Thursday 16 July 2015

Entrepreneurial Role Models & Entrepreneurial Intention

There’s no doubt that role models play an important role in the lives of many people, especially young people. So it stands to reason that those who are exposed to entrepreneurial role models at a young age – and even later on in their lives – might be more encouraged to start businesses. Let’s have a look at this idea in a bit more detail.


The influence of role models

A role model can be broadly defined as an individual who sets an example that can be copied by others and who stimulates or inspires others to make certain decisions. The decisions that people make to engage in certain behaviours or to adopt certain ideas are often influenced by the behaviour and opinions of others and the examples that they present themselves. For this reason, role models in the media have a significant influence on the thinking and ideas of people. They are also increasingly being recognised as influencing young people’s career decisions.

Many successful entrepreneurs the world over say that their decision to start their businesses was due to the influence of role models. These role models have often been entrepreneurs themselves, ranging from the likes of famous entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs to role models that are closer to home, like friends, colleagues and family.

The first role models we encounter in life are our parents – and indeed, we see that there is a definite link between a parent having been an entrepreneur and their children taking the same course in life. Afterwards, networks and peer groups provide role models, in addition to the media – for example, documentaries on famous entrepreneurs.


Role models influencing entrepreneurial intention

In a previous article we looked at the role that entrepreneurial education plays in encouraging entrepreneurial intent among students. What we now find is that, while this does make a difference, what is an even more important factor in determining whether a person will go out and start a business is his or her exposure to entrepreneurial role models[1]. Studies have found that the role models that budding entrepreneurs mentioned as having the most influence on their decision to start businesses were parents and peers, followed by famous people and teachers. The main function of these role models is that they provide the ability to learn by example. It is also interesting to note that female students were more influenced by role models, but male students were generally more likely to start businesses and reported higher entrepreneurial intention.

Several conclusions have come through from these studies[2].

These include:
1) Role models make a difference when it comes to choosing an entrepreneurial career.
2) Role models are seen by start-up entrepreneurs as being influential people.
3) Role models can compensate for a lack of entrepreneurial experience.
4) Role models that “match” the student’s characteristics (e.g. gender, nationality) have a higher level of influence.
5) Closer role models (family, colleagues, acquaintances) have a higher impact than famous personalities.

So it seems that the influence of a role model is a very important factor in a person’s decision to become an entrepreneur. For this reason it is necessary for educational institutions to include appearances or talks by role models as part of their curricula. We often see this use of “icons” in other areas, like healthy lifestyle achievement, sports and the arts. What is necessary is that students be exposed to entrepreneurial role models in the same way. This can have a strong effect on the entrepreneurial intentions of the students.

Notes: 1. Hongyi Sun, Impact of role models on the entrepreneurial intentions of engineering students, City Univ. of Hong Kong 2. Niels Bosma, Jolanda Hessels, Veronique Schutjens, Mirjam van Praag, Ingrid Verheul, Entrepreneurship and Role Models, 2011

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