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Entrepreneurial intentions research: implications for entrepreneurship education.


If entrepreneurial intentions precede entrepreneurial behavior, then entrepreneurship educators should benefit from intentions-based research in entrepreneurship. This paper reviews the intentions research related to entrepreneurship, focusing on Ajzen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior and Shapero and Sokol's (1982) Entrepreneurial Event Model. The author then proposes that three variables from the two models are key to entrepreneurial intentions--perceptions of desirability and feasibility and propensity to act. Additional antecedent variables (social connections, work-related experience, and self-efficacy) that had demonstrated influence on intentions were discussed as well. Finally, learning activities were identified and discussed that were believed most likely to influence entrepreneurial intentions of students. The paper concludes with a discussion of the questions that remain to be answered in this literature as to the impact of specific educational activities on intentions and entrepreneuring.


Intentions to act are believed central to understanding the behaviors in which people engage. While actual behavior may differ from intended behavior, it has been established that one's intention to act toward something in a certain manner is the most consistent predictor of actual behavior, particularly planned behavior (Krueger, Reilly and Carsrud, 2000).

Intentions-based models then are particularly suited to entrepreneurship as the entrepreneurial process is a planned one. The considerable literature that has developed around these models offers the opportunity for educators to better construct learning experiences that can lead to more 'entrepreneurial events' (Shapero and Sokol, 1982). Why is this research important to educators?

Three reasons are given here for the importance of this discussion: (1) the proliferation of entrepreneurship courses in the past twenty years indicates the interest in, and the importance of, the subject, (2) evidence suggests that entrepreneurial training can add real value by increasing the success probabilities of new ventures (See Katz (2007) for a recent discussion of these two points; also, Peterman & Kennedy (2003)), and (3) the literature suggests that educational institutions can have wide-ranging impact on the choices students make, some specifically suggesting that universities can act as important triggering environments for entrepreneurship (Shapero and Sokol, 1982). This latter point merits further discussion.

Shapero and Sokol (1982) presented a process model of new venture formation which included what they called a displacement event. They argued that inertia guided human action and as a result there needed to be a displacing event to push or pull an individual to change course, and in this case to found a business. This displacement has also been called the 'trigger' or 'precipitating' event. For Shapero and Sokol, transition stages were occasions for this displacement. For our purposes, they specifically noted that getting 'out of school' as such a transition event whereby the person is open to differing life paths and career options. Another displacement condition would be the urging of a mentor, and presumably by implication, an instructor or respected 'other' in the university context who could act as such a trigger. Educators are generally recognized as important molders of the attitudes and beliefs students hold and that would be no less true when it comes to entrepreneurship as a career choice or lifestyle. Evidence indicates that young people have a strong positive predisposition toward entrepreneurship and running their own businesses (BusinessWeek Online, 2006; Gallup, 1994). How can we translate this early interest into increased numbers of young people starting new businesses?

This paper will summarize the two most common intentions-based explanations of entrepreneurial behavior, review research to date on the key variables examined in this literature, and discuss the implications for educators interested in enhancing learner interest, preparedness and willingness to entrepreneur. The review will focus on selected variables from intentions-based research that seem to have significant pedagogical implications, which will then be discussed.


If actions are the fruit of intentions to act, then a better understanding of the factors that guide the development and enhancement of intentions becomes central to our pedagogical approach. Within the entrepreneurial intentions literature, there have been two models that have received the most research attention: Ajzen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior (Figure 1) and Shapero and Sokol's (1982) Entrepreneurial Event Model (Figure 2). A brief overview of these two models will be given, followed by a more careful summary of research findings of key variables from these models.

Theory of Planned Behavior

Ajzen (1991) argued that considered actions are preceded by conscious decisions to act in a certain way. He further theorized that these intentions were the result of attitudes formulated through life experiences, personal characteristics and perceptions drawn from these prior experiences. He proposed that the three determinants of intention were as follows:

Attitude toward the behavior as being "the degree to which a person has a favorable or unfavorable evaluation or appraisal of the behavior in question." Attitude is a composite variable comprised of both cognitive and affective elements that support this mindset toward entrepreneurship as a lifestyle or career or activity, whether positive or negative. As an attitude is a conclusion or predisposition toward an action, it too is formed through experience and perceptions formed over the life of the person.

Subjective norm refers to "the perceived social pressure to perform or not perform the behavior." This variable would be influenced not only by broad cultural attitudes toward entrepreneurship, but also the attitudes of particular individuals, groups and networks the person is most influenced by, such as family, friends, peers and significant 'others'.

Perceived behavioral control "refers to the perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behavior and it is assumed to reflect past experience, as well as anticipated impediments and obstacles." This variable is recognized as most impacted by and closely related to Bandura's (1986) perceived self-efficacy, a person's belief they can execute a particular action (ie. start a new venture).


As indicated by the model, it was not only proposed that intentional behavior was predicted by these three mediating variables, but that these variables would share variance as well, largely due to the impact of the broader social experience on the person. In general, support for the predicted relationships in the model has been established in many tests across several domains. In sum, intentions of subjects have commonly predicted actual behavior in the 60% range in a number of samples to as high as 82% in one study reviewed.

Model of the Entrepreneurial Event

While Shapero and Sokol (1982) did not propose their model as an intentions-based model, it was quickly seen as precisely that by many and has since been so utilized in entrepreneurship literature. They sought to identify key social factors that led to what they called 'entrepreneurial events', or the act of starting a business (See Figure 2). Central to their model were the perceptions by the individual of the desirability and feasibility of launching a new venture combined with some propensity to act on opportunities, and then triggered by a displacement event. While many variables would be expected to influence an individual's intentions to act in a certain way, research supports the mediating effect for the three variables outlined in the model, namely perceived desirability, perceived feasibility and propensity to act (Krueger, 1993).

As a process model, Shapero and Sokol (1982) argued that the displacement made one open to consideration of different paths that he/she could choose. He proposed that any path being considered had to be perceived as not only desirable but feasible, and that there had to be some general propensity to act on an alternative. In their view, an individual's conclusion that an alternative was attractive and doable was an insufficient condition to action; hence, their belief that there must be some predisposition to act on opportunities for a new venture startup to actually take place. An additional contextual condition, as indicated earlier, was the displacement event, which precipitated the cognitive process outlined in the model in Figure 2.


Displacement events were conceptualized as situations, positive, such as an opportunity is presented to get into business for oneself, or negative, such as being laid off from a job, or more neutral as in life-transition situations, such as graduating from college. To Shapero and Sokol, these were necessary to break people out of the 'ruts' they develop over time.

Perceived desirability reflected the personal attractiveness of starting a business and very closely relates to Ajzen's attitude and subjective norm variables (Krueger et al, 2000). This is impacted by social background, which is comprised of broader cultural influences, as well as family, friends, and personal exposure to entrepreneurship. This history results in a pre-loaded perspective about this path or choice, positive or negative.

Perceived feasibility reflects the level or degree of personal competence to start a business as felt by the person. This perception is viewed as related to Ajzen's behavioral control variable in that both of these focus on a person's assessment of his/her ability to manage the business start up process successfully. It is a measure of uncertainty, and uncertainty is the perception of controllability of a situation. While previous experience and a general sense of self-confidence in one's skills and abilities to successfully execute tasks have been found to relate to this belief, it is self-efficacy that has repeatedly been identified as the critical antecedent variable to subjects' feasibility perceptions (Krueger and Brazeal, 1994; Chen, Greene, and Crick, 1998; Krueger et al, 2000).

Propensity to act reflects a person's predisposition to act on a decision. Shapero and Sokol's (1982) model presupposes an individual's willingness to act on choices, but is explicitly developed by subsequent authors testing their model (ie. Krueger, 1993). This variable has been argued elsewhere to be similar to risk-taking propensity and tolerance of ambiguity, defined as a person's willingness to take action when outcomes are not known (Shane, 2003). As far as measures of this variable, some have favored internal locus of control as an orientation to control life events, as has 'learned optimism' (Krueger et al, 2000). The variable itself, however, is argued to be a complex one, having both indirect and direct impact on intentions; that is, acting directly on intentions, mediating through desirability and feasibility variables and as a moderating influence on these variables on intentions. Indeed results have supported the variable's direct impact on perceived desirability, feasibility and intentions (Krueger, 1993). This latter study specifically examined the impact of prior entrepreneurial experience on these three variables, finding support as predicted; that being the effect of entrepreneurial experience being fully mediated through the three variables defined in the Shapero-Sokol model.

In the only direct comparison of the Ajzen and Shapero-Sokol models (Krueger et al, 2000), both models did reasonably well with the Shapero-Sokol model explaining slightly more variance in intentions than the Ajzen model, adjusted R-squares of .35 and .41, respectively. Further, the direct effect for Ajzen's subjective norm was not found in this particular study, although the other hypothesized relationships were significant.

While the results suggest both models would be useful, a more parsimonious set of variables seems probable, comprised of perceived feasibility-behavioral control, perceived desirability-attitude toward act, and propensity to act. Each demonstrated significant predictive ability on intentions to start a business, feasibility being the strongest and propensity to act the weakest.
 To summarize:

 Perceptions of desirability are influenced by this broader stream
 of cultural/social elements that help form our opinions and
 attitudes toward any particular action. For example, if a society
 emphasizes getting a good education for the purpose of getting good
 jobs, then entrepreneuring is viewed as less desirable (and
 salient) as a career choice. If parents are self-employed in their
 own businesses, this makes entrepreneurship more salient and
 potentially more attractive.

 Perceptions of feasibility are also influenced by the individual's
 prior experiences, but it is self-efficacy beliefs, those beliefs
 that are most task specific, that have been most potent as an
 antecedent of feasibility perceptions. An extensive body of
 research exists that supports the significance of self-efficacy as
 a performance enhancing variable (Bandura, 1986). This variable
 will be discussed in more detail later in this paper.

 Propensity to act explains additional unique variance in intentions
 and is a malleable construct, one that is molded by the experiences
 of the individual and the decisions made for the future. Krueger et
 al (2000) have suggested that as propensity impacts intentions, so
 too do intentions affect these future predispositions to act.
 Further, Krueger (1993) found that propensity to act was partially
 mediated through both desirability and feasibility perceptions,
 while also having a direct effect on entrepreneurial intentions. It
 is therefore expected that the forces affecting these perceptions,
 including efficacy beliefs, will affect this predisposition to act
 on intentions and in the same direction.

With these findings to date, we turn our attention to a discussion of the implications for pedagogy and the opportunities as educators to impact future entrepreneurial events. The remainder of this paper will focus on the three factors summarized in the preceding section, reviewing what theory and research suggest impacts these factors, and leading us to a discussion of the kinds of initiatives/activities that would seem most fruitful in developing intentional entrepreneurial behavior among our students.


Central to the intentions-based models is the belief that an individual's attitude toward entrepreneurship is a result of prior experiences leading up to the moment of decision. Intentions reflect the current attitude a person holds toward starting a business. Shapero and Sokol (1982) suggest that the number of social elements that make up our experiences is considerable ranging from broad cultural attitudes toward "entrepreneuring" to more localized social influences of family, peers, colleagues, mentors, and presumably any significant others in the social context of the individual.

Research to date generally supports the mediation model discussed above. That is, background factors of the individual have been shown to impact intentions largely through desirability and feasibility perceptions. However, there are variables that have yet to be examined in these models but have been found to impact entrepreneurial behavior.

Shane (2003) reviewed the literature on several individual social and psychological factors that have been shown to influence a person's likelihood of exploiting an opportunity, three that seem particularly relevant to the focus of this paper: social connections, past work-related experiences and the psychological factor of self-efficacy. Table 1 summarizes those factors that educators can incorporate into student experience that are believed to influence intentions.

Social Connections

Shane noted that social connections were found to be important predictors of entrepreneurial activity. Better access to resources and information are important outcomes of social networks. It is the practical aspect of the saying, 'who you know is as important as what you know'. Not only does research support these connections as being a significant influence on intentions toward launching a business, it also reveals that individuals with stronger social ties will have stronger performing ventures.

This suggests that the interface between entrepreneurs and students is important beyond the imprint these social contexts make on the desirability and feasibility perceptions of students. A systematic development of networks of entrepreneurs and the resources and skills needed to launch businesses has practical importance as well. University programs that seek to have a lasting impact on their students will want to pull together networks of information and other resources that can be accessed by aspiring entrepreneurs, student and alum, and can be a source of encouragement long after the student leaves the university. Katz (2007) affirmed the importance of such networks in his discussion of the key components of entrepreneurship education today.

Work-related Experience

Referring again to Shane's (2003) review of individual factors positively influencing entrepreneurial behavior, he noted the impact of past experience on entrepreneuring. Specifically, he found that general business, functional, industry and start-up experiences all individually predicted self-employment. Bandura (1986) recognized that direct experience, what he called mastery experience, was a powerful learning method. That is, if we've done something before, our confidence in our ability to do it in the future increases--self-efficacy is increased.

This suggests that students possessing any experience in organizations are more likely than those without such experiences to seek self-employment opportunities. This points us to the importance of direct experience scenarios for our students, with those most related to self-employment being most potent. Internships in entrepreneurial companies and encouraging involvement in student-run businesses would be important in this regard. Additionally, Katz (2007) suggested that students should be encouraged to engage in student-team consulting projects to small businesses as part of their learning experience. All these activities reflect the direct learning experiences that are so powerful in forming our future beliefs.


Much has been said already regarding the impact of self-efficacy on intentions to entrepreneur. While the impact on intentions is most centered on feasibility perceptions, research has also supported the general effect of efficacy on attractiveness perceptions. Shane (2003) observed that individuals exposed to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs are more likely to start businesses themselves. Specifically, he found that when parents were self-employed it was more likely that their children would be as well. Further, he found that some research showed that contact with entrepreneurs greatly increased students' intentions of becoming entrepreneurs themselves and improved self-efficacy beliefs toward entrepreneurial tasks.

Self-efficacy is an important concept in Bandura's (1986) Social Cognitive Theory. The central notion of the model is that people not only learn from direct experience (doing something themselves), but also from vicarious experiences (observing someone else do something). In fact, he proposed that observational learning is how we learn most of our repertoire of behaviors. For our purposes then, students learn behaviors and attitudes from credible models and observe the consequences received by them--positive or negative. This learning is crucial to self-efficacy beliefs toward entrepreneuring. It is important then for educators to select models carefully.

Bandura specified four necessary components in the learning process before a model would be imitated: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. A brief summary of these follows, along with the implications for entrepreneurial learning:

1. Attention refers to the fact that if the model doesn't have the full attention of the observer, then his/her impact will be diminished accordingly. A host of factors affect quality of attention and would include the presence of other distractions, physiological or mental factors such as fatigue or illness, or observer doesn't identify with the model are only a few examples.

This suggests that the selection of entrepreneurs as models and the setting and manner in which students encounter them is critical to this form of learning. While direct contact can be immensely positive, it can be likewise immensely negative, depending on the model selected. This would seem particularly true for early encounters between students and entrepreneurs. Videos and case studies, while less rich in this sense of encounter, have nonetheless been found to have strong impacts on efficacy beliefs.

2. Retention refers to the individual's need to recall what was attended to in the model. This involves cognitive faculties of symbolic coding, mental imaging, organization, mental and physical rehearsal (mimicking) of model behavior and attitudes.

This suggests that reviewing key model behaviors and attitudes and discussing what these mean during a class or meeting would be important in drawing attention to important aspects of the model and assist students in interpreting what happened. Further, students will be challenged to use these behaviors when they have opportunity.

3. Reproduction refers to actually doing what the model did or exhibiting the attitudes the model exhibited in the appropriate context. Up to this point the activity has been mental, whereas successful reproduction of the desired behaviors is now required.

This suggests that the importance of directing the student to key behaviors early in the process. For example, when an entrepreneur suggests that the first thing he does each day is review his list of goals for the day, and this in response to the general question to what you do in a given day, then it is important to affirm the behaviors of interest in an encounter with the model. Or perhaps it is her attitude toward a failure she described earlier. Another example is to refer to the model's emphasis on business planning as a call for students to conduct a market assessment for a new venture. Katz (2007) pointed out that the business plan was the key modeling exercise and entry tool used in entrepreneurship education, requiring the student to practice concepts and techniques on a proposed business venture.

4. Motivation refers to the willingness of the learner to incorporate the learning experience into his/her life; that is, linking the student's imitation of the model to real, expected, or vicariously observed outcomes. Seeing and practicing an action is not the same as doing it in life. The person must connect the model's actions with his/her own future actions of choice. The use of internships and student consulting projects seem pertinent to testing this transfer of learning to applications in real situations, as well as student application in student-run enterprises.

In sum, it is not only important to introduce students to what is to be done to start a business, but they need to see it being done in the business context and have the opportunity to do it in a business context.


As can be seen from this discussion, intentions-based research suggests a number of opportunities for educators to increase the likelihood of lasting entrepreneurial events by their students and graduates. This paper reviewed research on several factors that impact intentions to start a business and discussed those activities that would seem to have the greatest impact on the entrepreneurial behavior of students.

As noted earlier in this paper, the proliferation of courses in entrepreneurship on college campuses suggests that there is ample interest in at least offering students the opportunity to engage entrepreneurship. This has been an encouraging trend. Yet, many programs use the entrepreneurship/small business course as the central, if not the solitary, component of its entrepreneurial agenda. Further, Katz (2007) concluded that most programs emphasize the technical aspects of starting a business, and while this is important, it is only part of the need. As we have discussed, there is opportunity to make a much larger and lasting impact on student entrepreneurial behavior through the direct influence on the career goals students consider and set for themselves.


From this review, it seems clear that there are a number of practical ways for educators to influence student attitudes and intentions toward entrepreneurship, most of which are relatively easily accomplished in a college/university setting. Several questions remain, however, as to impacts of these experiences on intentions and actual new business start ups and the degree that the pedagogical approaches discussed here can impact these outcomes.

First, the number of possible experiences or initiatives listed that are argued to influence perceptions of desirability and feasibility have yet to be tested as to their relative and combined influence on intentions to entrepreneur. It would be expected that more experiences, and different types of experiences, and intensity of these experiences would have a stronger impact on intentions than their opposites. That is, longer exposure to different types of experiences that are high impact as to cognitive effect would be expected to create stronger intentions to go in this career direction.

Second, it is also unknown how long these intentions will last and how strong these intentions will be as time increases between the learning experiences and actual opportunities to act. Focusing on intentions in brief, intense settings does not insure that these predispositions remain as time passes and in competition with other opportunities. It would be expected that students from entrepreneurship 'friendly' backgrounds will have their intentions strengthened and reinforced, while those not from such backgrounds would find these intentions may weaken as time goes on. This suggests that post-graduation support may be important to keeping earlier interests in entrepreneurship alive.

Third, there is a lack of longitudinal research evidence that would indicate the long-term effects of temporally created intentions on actual entrepreneurial behavior, at least beyond the general background factors already examined.

Finally, as alluded to earlier, entrepreneurship research has largely been conducted measuring singular intentions. That is, subjects have been asked to rate their intentions toward a single option--starting a new venture. However, most people have multiple competing opportunities and choices to make and a prioritization among intentions is likely. This suggests that much more needs to be understood in this regard as it pertains to entrepreneurial behaviors.


To this author, the dominant script for people coming to college is that they get a good education so they can get a good job. Thus, individuals come into universities with this intention in mind--the scenario that is most desirable and feasible to them. By extension, do universities reinforce this orientation? Shapero and Sokol (1982) similarly ask, "Does it [business school education] convey the idea that small business is not desirable or doomed to failure?" and "Is there a general cultural bias in favor of the professions?" (p. 87). While intentions research suggests that these predispositions can be positively influenced toward entrepreneurship as an activity or career path by the college/university experience, it is by no means a certainty. This is particularly true if there is a general bias across university campuses in favor of job seeking as opposed to self-employment. Yet, if we believe that more and more of our students should consider entrepreneurship as a career path, intentions research suggests that we can do more to make this path more salient, desirable and feasible.


Ajzen, I. (1991). Theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 50, 179-211.

Bandura, A. (1986). The Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Chen, C., Greene, P. & Crick, A. (1998). Does entrepreneurial self-efficacy distinguish entrepreneurs from managers? Journal of Business Venturing, 13, 295-316.

Gallup Organization, Inc. & National Center for Research in Economic Education. (1994). Entrepreneurship and Small Business in the United States: A Survey Report on the Views of the General Public, High School Students, and Small Business Owners and Managers. (Available from the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Inc., Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City, MO.)

Katz, J.A. (2007). Education and training in entrepreneurship. In J.R. Baum, M. Frese, R. Baron (Eds.), The psychology of entrepreneurship (2007) (pp. 209-235). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.: Mahwah, New Jersey

Krueger, N. F., Reilly, M. D. & Carsrud, A. L. (2000). Competing models of entrepreneurial intentions. Journal of Business Venturing, 15, 411-432.

Krueger, N. & Brazeal, D. (1994). Entrepreneurial potential and potential entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 18, 91-105.

Krueger, N. (1993). Impact of prior entrepreneurial exposure on perceptions of new venture feasibility and desirability. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. 18 (1), 5-21.

Peterman, N.E. & Kennedy, J. (2003). Enterprise education: Influencing students' perceptions of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 28 (2), 129-144.

Shane, S. (2003). A general theory of entrepreneurship: The individual-opportunity nexus. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK.

Shapero, A. & Sokol, L. (1982). Social Dimensions of Entrepreneurship. In C. Kent, D. Sexton and K. Vespers (Eds), The Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurship.: Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ 72-90.

Jeffrey Gangemi (October 30, 2006). Young, Fearless, and Smart, BusinessWeek Magazine online.

Kermit W. Kuehn, University of Arkansas--Fort Smith
Table 1: Summary of Learning Activities and Impacts
on Entrepreneurship Intentions

Learning Affecting Perceived Desirability
Activity Exposure to entrepreneurs & their businesses
 Successful direct experience in starting,
 working in, and operated own business
 Positive entrepreneurship attitudes of
 peers, friends, faculty mentors, etc.

Learning Affecting Perceived Feasibility (indirectly
Activity Desirability and Propensity to Act)
 Effective modeling of entrepreneurship
 Meaningful interactions with entrepreneurs
 Direct experiences in starting new business
 Consulting in entrepreneurial organizations
 Internships in entrepreneurial organizations
 Courses incorporating essential knowledge and
 skills (ie. business plans)
 Successful experiences in student entrepreneurship
 Exposure to relevant entrepreneurship networks
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Author:Kuehn, Kermit W.
Publication:Journal of Entrepreneurship Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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