Being And Becoming Entrepreneurial: A Narrative Study On The Development Of Entrepreneurial Adults In China And The United States

Mengjiao Guo, University of Pennsylvania


Today’s youth have lives dramatically different from the past and face an unpredictable future and challenging job market, thus being entrepreneurial is increasingly more important to cultivate (Ford, 2015). I aim to understand the state and development of being entrepreneurial and its implications for broadly educating young people, as one approach to better preparing our students for the future (Auerswald, 2012; de Villiers Scheepers et al., 2018).Although the general research interest in entrepreneurship is burgeoning, the developmental perspective has been limited. Additionally, the development of Entrepreneurial individuals across diverse age groups and countries has not been studied extensively and their narratives of being and becoming entrepreneurial have not been heard and studied. Thus, I have used the self-narratives of 24 entrepreneurial individuals in China and the US to explore how they are developing to be entrepreneurial. Specifically, I explored their current state of being entrepreneurial and developmental processes that have contributed to these states. My sample was divided evenly across the Chinese and United States contexts, and also stratified by age groups (from 18 to 39; and 40 and above) and gender (male and female). I sought to understand what factors might have affected the entrepreneurial development in different individuals, according to their own understanding, and explored whether differences exist across countries, gender, and age groups. I placed a particular emphasis on developmental patterns that were revealed in the analytic process. Interviews were analyzed through a coding and interpretive process informed by grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). First, five key themes emerged related to being of entrepreneurial: (1) Learning as a Way of Being; (2) Action!; (3) Staying in the Arena; (4) Connecting Elements, People, Information and Resources; and (5) Disrupting. Secondly, in terms of factors affecting entrepreneurial development, both internal (self-characteristics) and external (environmental) factors were identified from the narrative accounts, and the developmental process was presented as dynamic and complex. Key developmental sources of influence include: (1)Emerging Self Identities and Experiences from Childhood and Teen Years; (2) Early Entrepreneurial Experiences; (3) Family influence; (4) Work-Related Experience; (5) School Impact; and (6) Virtual and Physical entrepreneurial environments. Finally, differences and commonalities across the countries, age groups, and gender emerged and are discussed. Overall, entrepreneurial development can and should be broadly encouraged given the narratives and lessons shared by the participants. Recommendations and implications for supporting students’ “entrepreneurial development” are presented: (1) It is the mindset, not the occupation; (2) Demystifying the entrepreneurial mindset as a way of thinking and being; (3) It takes a village to raise an entrepreneurial child; (4) Developing an entrepreneurial mindset as a way to achieve personal growth and fulfillment. Lastly, the limits and future direction are discussed.