The accidental entrepreneur: the emergent and collective process of user entrepreneurship
Shah and Tripsas' article is a bridge between the literature on entrepreneurship and the innovation literature on user innovation made most famous by Eric von Hippel -- Shah is one of von Hippel's former students. The paper argues that users are a large and understudied source of entrepreneurship. They use both high-level quantitative data and in-depth ethnographic methods and interviews to explore how this user-entrepreneurship happens.
The authors describe user entrepreneurship as happening almost by accidents. Users come across ideas and implement them. Only when they share them with others do they begin to realize the market potential and, eventually, follow through into entrepreneurship. This concept is largely connected to Shah's work on user innovation communities and the authors argue that these communities play an important role in driving user entrepreneurship.
Empirically, the authors look at the example of the juvenile products industry which they argue is likely to be an extreme case. Indeed, they find that of 263 firms they identify by looking at trade shows and catalogs, 84% were founded by user entrepreneurs.
The rest of the paper is largely an exploration of a model of the user entrepreneurship process which they argue moves from an experimental solution through a community driven period of opportunity identification with additional inputs from public and community interaction not present in the classic model of the entrepreneurial process.
The authors also develop four propositions on when user entrepreneurship will emerge and dominate classic entrepreneurship:
- When use of an innovation provides enjoyment as opposed to just economic benefit.
- When users have relatively low opportunity costs.
- When an industry is made up of small scale, peripheral, niche markets with high variety in demand.
- When high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity about user needs exist and/or when those needs are evolving.
The authors conclude and suggest that user-driven entrepreneurship prompts us to reconsider policy (e.g., patents and IP) designed to support entrepreneurship that might not encourage, or even discourage, user entrepreneurship.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
Shah and Tripsas has been cited 25 times in the last 3 years. It provides the seminar article on the topic of user entrepreneurship which may provide a fruitful area for growth in the future and which still remains largely unexplored in the user innovation literature.