Learning for competitions sake: the competition know-how imperative amongst nascent entrepreneurs

Kayleigh Watson, Pauric McGowan

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

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    Topic & Aim: The idea that a strong entrepreneurial learning imperative underpins the endeavours of the nascent entrepreneur is widely acknowledged. To this end and as part of a broader start-up competition agenda, Business Plan Competitions are readily prescribed as an important entrepreneurial learning activity. This is on the basis of participation affording development of skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to successful venture implementation. Such prescription appears underpinned by the assumed strong synergies between the competition experience offered and how nascent entrepreneurs are purported to learn, henceforth an emphasis upon learning by and through doing, stakeholder interaction, mentoring and feedback. Business Plan Competitions are accordingly promoted as representing an authentic experience which, through the participant engaging in business plan production, pitching, networking and training workshops, provides learning of relevance and applicative benefit beyond a competition context. Despite the persistent championing of their entrepreneurial learning credentials, Business Plan Competitions represent an under researched phenomenon; particularly within the context of the entrepreneurial learning of the nascent entrepreneur. Consequently Business Plan Competition participation has largely gone unchallenged as an entrepreneurial learning experience. Acceptance of this agenda is apparent despite a clear lack of evidence to support such an impact; specifically from the perspective of the nascent entrepreneur participant both immediately following and in the months after their participation. These considerations rendered the exploration of how Business Plan Competition participation serves to provide know-how amongst nascent entrepreneurs an important and timely aim for research. Method: Given the exploratory nature of this research a longitudinal qualitative methodological approach was adopted. Positioning nascent entrepreneur participants as the focus of analysis, the paper draws upon data yielded from participants of a UK university based Business Plan Competition over three stages; at the start-of, end-of and six months after participation. In-depth open-ended interviews were utilised as a data collection method. This method enabled the accessing, capturing and elucidating nascent entrepreneur experiences of the competition but also appreciation of the meanings attached to this experience as a source of entrepreneurial learning. An inductive analytical approach was taken to identify patterns across participant accounts Data was analysed according to the stage of data collection with this analysis informing the subsequent stage[s] of data collection. Findings and Contribution: The findings of the study indicated clear shifts amongst participants away from viewing the BPC participation as an entrepreneurial learning experience but also a narrowing relevance of learning afforded through participation over the study period. At the start of the competition, participation was viewed as a valuable learning opportunity in pursuit of making the nascent venture happen. Accordingly and symptomatic of their nascent status, the entrepreneurs were aware of the know-how which they did not hold but needed to progress the venture. The competition and its experiential emphasis, was viewed as being able to provide lacking capabilities which participants moreover perceived would be beneficial in the taking their venture forward. Immediately after the competition, participants considered their participation experience to have served as an entrepreneurial learning opportunity. With some affordance of know-how sought particularly with regards to pitching, public speaking, networking and business plan production but also the self-confidence that that this knowledge could be used. Participants envisaged that the value of this learning would be realised as such in the coming months with contexts for application identified. Analysis of the data collected six months following the competition suggested that whilst participants still recognised that know-how had been developed this was viewed as having limited application outside a competition context; competition and venture implementation know-how were thus no longer seen as synonymous. Accordingly the know-how afforded through the competition was deemed by participants as being confined to participation in other competitions rather than the routine day-to-day aspects of new venture implementation. A prevailing participant view that start-up competition participation represented an important activity which would enable value to be leveraged in terms finance, marketing and networking opportunities rendered attitude that developed know-how would be useful. These findings suggest that whilst competition participation provides know-how, the outcome of this learning can be deemed confined to further competition participation. Despite previously envisaged wider applicative benefit. However this can still be viewed necessary learning given the nascent entrepreneurs need to procure value from competition participation. Accordingly the findings are used to introduce the notion of ‘start-up competition know-how’. Such know-how entails the knowledge, skill and attitudinal dimensions needed to realise value from competition participation and more specifically related to pitching, business plan production, networking, self-confidence and a pro-competition attitude. Considerations of competition know-how aside, these results serve to question the Business Plan Competition as the highly relevant and broadly applicable learning experience often espoused. What this research also highlights is a need to progress the conversation about the Business Plan Competition, with further critical examination of the competition agenda necessary.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2016
    EventISBE 2016 - Paris, France
    Duration: 28 Oct 2016 → …


    ConferenceISBE 2016
    Period28/10/16 → …
    Internet address


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