Who benefits from entrepreneurial research and how can more relevant knowledge be created in the field? The self-critical theme of "Relevance in Entrepreneurship Research" was discussed at Europe's largest entrepreneurship research conference, RENT, and the introductory policy forum, all recently organized in Lund by Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship at the School of Economics and Management.
The event attracted more than 300 researchers, entrepreneurs and political representatives, from local, national and international levels, who discussed entrepreneurship research from several perspectives and how to turn frustration into development.
The frustration among the world’s entrepreneurship researchers origins from the increased institutionalization of research, where the reputation of the academic journals and the publications’ contribution to the researcher's career advancement is valued higher than the relevance of the research to practitioners and the research area itself. This trend contradicts the tradition of entrepreneurship research as being applicable and practically oriented.
Why must the trend be reversed?
"I think there is very relevant research in the field of entrepreneurship that needs to be carried out and which could provide knowledge interesting for both entrepreneurs and politicians. But the researchers must interact with these groups and these groups must see researchers as an opportunity for increased knowledge. In many cases, both politicians and entrepreneurs look for answers to questions on which researchers might already have acquired knowledge. Here is a gap we need to bridge and unfortunately, today's incentive structures do not contribute positively to this", says Marie Löwegren, director of Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship, which conducts research and education in entrepreneurship at the Lund University School of Economics and Management.
Proposals for new policies were requested
During the conference's introductory policy forum, Håkan Hillefors from the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, Anna Stenstam, entrepreneur and CEO of CR Competence, and Hans Landström, professor in entrepeneurship at Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship, all participated in a discussion on how to move forward.
Hans Landström and Håkan Hillefors pointed at the challenge in establishing closeness between the research, politics and businesses due to the different incentives, logics and time frames of the fields. Hillefors said that politicians often had to try to find a balance between the political agenda and the research results, but emphasized that he, in his role, works to increase the contact between researchers and political representatives.
"I need action-oriented policy suggestions", Håkan Hillefors requested and turned to the researching audience.
Creating an entrepreneurship council at the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, as a complement to the National Innovation Council, would be a way to gain access to the current research in the field, said Marie Löwegren.
Need for increased incentives for networking
"Now I know that there is a lot of available knowledge and that there are people who research on what I do and are interested in me as an entrepreneur - this I did not know before", said Anna Stenstam, founder and CEO of the chemical consulting company CR Competence AB.
She highlighted the value of the self-critical theme, emphasizing that more industries would benefit from evaluating themselves and their activities. At the same time, she pointed out the importance of not changing for the sake of change and not trying to be relevant to all.
Stenstam's call to Håkan Hillefors from the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation was to keep track of when new companies emerge and evolve.
"Give us a name, a number, follow us!" Anna Stenstam requested.
The need for politicians, researchers and entrepreneurs to approach each other was also highlighted during the following round table discussion. Professor Monder Ram, Director of the Center for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME) at the University of Birmingham, said that not only the meeting places between academics and practitioners must increase but also the incentives to participate in networking, and referred to the current situation when having the most publications published in reputable academic journals is what’s being premiered within the academy.
Meeting places already available
The subsequent conference days' research sessions started with challenging keynote speeches by researcher Ester Barinaga from Copenhagen Business School, professor Johan Wiklund from Syracuse University and one of Skåne's most well-known entrepreneurs, Jan Erik Solem, founder of successful companies such as Polar Rose and Mapillary.
While Ester Barinaga emphasized that entrepreneurship research must contribute to the sustainable development of society, Johan Wiklund stressed that relevant results from the entrepreneurship research must be implemented in the teaching for students. Jan Erik Solem referred to previous discussions concluding that researchers, politicians and entrepreneurs must approach each other and argued that the proximity might already be closer than expected.
"In Lund and Malmö there are lots of opportunities to meet with entrepreneurs. You just have to get out there!"