Entrepreneurs: Everybody Needs Somebody

Authors Aviel Cogan, Tobias Pret, and Melissa Cardon reflect on their recent article “Everyday social support processes: Household members’ instrumental and emotional support of entrepreneurs” published in the International Small Business Journal: Researching Entrepreneurship.

In our experiences with entrepreneurs, we have learnt that they are far from “self-made” but instead rely heavily on social support systems, especially those closest to them. We have also seen, in our own lives, how integral our spouses and children are in our abilities to do our work and cope with both personal and professional struggles.

Maintaining supportive relationships requires frequent interactions, openness and communication from all sides. Support has to be actively sought and provided, and most people rely on the help of others on a regular basis. Yet, all too often we see stories perpetuating the notion that entrepreneurs draw themselves up by their bootstraps or succeed only once they achieve independence from other’s support. Such stereotypical representations position entrepreneurship as an entirely individualistic exercise aimed at self-sufficiency.

Authors Aviel Cogan, Tobias Pret, and Melissa S. Cardon

We therefore felt compelled to study relational experiences of entrepreneurship. In particular, we wanted to understand the agency practiced by entrepreneurs and households in seeking out and supplying support not just up until successful business establishment, but throughout the entire entrepreneurial journey. To do this, we looked at both parties’ perspectives to better understand how this support process works over time.

Accordingly, we delved deeply into the lived experiences of 10 artisan entrepreneurs and their household members by repeatedly interviewing and observing them over the course of 18 months. Artisan entrepreneurs are compelling subjects for such an enquiry, as most of them actively engage in all business activities as their ventures grow and they also continue to rely on household support, since most are solo entrepreneurs.

As a rare example of entrepreneurship research which treats non-entrepreneurs as research subjects in their own right, rather than as points of data about entrepreneurs, we believe this study adds valuable insights into the relational character of entrepreneurship. We find that household support does not play an auxiliary role in entrepreneurship, but instead is an essential part of entrepreneurs’ daily practices.

What surprised us during our interviews and analysis was just how intimately households were involved in the ventures of entrepreneurs. While we expected high levels of support, we found that entrepreneurs relied on their household members (who all maintained their own full-time jobs) for everything from advice about business and creative ideas to help with legitimizing and promoting their businesses. Emotional support emerged as especially pivotal in helping overcome the stress, self-doubt, and anxiety with which entrepreneurs were found to regularly struggle. As such, artisan entrepreneurs’ actions and persistence appear highly dependent on significant, active, and collaborative household support.

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Aviel Cogan, Tobias Pret, and Melissa Cardon

Aviel Cogan is a PhD candidate at the Hunter Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde. Tobias Pret is an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Illinois State University. He explores entrepreneurship in the creative industries and the role of context in entrepreneurial practices. Melissa Cardon is the Nestlé Endowed Professor of Business Administration in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

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