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New research: advancing qualitative entrepreneurship research

New work co-authored with the House of Innovation provides guidance for authors wishing to use qualitative methods by outlining four characteristics of entrepreneurship research that qualitative research is uniquely designed to address.

It is often stated that entrepreneurship phenomena are novel, underexplored, or hard-to-measure. For just this reason, qualitative research suits this field of study. Where a field lacks a suitable theoretical mesh, qualitative research can break new ground and develop constructs that can serve as landmarks for future research. Far more than just being explorative, qualitative research is well suited to make substantive theoretical contributions for understanding entrepreneurship.  

This work identifies four ways that qualitative data and its analyses could be linked to specific theoretical aims. For each of these four characteristics, qualitative research can deliver substantial theoretical contributions.

  1. Uniqueness - several aspects of entrepreneurship are infrequent or have an extraordinary character. Where quantitative studies could struggle to account for these outliers, qualitative research is unencumbered by these limitations.
  2. Heterogeneity - qualitative research offers the advantage to be able to zoom in on particulars of specific cases and generate in-depth understanding.
  3. Volatility - qualitative methods are well suited to capture changes in entrepreneurial endeavors over time and in terms of activities and scope.
  4. Mundanity - qualitative research is well positioned to investigate aspects that are hard to measure like, for instance, sensemaking, entrepreneurial identity, perseverance, family embeddedness, and the day-to-day small variations in entrepreneurial behavior.

These findings are important since they emphasize the critical role that qualitative research methods have had and continue to have for entrepreneurship work. Indeed, qualitative research has been of great value for developing some of the most foundational theories in entrepreneurship research. However, as the field develops, and qualitative methods become more diverse and sophisticated, researchers need to broaden the methods that they use and employ them more creatively in order to continue to advance entrepreneurship research.


Elco van Burg
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Joep Cornelissen
RSM Erasmus University

Wouter Stam
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Sarah Jack
House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics

House of Innovation Entrepreneurship Research methods Article Research