Startups created by university students or recent graduates are a rapidly growing phenomenon also in Italy and, although lagging behind other countries, they are the subject of growing attention from companies, institutions and investors. In fact, entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly interesting opportunity for young people: not just a possibility of employment in today’s complex job market, but a precise professional and life choice. How, however, do entrepreneurial intentions translate into effective action? What are the factors that, more than others, can be decisive for turning an entrepreneurial will into an operational company?
The formation of a business intention is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for starting a business. In fact, there are many people who have an entrepreneurial inclination, but only a small minority transforms it into action. Establishing a startup and, above all, making it achieve success, requires an effort that goes beyond the intimate desire to become an entrepreneur and needs skills and tenacity to merge a team, a product and a market, into a single company.
What are the determinants that influence the choice of a person to get involved with the establishment of a new economic activity? Among the factors that can facilitate or hinder the creation of an entrepreneurial initiative, we find without a doubt the social context in which aspiring entrepreneurs find themselves maturing their intention. A study * conducted on over 20,000 Italian students by Riccardo Fini, Associate Dean for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at BBS and creator of the StartUp Ecosystem Day, together with Azzurra Meoli and Maurizio Sobrero (Department of Business Sciences, University of Bologna) and Johan Wiklund (Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University), has analyzed the evolution of the entrepreneurial intention of senior students on the point of entering for the first time in the labor market, therefore “forced” to make a career choice without having the possibility to procrastinate the entrepreneurial action. The research is based on three starting hypotheses that investigate the way and the extent to which the family, mentors, friends and peers positively moderate the relationship between intentions and actions, providing information and resources that help aspiring entrepreneurs overcome doubts and uncertainties.
We discussed the hypotheses proposed by the research with some young entrepreneurs who took part in the third edition of the StartUp Ecosystem Day, to share their personal experiences and motivations to undertake an independent professional career.
Hypothesis 1: The effect of entrepreneurial intention on taking action will be stronger when individuals have self-employed parents.
Research has shown that among university students with the highest entrepreneurial intentions, those with self-employed parents were twice as likely to take action and start a new business. The professional example of the parents has an important impact on the future educational and working choices of the children, since they develop from a very early age a deep understanding of the skills, values, attitudes and emotions, which are linked to the process of creating a new enterprise and which may be relevant to transform intentions into actions. The independent parents are also able to provide social capital, personal networks and emotional support, fundamental elements to overcome the doubts and fears that characterize the initial stages of the process of business creation.
“My personal point of reference has always been my father, an entrepreneur,” says Stefano Tulli, Co-founder of Winedering, the first international online platform dealing exclusively with wineries and wine tours. “In him I always see my professional point of reference, even if I have started an activity that is not inextricably linked to that built by him. We are not the second or third generation; he has created his company, I am trying to build mine, but inspired by him. ”
Similar to Stefano’s, it is the experience of Marco Baglioni, Managing Director of Aqrate, a web platform designed to support companies that need to translate high volumes of documentation. “I was fully aware of the fact that I wanted to start my own business when I realized that the company I was working for would not listen to me. Being an entrepreneur is like driving a car, whereas before I was only a passenger. In my family, I had the examples of my mother and uncle, both entrepreneurs, who understood me and supported me more than others. ”
It is not only the parents, but the family history in the broadest sense, that has a strong influence on the professional choices of individuals. Amanda Whitmore, CEO of Bio Bloom Cosmetics, founded her startup with the aim of safeguarding people’s health by offering natural and organic beauty products, but the inspiration for her entrepreneurial journey comes from much further: “My family, until my parents’ generation, has been into farming. We have sown in our souls a love for creating something new and starting fresh in a new country. When my family immigrated to the USA, they did so to find an opportunity for a better life and to create their own future. I have always loved Italy and I hope that my move here, as well as my efforts to create a business around wellbeing, models the legacy left by my ancestors. ”
Hypothesis 2: The effect of entrepreneurial intention on taking action will be stronger when individuals are exposed to entrepreneurial mentors.
Individuals are strongly influenced by the opinions and behaviors of those who are part of their social context. This also applies to professional choices and, in particular, to the choice to undertake autonomous activities. In this, mentors can be a particularly relevant source of inspiration but not necessarily decisive. The research in fact highlights the importance of being close to entrepreneurial figures that can serve as an example, but there is no significant correlation between the presence of a mentor and the transformation of entrepreneurial intent into action.
During the interview with the participants in the StartUp Ecosystem Day 2018, the family factor emerged also in the discussion on the role and influence of mentors in entrepreneurial choices. “In my family there are no other entrepreneurs but my uncle, who is now my partner,” explains Lucio Spaggiari, Founder of Italian Grace, a marketplace that simplifies the management of the online presence of Italian producers and boutiques, born with the aim of offering to the artisans of Made in Italy the tools to face the global market and its challenges. “If I have to indicate a mentor, it was definitely him, both in terms of stimulus and experience. My uncle helped me to find courage and to perceive mistakes as a source of opportunity.”
Mentors, in life, can take many forms and they are not necessarily people with whom we have a personal relationship. Maria Maddalena Falaschi, Co-founder of Origami, brand of clothing for babies from 0 to 24 months made of milk fiber and organic cotton, tells: “In addition to my grandfather and my mother, I have never identified a real entrepreneurial mentor, although certainly there were some figures that inspired me and that continue to do so. One of these is Brunello Cucinelli, a living example of how great human values can become a decisive factor for the creation of a successful business. This discovery has been fundamental for me because it has allowed me to put into play all the aspects of my person in the workplace, without having to reduce them to the mere profitability. With this I do not mean that the economic aspect is not important, but I believe that putting the human aspect in play eventually pay off more, both in qualitative and quantitative terms, as happened to us with the Preemie project. ”
In other cases, the mentors encountered during the educational path can give a decisive direction to our choices, as Amanda’s experience shows: “Katy Crosby, CEO of Goodwill Industries, encouraged me to study finance and get my master in a managerial sector, rather than specializing in non-profit organizations. In fact, as she says, without margins there is no mission. She showed me what a woman needs to be successful as a leader and encouraged me to never stop learning. ”
Hypothesis 3: The effect of entrepreneurial intention on taking action will be stronger when individuals have entrepreneurial peers.
The research shows that peers play an important role in shaping individual attitudes into entrepreneurship. Membership in a social group that positively enhances entrepreneurial activity, influences the entry into the business world, even if the economic benefits are often lower than alternative job opportunities. Not infrequently, startups are born from the idea and the mutual boost of a group of friends or university colleagues.
“I’ve always been an active person, who wanted to create something useful for the community,” says Matteo Manservisi, Co-founder of AffittoGiardino, a portal dedicated to the sharing of green spaces. “Already at 18 I took part in the management of an association that was responsible for re-evaluating the municipal public spaces by organizing events for young people. From the moment I moved to Bologna, I started to want to do more and more, until I reached the decision to take part in the creation and development of AffittoGiardino after my friends Andrea Filippini and Daniele Parazza proposed me to start the project.”
The social context also plays a fundamental role for the validation of entrepreneurial ideas. “As a thesis project I had created a collection of clothing for newborns in milk fiber that had received a lot of appreciation both within the university and outside,” explains Maria Maddalena. “This unexpected success has pushed friends and relatives to encourage me to start this adventure.”
Regardless of the results of the research and the factors that actually contribute to bringing aspiring entrepreneurs to action, the young entrepreneurs involved in the StartUp Ecosystem Day all agree that starting their own business brings a special added value to their professional path. “If I had to choose only one positive aspect of being an entrepreneur, I would highlight the possibility of learning from mistakes to build something that can bring more value to the community, and in the meantime continuously building up oneself to better express one’s own potentials,” explains Matteo. The possibility to express one’s own personality seems to be a fundamental factor also for Maria Maddalena, who adds: “Me and my partners have built our company in our image and likeness, shaping it according to our tastes, aspirations, values and needs. ”
Entrepreneurship, more than a job choice, turns out to be a life choice. “When you are an employee you can love a company but you will never feel it really yours. There will always be that moment when the brain breaks the plug and the phrase ‘my responsibility comes up to here’ will come on stage,” concludes Stefano. “What I like the most is to slowly see our idea grow up, think about it 24 hours a day, without ever getting tired of what we do. This, to me personally, makes me feel alive. ”
* A. Meoli, R. Fini, M. Sobrero e J. Wiklund, Actions speak louder than words: A social cognitive model of the entrepreneurial intention – action gap, 2017