Entrepreneurs and social sciences researchers: the same mindset and skills ?

By Claire Doussard and Julien Billion

The researcher is an entrepreneur to some extent, and the entrepreneur cannot start his or her activity without doing some research. This is why there are similarities between entrepreneurship and research approaches.

Similarities and differences between researchers and entrepreneurs

Indeed, the researcher and the entrepreneur must first define a project. The definition of this project depends on an existing market. For the entrepreneur, it can be in terms of consumers of products or services. For the researcher, this market is associated to knowledge that has been previously produced. In order to develop a project, the researcher and the entrepreneur must raise funds from public and/or private partners. Then, they must find a way to communicate in order to advertise the value of their work, for example, through conferences or trade shows, scientific or specialized journals, and general or specific social networks. The entrepreneur and the researcher are problem-solvers who often innovate by developing creative solutions. Finally, entrepreneurship and research are endless activities.

Beyond the simple process of undertaking or carrying out research, the researcher and the entrepreneur must call upon similar know-how. In these two businesses, it is necessary to have method and hindsight on your actions. Commitment and involvement are also the key factors to succeed. In addition, the ability to work mostly alone while being autonomous is essential to develop successful research and business projects. Finally, the researcher and the entrepreneur must be highly resistant to pressure and stress. This is particularly true when launching a new company, or at the beginning of a research career, which can be very precarious in Academia. The competition is then intense.

However, there are differentiating points between these two businesses. The entrepreneur must stick to reality, to needs, and must respond to identified economic and financial logics. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur sometimes lacks perspective due to a lack of reliable information, which can be compensated by a misleading intuition. This can lead him or her to act too quickly in a constantly evolving market. The social science researcher, on the other hand, relies on a scientific approach that is often more reliable, while developing a more critical perspective. This is particularly true when the researcher works in an academic context, and can relatively escape from economic and financial considerations. However, scholarly work can sometimes be far from being anchored in our ordinary and daily life, and does not necessarily contribute to the operational valuation of knowledge in favour of society.

How can entrepreneurs benefit from social science research?

Social science research is a potentially effective tool for understanding and changing society, while understanding one’s environment and that of others. It allows us to be anchored in reality and to identify specific needs, particularly those associated with leadership and management issues. It then appears legitimate to design, implement and evaluate the development strategies of innovative companies such as start-ups.

For entrepreneurs, the development of social science research skills would allow them to conduct detailed studies on their companies. These studies are based on several quantitative and qualitative scientific analysis methods such as statistical surveys, ethnography and qualitative interviews. Geographic information systems can also allow the development of geomarketing studies.

In order to develop the research skills of entrepreneurs, the development of specific training is necessary. These could be provided in incubators, in business school entrepreneurship courses, in private training centres for students, entrepreneurs and people who already have a job. They would be taught by social science researchers – economists, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, historians, philosophers – who would be experts both in entrepreneurship and their field of study.

These social science research training courses would allow entrepreneurs to analyse their own entrepreneurial experience, define its strengths and limitations while taking some distance with their practices. They would also develop their social skills by improving their ability to listen to others and to themselves. In addition, a detailed analysis achieved with the scientific method would also make it possible to rationalize and make specific entrepreneurial strategies more reliable. These are then based on facts that can sometimes confirm or contradict an intuition, and help to overcome the obstacles inherent to the entrepreneur’s professional trajectory.

About the Authors

Claire Doussard, PhD, is a landscape engineer, urban designer, and assistant professor at the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris, France. She is also involved in several international research collaborations dealing with sustainable development in urban design. A former company owner and now a freelance expert, she is also involved in promoting urban science research to real estate companies.

Julien Billion, PhD, is a sociologist and associate researcher at the Institut Polytechnique, Paris, France. He also teaches at several business schools. He wrote « Je ne dors pas à la maison : histoires de jeunes sans domicile à Paris et à New York », and produced a documentary on homeless youth, “Comme tout le monde”.


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