The Perception of the Contextual Factors as Predictor of Entrepreneurial Intent: Evidences from an Empirical Survey

The Perception of the Contextual Factors as Predictor of Entrepreneurial Intent: Evidences from an Empirical Survey
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  The Perception of the Contextual Factors as Predictorof Entrepreneurial Intent: Evidences from anEmpirical Survey Antonio Thomas  Aggregate Professor of Business Economics  –   Department of Engineering University of Naples ParthenopeCentro Direzionale Is. C4  –   80143 Naples  –   Italy Renato Passaro Full Professor of Business Economics  –   Department of EngineeringUniversity of Naples ParthenopeCentro Direzionale Is. C4  –   80143 Naples  –   Italy Giuseppe Scandurra  Aggregate Professor of Economics Statistics  –   Department of Quantitative and Business Studies University of Naples ParthenopeVia Generale Parisi 13  –   80132 Naples  –   Italy Identifying people interested into starting-up a business is becoming more andmore relevant. As widely recognized, two key aspects affecting on start-up arethe role of the external context factors and the influence of entrepreneurialcompetencies.With this in mind, the paper shows an application of the Theory of PlannedBehaviour with the aim to assess factors believed to affect entrepreneurial intent among engineering students. As the use of well thought-out and research-testedintent models is believed to provide a good means of examining the precursors tobusiness start-up, the survey provides a test of the robustness of the intent ap-proach and then examines the influence of some predictors within the contextualfactors.Consistently with other leading articles, the results evidence that attitudes andperceived behavioural control effectively predicts entrepreneurial intent, whilesocial norms have no effects. As regards the role of contextual factors and en-trepreneurial competencies, they exhibit indirect effects on intent via entrepre-neurial attitudes and perceived behavioural control. Thus, their contribution tofavour academic entrepreneurship is confirmed. The result of the study also hasvaluable implications for the university system.Journal of Enterprising CultureVol. 22, No. 4 (December 2014) 375 – 400DOI: 10.1142/S0218495814500162375  Keywords : Entrepreneurial intent; academic entrepreneurship; self-employment; engi-neering students; theory of planned behaviour. INTRODUCTION A burgeoning research stream underlines the crucial role of entrepreneurialactivity as driving force that will shape the future of society (Acs andAudretsch, 2010; Wiklund  et al. , 2010). Chiefly, business start-ups haveoften recognised a corner stone of economic growth and new job creation.But one of the biggest troubles for policy makers is finding people wantingto be self-employers (Wright and Zahra, 2011). Indeed, business turnover  widely varies also in different areas of a same country and independentlyfrom the availability of public supports (Bosma  et al. , 2011). Thus, there isa large interest in exploring the sources and the factors shaping the en-trepreneurial intent of individuals to become self-employers, particularlywhen resources to support business start-up are limited or the main ob- jective is to favour new innovative firms.With this in mind, to identify people wishing to be entrepreneurs thepaper assess the  entrepreneurial intent   within a sample of Italian engi-neering students of a context characterized by low  start-up entrepreneur-ialism  (Muffatto  et al. , 2013) but also high unemployment rates. Based onthese premises the aim of this paper is twofold.Firstly it is aimed to the analysis and the dissemination of the en-trepreneurial culture in Italy, where a cultural lag in the approach towardsentrepreneurship exists. Although Italy presents a large diffusion of self-employment and micro-firms, entrepreneurial activity is very limitedwhen compared with other industrialised countries (Bosma and Levie,2009). There is a scarcity of robust empirical studies on the sources anddevelopment of entrepreneurship, demonstrating a significant gap inknowledge. Moreover, studies direct to investigate and bring out the en-trepreneurial intent have been seldom conducted (Cafferata and Dossena,2012; Arrighetti  et al. , 2013). In general there is a shortage of researchesbased on aspiring  academic entrepreneurs  (Markman  et al. , 2005), likestudents in scientific and economic disciplines, whereas their academicbusinesses are often high-tech intensive (Busenitz  et al. , 2000; Bosma and Harding, 2007) and with a strong potential for investments and net  employment (Shane, 2004). Secondly the paper is intended to add knowledge on the entrepreneur-ship literature debate by analysing the influence of contextual factors on the  A. Thomas, R. Passaro & G. Scandurra 376  formation of the entrepreneurial intent within the cognitive based frame-work of the  Theory of Planned Behaviour   (Ajzen, 1991). That is because previous investigations state that contextual conditions have implicationsfor individual perceptions that, in turn, constitute the foundation of theintent model. Moreover, contributes on the impact of contextual factors inthe very early phase of the business start up process are still limited (Liñánand Chen, 2009; Kibler , 2013). Hence, the paper aspires to give a contribution to fill the mentioned gaps.After this introduction the paper is structured as follow. We first report thetheoretical framework, then the research hypotheses to be assessed. Themethodology and the questionnaire used to test the students ’  intent are in thefourth section. The fifth section shows the findings, while discussion, conclu-sions and policy implications are pointed out in the sixth and seventh sections. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Although it is very difficult to predict the factors that encourage peopletowards the entrepreneurial choice, following the prevalent literature onbusiness start-up two key aspects affecting on starting-up emerge. Theseaspects are strictly inter-linked and include the  external context role  and theinfluence of the  entrepreneurial competencies  (Man  et al. , 2002). In fact,from a general viewpoint, the composition and the availability of a set of competencies in a context is a key component of the context itself that influences its evolution. From an individual viewpoint, the  perception  of aconducive environment and the  perception  of being in possession of en-trepreneurial competencies influence individuals toward the entrepreneurialchoice.About the first aspect, the perception of how an environment is condu-cive to the creation of new businesses has a relevant impact on the actualdecision to engage the entrepreneurial choice (Lüthje and Franke, 2003). People are more interested in starting a business when their subjectiveperceptions of the conditions characterizing the external environment arepositive (Davidsson, 1991; Birley and Westhead, 1993):  “ perception of thepolitical-economic environment exert more proximal influence on interest in starting a business than actual conditions (Begley  et al. , 2005: p. 37). Inother words, entrepreneurial propensity is also believed depending on theperception of reality. Optimistic and enterprising people but also thoseliving in a conducive environments exhibit a higher predisposition (Shaneand Ventakaraman, 2000; Krueger , 2000). Perception of the Contextual Factors as Predictor of Entrepreneurial Intent  377  From this viewpoint, the Italian context is quite interesting being char-acterized by the presence of high barriers to entry, growth and exiting themarkets, due to the weaknesses in terms of stability and coherence of theinstitutional framework (Bianco  et al. , 2012). Moreover, the ongoing eco-nomic crisis has shown higher intensity than the average of Europeancountries, with a relevant impact on the level of entrepreneurial activity(Pianta, 2012; Arrighetti  et al. , 2013).About the second aspect,  entrepreneurial competencies 1 are considereda highly critical factor in the ability to discover, exploit and managethe economic opportunities (Davidsson and Honig, 2003; Henry  et al. ,2005; Pittaway and Cope, 2007). Especially for start-ups and small enter- prises, entrepreneurial competencies encourages people to start their ownbusiness by means a positive impact on perceived attractiveness and fea-sibility of self-employment (Galloway and Brown, 2002; Rodrigues  et al. ,2010).Entrepreneurial competencies can be innate or acquired through learningand training processes (Esposito and Raffa, 1994). In both cases, contextual factors influence (directly or indirectly) their building up by providing thosecultural (value, knowledge, vision … ) and operational (regulations, tools,financial and policy support measures … ) factors and conditions that fa-cilitate (or inhibit) the choice of individuals to become entrepreneurs(Minguzzi and Passaro, 2001). Among the contextual factors, consequently, a relevant role could beplayed by the university system. Many scholars and policy makers believethat educational support through professional learning in universities is avalid way of increasing personal knowledge about entrepreneurship ingeneral and a method to successfully manage an enterprise (Fayolle andGailly, 2005; Rae, 2010; von Graevenitz  et al. , 2010). This is mainly due tothe existence of a direct relationship between university education andindividual competencies development; especially entrepreneurial compe-tencies (Peterman and Kennedy, 2003; Weaver   et al. , 2006; Galloway and Brown, 2002). Beyond entrepreneurial competencies directly provided, university sys-tems and the external environment can also help people to acquire an  “ openmind ”  view able to valorise and exploit other personal competencies or resources belonging and placed into the environment (e.g. Henry  et al. , 1 Adopting the definition of  Man  et al.  (2002),  entrepreneurial competencies  are assumed as high level char-acteristics  “ encompassing personal traits, skills and knowledge, and therefore can be seen as the total ability of theentrepreneur to perform a job role successfully ”  (p. 124).  A. Thomas, R. Passaro & G. Scandurra 378  2005; Neck and Greene, 2011). Consequently university systems could influence the subjective perception of the various factors (social, political,economic, cultural … ) present in an environmental context, exerting aneffect on interest in starting a business. For these motives, people attendingspecific entrepreneurship education programs are believed more likely tobecome self-employers than others (Davidsson and Honig, 2003; Vane- venhoven and Liguori, 2013). Furthermore, the system of universities can also offer a support condu-cive to develop new generations of business self-employers in terms of fertilisation processes for the environment. This is by creating a moresuitable climate in the direction of the entrepreneurship on the prevalent cultural pattern. This assumption explains why a lot of investigations havealready highlighted the key role played by the entrepreneurship educationon competencies and attitude of academics (Weaver   et al. , 2006; Dickson et al. , 2008).Anyway, surveys on the relationship between academic education andentrepreneurial intent usually are explorative and based on the analysis of single courses or programs. Seldom, they include longitudinal data, controlgroups without entrepreneurship education experience or pre-tests prior tothe exposure to courses (Sánchez, 2013). Moreover, although the majority of scholars state that the direct and indirect effects of entrepreneurshipeducation can shift intentionality and perceptions regarding the desirabilityand feasibility of starting a venture (Peterman and Kennedy, 2003; Weaver  et al. , 2006; Dickson  et al. , 2008),  “ the plethora of previous researches intoentrepreneurship education was not able to undoubtedly point out many of the linkages between entrepreneurship in the classroom and entrepreneur-ship in the  ‘ real world ”’  (Vanevenhoven and Liguori, 2013: 315). Again, in many countries significant amount of money have been spent to designviable entrepreneurship programs for students enrolling universities, but theresults are often inconsistent (Brannack and Carsrud, 2008; Fayolle and Gailly, 2009). 2 Hence, despite education has supposed from the great majority of em-pirical findings to provide an enabling and accelerating impact on the 2 Tools like training, education or tutoring stimulate and enhance aspiring entrepreneurs ’  competencies, but theyare not sufficient to acquire all those required to successfully plan and/or manage a business (Dahlqvist   et al. ,2000). Moreover, knowledge of all the problems inherent the business start-up might even be discouraged in theentrepreneurial choice (Gibb  et al. , 1984). By the way some scholars have also found negative effects in eval-uating the effectiveness of entrepreneurial programs (e.g. Fayolle and Gailly, 2009; von Graevenitz  et al. , 2010).Even counter-effects were discovered for those students who had previously significantly been exposed toacademic entrepreneurship courses (Oosterbeek  et al. , 2010). Perception of the Contextual Factors as Predictor of Entrepreneurial Intent  379
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