Strengthening entrepreneurship research and education


Dr. Travor Brown, left, and Dr. Dennis Hanlon

May 21, 2015

A recent study by faculty members at Memorial University is one of the first to apply techniques from human resources management to research in entrepreneurship.

Dr. Travor Brown, professor of human resource management and labour relations, and Dr. Dennis Hanlon, associate professor of entrepreneurship, both at the Faculty of Business Administration, are researching the behaviours that make successful entrepreneurs and at the same time, attempting to close a knowledge gap between universities and business communities.

“There’s been an increasing concern for relevance in business education and entrepreneurship education, especially after several studies indicated fairly large mismatches between what business schools teach and what is actually important in the real world,” says Dr. Hanlon.

Drs. Brown and Hanlon are tackling this mismatch with an interdisciplinary approach. Their study is the first to apply a key human resource management method, behavioural observations scales (BOS), to entrepreneurship research.

“The study shows the value of interdisciplinary research,” says Dr. Brown. “Who would ever have thought that human resources research concerning performance appraisal could be used to create an instrument designed to develop entrepreneurs?”

Dr. Hanlon adds, “We were looking to develop an evidence-based platform for education and training programs by examining the behaviours that were linked to entrepreneurial success. The human resources management and organizational behaviour disciplines have been interested in the link between behaviours and job performance for several decades and provided us with a proven and robust methodology for identifying key behaviours that avoided us having to reinvent the wheel.”

Using a behavioural observations scale (BOS), the researchers identified and tested 47 behaviours that contribute to entrepreneurs’ success—for example, ability to identify opportunities, dedication to the business venture or skills in financial management. The research is unique as it’s the first to validate an evidence-based set of entrepreneurial behaviours. The researchers also tested the behaviours in new firms across multiple industries.

“The paper also adds to the human resources literature. In human resources we often look at a single job or single workplace. Here we looked at the role of entrepreneur across numerous organizations and sectors of the economy,” says Dr. Brown.

This research may benefit both entrepreneurship educators and entrepreneurs themselves. It has the potential to enhance entrepreneurship education and training programs and foster the conditions in which new business owners thrive by providing a behavioural framework for the development, refinement and evaluation of entrepreneurship education and training programs. Programs based around these key skills would give students a strong basis from which to launch successful enterprises, and entrepreneurs can also use the BOS to self-coach.

This research therefore has various applications. It has the potential to strengthen entrepreneurship education, to enhance current and future business owners’ capabilities and to build a more entrepreneurial society.

Dr. Brown and Dr. Hanlon’s study, “Behavioral Criteria for Grounding Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs: A Validation Study,” was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Small Business Management.

This project was funded in part by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to Dr. Travor Brown and by Memorial University’s Hubert W. Kelly Chair in Youth-Focused Technological Entrepreneurship.

Kate Scarth