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Becoming an entrepreneur: researching the role of mentors in identity construction

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretical discussion of a developing epistemology and methodology for a qualitative study of participants of enterprise education in south-west Ireland, run collaboratively between third level academics, a regional development agency, and entrepreneurs. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The perspective taken is social constructionist, drawing on ideas from identity theory and social learning theory. A discursive approach to entrepreneurship suggests that an entrepreneurial aspect of human identity (as with other aspects) is emergent and relational, developed through dialogue with family, customers, employees, suppliers, competitors and others. In the education programme, aspiring entrepreneurs' exposure to and close engagement with a network of national and international mentors, coupled with their engagement in risk taking, can be understood through the notion of becoming, through and in relation to others. Findings ‐ The mentor network in the education programme is conceptualised as a community of practice that provides induction for nascent entrepreneurs for stimulating their learning of how to be, their acquisition of status and identify, and not simply their development of practical skills. Practical implications ‐ The immediate practical implication is that greatest insight would be achieved by a longitudinal study that follows nascent entrepreneurs from start to completion of an education intervention and takes an ethnographic approach. Originality/value ‐ Findings and the proposed methodology will be of value to those designing and researching entrepreneurship education, where outcomes are desired that go beyond knowledge acquisition.
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Keywords: Community-of-practice; Entrepreneurial identity; Entrepreneurialism; Entrepreneurship development; Ireland; Mentors; Social learning; Universities

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-05-25

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