entrepreneurs are individuals who are endowed with a particular set of characteristics and abilities such as certain cognitive biases that mean entrepreneurs think differently and therefore make different decisions about opportunity pursuits (Krueger, Acs et al. 2003). The second school of thought is the situational approach where entrepreneurial behavior is primarily determined by the social context in which the entrepreneur operates. Included here are social network theorists who conceptualize social context as a complex set of social relationships or ties between members in a social system that provide information, influence and solidarity benefits that enable the entrepreneur to better identify and exploit entrepreneurial opportunities (Aldrich, Zimmer et al. 1986). These two research trajectories oversimplify the complexity involved in entrepreneurial behavior. Entrepreneurship does not occur spontaneously so it cannot be entirely situational. It requires a human agent - the entrepreneur - to identify and choose to pursue the opportunity. Conversely, the entrepreneur does not make the decision to pursue opportunity in a vacuum. Rather, the decision is strongly contingent on the context in which the choice was made. Hence, fully understanding entrepreneurial behavior requires an integrative approach that considers the characteristics of the decision maker and the social context in which the decision is made. This paper takes a small step towards integrating these two views by asking to what extent one aspect of situational variation - social networks - is mediated by one aspect of individual difference - cognitive biases - to determine one type of entrepreneurial behavior - the pursuit of external grant funding by academic scientists. The research setting is academic science and the research subjects are individual scientists. Because the ultimate objective is to determine how cognitive processes mediate the relationship of social networks on entrepreneurial behavior, a network-cognitive model of collaborative entrepreneurship is proposed. Specific hypotheses are developed based on the combination of network constructs and cognitive biases. The network-cognitive model is then tested against grant submissions and the findings reported. The model is estimated on data obtained from an online survey of 3,489 academic scientists in Research I Universities in six fields of science and engineering that resulted in 1,764 usable responses. Findings reveal that the some aspects of social structure may influence entrepreneurial behavior because they change the level of individual's cognitive bias. Specifically, the influence of number of advisors, level of trust in advice relationships and the number of grant writing collaborators on entrepreneurial behavior were mediated by illusion of control, representativeness, and overconfidence bias. These mediated effects were found to decrease the number of grant proposals submitted and to increase the percentage of these grant submissions that received funding awards. The results of this work provide insight into the importance of networks and cognitions and the complex relationship between structure and cognitive processes in determining individual behavior.
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