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Explaining nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment: an exploratory study.

Introduction

Throughout the world, building a more "entrepreneurial economy" has been a key policy objective for close to a decade. The extensive adoption of this objective stems largely from the contribution that new firms can make to a region's or country's economic development (Reynolds, 2000, Thurik and Wennekers, 2004; Wennekers et al., 2005).

However, despite the recognized importance of new venture creation for regional and national economies, limited attention focuses on the "black box" of the gestation phase of the entrepreneurial process, namely, the phase prior to the actual establishment of a new business (Delmar and Davidsson, 2000; Rotefoss and Kolvereid, 2005). A plethora of policies and programs attempt to encourage the formation of new firms (Maillat, 1998; Shanklin and Ryans, 1999; Taylor and Wren, 1997), but little evidence summarizes the attitudes and behaviour that entrepreneurs exhibit during the gestation phase of the new venture creation process.

One of the major stumbling blocks in acquiring knowledge about the process of business formation has been the lack of "real-time" studies of the start-up process. Historically, studies of business start-ups employ three main strategies. First, they might examine the context of new organizational listings to determine how contextual differences affect birth rates. Second, they use retrospective accounts of surviving firms. Third, they include large-scale longitudinal data sets of labour force participation or business registries (for a review, see Reynolds, 2000). However, none of these strategies provides insights into the dynamics of the business formation process, because they lack the capacity to assess attitudes or behaviour systematically during the set-up process. This study addresses this deficiency by identifying persons in the process of establishing a business (nascent entrepreneurs) and examining their attitudes toward devoting their efforts to launch a venture.

Prior research suggests that a key influence on the outcomes of nascent activity may be the entrepreneurs' commitment to reaching their goal of establishing their own business (Carter, Gartner and Reynolds, 1996; Krueger, 1993). However, literature has associated such commitment with people's intentions to start a business rather than the level of effort they are willing to invest. That is, relatively little is known about entrepreneurs' commitment while they are in the process of setting up a business. Therefore, we examine what factors affect entrepreneurs' determination to exert high levels of effort to reach the goal of establishing a company.

To answer this question, we combine expectancy theory (Gatewood, 1993; Vroom, 1964) with goal setting theory (Austin and Vancouver, 1996; Locke and Latham, 1990) to create a conceptual lens for examining factors associated with nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment, or the extent to which they exhibit attitudes that prioritize devoting substantial energy to their start-up activities. Goal setting theory suggests that goal commitment can clarify the relationship between individual characteristics and the way people undertake particular tasks (Hollenbeck and Klein, 1987; Klein et al., 1999), because it results from people's intention to pursue a goal and their persistence in achieving that goal. Goal setting theory further suggests that a person highly motivated to achieve a goal is more likely to persist (i.e., be highly committed) in achieving that goal compared with one who is not very motivated.

We apply the concept of goal commitment to the context of nascent entrepreneurship (Drnovsek and Erikson, 2005) and draw from expectancy theory, which suggests people select a level of effort to attain an outcome depending on their motivational force, which in turn depends on three dimensions: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence (Klein, 1991; Vroom, 1964). Level of expectancy refers to the perceived probability that goal-driven actions will result in goal attainment; instrumentality indicates the perceived probability that attaining the goal (i.e., the first-level outcome) will lead to the attainment of other goals (i.e., higher-level outcomes) in the future; and valence relates to the attractiveness of its attainment (Klein, 1991). For an extensive review of expectancy theory, see Ambrose and Kulik (1999). In this study, we focus on the expectancy and valence dimensions to examine nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment. Thus, we consider two broad categories that may enhance such commitment: factors that convince entrepreneurs that achieving the goal of establishing a venture is possible (expectancy) and those that convince entrepreneurs that achieving the goal is attractive (valence).' In other words, we argue that the attitudes regarding how much effort they are willing to put in their start-up activities depend on their perception that a successful outcome is both feasible and desirable.

We contend that examining factors associated with nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment represents a significant contribution to the literature. Specifically, we extend literature that has focused mainly on explaining why people start a new business venture but that ignores the level of effort they put into their start-up activities prior to establishing the business (e.g. Davidsson and Honig, 2003; De Clercq and Arenius, 2006). We also extend prior research that studies the role of entrepreneurial intentions in new venture creation (Boyd and Vozikis, 1994; Krueger and Carsrud, 1993). Entrepreneurial intention has been defined as the intent to be self-employed in response to the recognition of an opportunity (Kolvereid, 1996). Consistent with Drnovsek and Erikson's (2005) conceptual arguments, we propose that studying the drivers of entrepreneurs' goal commitment can extend the notion of intentions, because it pertains to the willingness to exert varying levels of effort while engaged in the start-up process. Our empirical investigation therefore should broaden our understanding of a key aspect of the new venture creation process, in that a person may have an intention to start a business but not be willing to exhibit a high level of energy to achieve that goal. Finally, our study may provide insights into some subconscious mechanisms that underlie nascent entrepreneurs' behaviour. For example, by investigating the determinants of goal commitment, we may shed light on why some entrepreneurs devote less effort to their start-up activities, even if these efforts may be necessary from a pure business perspective.

Theoretical Framework

The concept of commitment has its intellectual roots in research on individual behaviour within organizations (e.g. Allen and Meyer, 1996; Avolio et al., 2004; Eby et al., 1999; Shore and Barksdale, 1998). Although commitment has been defined and measured in many different ways, generally, the common theme states that commitment reflects dedication toward a particular organization or activity (Avolio et al., 2004). Furthermore, prior studies argue that commitment can manifest itself both as an attitude and a behaviour. Whereas the attitudinal approach relates commitment to feelings about another entity, such as emotional bonding with an employer (e.g. Shore and Barksdale, 1998), the behavioural approach reflects actual efforts undertaken in day-to-day activities (e.g. Brown and Leigh, 1996). In this study, we rely on the attitudinal approach because we assess drivers of prospective entrepreneurs' willingness to devote substantial efforts in the gestation phase of new venture creation.

Furthermore, we draw on goal setting theory by focusing on nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment to establishing their own business. The concept of goal commitment appears widely in organizational behaviour literature (e.g. DeShon and Landis, 1997; Locke, Latham and Erez, 1988), defined as people's determination to attain a specific goal (Locke and Latham, 1990). Similarly, nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment reflects the amount of determination they display in attaining the goal of running their own business (Austin and Vancouver, 1996; Hollenbeck and Klein, 1987; Hollenbeck, Williams and Klein, 1989). Nascent entrepreneurs' commitment to their goal of establishing a company depends, in important ways, on their perceptions regarding the feasibility and desirability of reaching this goal. In building this argument, we integrate the premises underlying goal setting theory with those underlying expectancy theory (e.g. Klein, 1991; Locke, Latham and Erez, 1988; Vroom, 1964). First, the feasibility dimension refers to the perceived probability that goal-driven efforts by nascent entrepreneurs lead to goal attainment (Heckhausen and Khul, 1985). The extent to which nascent entrepreneurs believe their goal of establishing a venture is possible should positively influence their willingness to devote effort to goal attainment (Vroom, 1964). In this regard, we examine whether entrepreneurs' self-efficacy and the availability of external financial resources (both private and public) affect their level of goal commitment. Second, the desirability dimension refers to the attractiveness of goal attainment, or nascent entrepreneurs' anticipated satisfaction from setting up a company (Klein, 1991). The value associated with embarking on a career as an entrepreneur should increase prospective entrepreneurs' dedication to achieve the goal of establishing their own business. Therefore, we examine the influence of the level of personal value that nascent entrepreneurs attribute to an entrepreneurial career, as well as their perceptions of normative support in their immediate environment.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Figure 1 summarizes the different relationships we hypothesize in this study. Next, we develop the rationale for our specific hypotheses.

Hypotheses

Feasibility of Establishing a Business

Personal factor: Entrepreneurial self-efficacy. Social cognitive theory argues that motivations are self-regulated according to perceptions of competencies (Bandura, 1986). That is, people's perceived behavioural constraints influence their goal-directed motivation, according to their sense of self-efficacy, which represents their beliefs that they have the capabilities to organize and undertake the actions necessary to attain goals (Bandura, 1997). That is, self-efficacy involves an assessment of what a person is capable of in a variety of task circumstances, given his or her existing skills and abilities (Bandura, 1997). Two aspects of self-efficacy are important to emphasize. First, self-efficacy is not a personality trait; it is instead influenced by factors such as past experience, task-relevant information, or the task environment (Bandura, 1997; Whyte, Saks and Hook, 1997). Second, self-efficacy is not the same as self-esteem; self-esteem relates to judgments about self-worth, whereas self-efficacy is an assessment of the ability to meet task-specific demands (Bandura, 1997). For the purposes of our study, self-efficacy implies that people's perceptions of their skills may provide an important determinant of their attitudes toward goal attainment.

Prior research links self efficacy with career choices. For example, career self-efficacy helps predict men's intentions to pursue careers in traditionally feminine occupations (Giles and Rea, 1999). Similarly, Lent, Brown, and Hackett (1994) find that self-efficacy relates significantly to career interests and subsequent career choices. Entrepreneurship literature further theorizes about the association between entrepreneurial self-efficacy and a person's choice of a career (Boyd and Vozikis, 1994; Chen, Greene, and Crick, 1998; Krueger, Reilly, and Carsrud, 2000), such that entrepreneurs' perceptions of their abilities to perform the tasks required in starting and sustaining a business influence their decision to become entrepreneurs. Chen, Greene, and Crick's (1998) measure of entrepreneurial self-efficacy differentiates entrepreneurship students from students of other management disciplines and business founders from non-founders. Other studies also relate entrepreneurs' self-efficacy to their success. For example, Chandler and Jansen (1992) examine the role of perceived entrepreneurial competence, along with managerial and technical role competence, on business success and find that self-reported entrepreneurial competencies predict entrepreneurial performance well.

We extend this literature by relating the notion of self-efficacy to the attitudes exhibited by nascent entrepreneurs during the process that leads up to a new venture creation, rather than to the choice of an entrepreneurial career or new venture success. We hypothesize a positive relationship between nascent entrepreneurs' self-efficacy and their goal commitment, consistent with organizational behaviour literature, which suggests that self-efficacy is an important antecedent of the attitudes exhibited when performing a particular task (Hollenbeck and Klein, 1987; Locke and Latham, 1990; Phillips and Gully, 1997). For example, prior research reveals a relationship between employees' self-efficacy beliefs about their behaviour on the job and their level of commitment to assigned goals (Harrison and Liska, 1994), as well as a positive relationship between self-efficacy and the willingness to work long hours. For example, among a sample of army soldiers, respondents with high perceptions of self-efficacy react less negatively, in terms of psychological strain, to long work hours and work overload than those who report low levels of efficacy (Jex and Bliese, 1999).

In short, we hypothesize that nascent entrepreneurs' self-efficacy, with respect to launching a venture, relates positively to their level of goal commitment. People with high levels of confidence in their abilities to establish a venture have more positive feelings about working hard to attain their goal of being an entrepreneur. In other words, in the process of goal striving and confronting pitfalls and disappointments, nascent entrepreneurs are more willing to do whatever it takes to launch a business if they perceive themselves as having the necessary qualities to do so successfully (Austin and Vancouver, 1996).

Hypothesis 1: Nascent entrepreneurs' self-efficacy relates positively to their goal commitment.

Environmental factor: Availability of external financial support. In addition to personal factors, situational (i.e., environmental) factors may influence the perceived feasibility of goal attainment and therefore goal commitment (Klein et al., 1999). In the context of employee-employer relationships, employees' perceptions of supervisory support increase their commitment to the organization (Klein et al., 1999); we transfer this rationale to the context of nascent entrepreneurs and their attitudes toward undertaken efforts aimed at attaining their goals. Specifically, entrepreneurs' expectation that they can establish a business depends on external factors; we focus particularly on the perception that sufficient external financial support is available in their immediate environment.

Nascent entrepreneurs often face capital constraints when setting up and developing their companies (Blanchflower and Oswald, 1998; Evans and Jovanovic, 1989), and because they have limited personal wealth, these entrepreneurs require substantial outside financing (e.g. Caputo and Dolinsky, 1998). Although they may obtain financial resources from family and friends, they soon require additional funding from other external parties, such as commercial lenders (e.g. banks), private equity investors (e.g. business angels), or governments (Audretsch and Fritsch, 1994; Reynolds, Miller, and Maki, 1995; Rotefoss and Kolvereid, 2005). The availability of such funding may be instrumental in meeting short-term financial deadlines and facilitating a fully operational start-up.

We argue that entrepreneurs' perception of the availability of external financial support influences how much effort they are willing to invest in launching their company. More specifically, we hypothesize a positive relationship between nascent entrepreneurs' access to financial capital and their commitment to achieving their goal. Because a lack of financial resources increases the likelihood that an entrepreneur cannot meet preset objectives (Blanchflower and Oswald, 1998; Rotefoss and Kolvereid, 2005), financially constrained entrepreneurs may believe their efforts will not pay off in the long run and therefore exhibit lower levels of commitment. Alternatively, all else being equal, an abundance of external financial resources may motivate prospective entrepreneurs, because such resources enhance the anticipated probability of bringing their start-up efforts to fruition (Gatewood, 1993).

In short, on the basis of expectancy theory, we propose that the availability of external financial support increases nascent entrepreneurs' anticipation that their start-up endeavours will succeed and therefore their belief that their business is feasible.

Ultimately, this belief enhances their willingness to exert substantial effort to reach the goal of becoming an entrepreneur. Furthermore, consistent with prior research (Audretsch and Fritsch, 1994; Reynolds, Miller, and Maki, 1995; Rotefoss and Kolvereid, 2005), we argue that two types of external financial sources may be crucial: financial support from private investors or institutions (e.g. business angels, banks) or from public investors (i.e., government or government-related agencies); correspondingly, we set forth two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 2a: Nascent entrepreneurs' perception of the availability of private financial support relates positively to their goal commitment.

Hypothesis 2b: Nascent entrepreneurs' perception of the availability of public financial support relates positively to their goal commitment.

Desirability of Establishing a Business

Personal factor: Personal value attributed to entrepreneurship. Another factor related to nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment is the personal value they attribute to entrepreneurship as a career option, consistent with the notion in expectancy theory that goal attractiveness drives people's attitudes (Klein, 1991; Locke, Latham, and Erez, 1988). Several organizational behaviour studies examine the influence of the value that people associate with specific outcomes on subsequent attitudes and preferences. For example, the original valence model proposed by Vroom (1966) predicts that occupational preferences depend on the expected valence (i.e., attributed value) associated with each occupation. In that model, each occupation is rated separately and assigned a "valence" score; those occupations with the greatest attraction also receive the highest scores. When Burton et al. (1992) examine employees' motivation to use a new expert system, they similarly find that the anticipated attractiveness of the system influences the level of effort exhibited in using the system.

Similarly, in the context of entrepreneurship, people may be more inclined to opt for a career as an entrepreneur if they expect to attain need-satisfying outcomes related to entrepreneurship (Longenecker, Moore, and Petty, 2000; Scarbourough and Zimmerer, 2000). Several "reward" categories may influence people to pursue entrepreneurial careers, such as profit, independence, or a satisfying way of life (Lee and Tsang, 2001; Longenecker, Moore, and Petty, 2000; Poon, Aimuddin, and Junit, 2006). Whereas profit refers to earning an income that more than compensates for the time and capital devoted to the start-up, independence refers to the expectation of freedom from supervision and bureaucracy, and the reward of a satisfying way of life indicates an inclination to consider the business a tool of pleasure instead of work.

Although existing literature suggests that prospective entrepreneurs' personal preferences influence their career-related choices (Klein, 1991), we argue that goal attractiveness may also drive attitudes after they make these initial choices. In this context, we contend that attraction to an entrepreneurial career relates positively to the level of commitment to reaching the goal of establishing a business. That is, we reason that prospective entrepreneurs may make, whether rationally or subconsciously, choices about how much energy they devote to their start-up endeavours according to their anticipated attainment of need-satisfying outcomes. Consequently, nascent entrepreneurs' willingness to expend considerable effort should be commensurate with the value they attribute to entrepreneurship as a career choice (Gatewood, 1993).

Hypothesis 3: The value nascent entrepreneurs attribute to entrepreneurship as a career choice relates positively to their goal commitment.

Environmental factor: Normative support for entrepreneurship. Finally, we examine the relationship between a particular environmental factor associated with the desirability of establishing a company and the level of goal commitment, namely, nascent entrepreneurs' perception of normative support for entrepreneurship. Consistent with expectancy theory, which argues that external reward systems increase the desirability of pursuing a specific goal and the extent to which people will exert substantial effort to achieve the goal (Locke, Latham, and Erez, 1988), we recognize that incentives increase goal attractiveness, which in turn increases goal commitment (Klein and Wright, 1994; Wright, 1992). In a clerical setting, Riedel, Nebeker, and Cooper (1988) find that goal commitment is higher with external incentives for goal attainment. Furthermore, in a business simulation with undergraduate students, Kren (1992) shows that providing external incentives increases goal attractiveness, which positively influences goal commitment. This hypothesized relationship between perceptions of normative support and goal commitment also matches the theory of reasoned action, which argues that human behaviour results from intentions formed by subjective norms about acceptable behaviour (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980).

A positive relationship between nascent entrepreneurs' perception of normative support and goal commitment also follows institutional theory, which states that the environment in which economic actors are embedded influences their behaviour (Bartholomew, 1997; North, 1990; Powell and DiMaggio, 1991; Scott, 1995), and Salancik's (1977) observation that people tend to appear rational and consistent to others. That is, the fear of appearing inconsistent may make people less likely to commit to activities that do not follow common practices. Therefore, nascent entrepreneurs who believe their environmental climate opposes the decision to become an entrepreneur may be less willing to expend effort to establish a business.

In short, nascent entrepreneurs may be subject to societal pressures that guide their attitudes, in line with criteria for individual conformity. Therefore, prospective entrepreneurs may be less willing to put substantial effort into their start-up endeavours if they believe that those efforts do not match existing rules and expectations of "appropriate behaviour."

Hypothesis 4: Nascent entrepreneurs' perception of normative support for entrepreneurship relates positively to their goal commitment.

Methodology

Data Collection

We draw the data for this study from the Panel Study for Entrepreneurial Dynamics (PSED), part of the Entrepreneurship Research Consortium (ERC; Carter, Gartner, and Reynolds, 2004; Reynolds, 2000). The analyses are based specifically on the multistage data collection conducted by Canadian members of the ERC. In winter 2000, a representative sample of Canadian households was screened by a professional market research firm; this telephone screening identified any nascent entrepreneurs in the contacted households. To be eligible, the respondents needed to indicate they were trying to start a business, would be at least part owner of that business, and were willing to be contacted for further data collection; 463 respondents answered affirmatively. In summer 2000, the second data collection stage, undertaken through a telephone interview, verified the original respondents' status as nascent entrepreneurs; 151 nascent entrepreneurs completed the second telephone interview. Following this interview, respondents received a self-administered survey instrument. Our analyses are based on the 81 persons who responded to both the telephone interviews and survey instrument. The data for our dependent and independent variables derive from the survey; those for the control variables come from the telephone interviews. Finally, in the three subsequent years (2002-04), additional telephone interviews with the respondents indicate the status of their nascent activity, including whether their venture was fully operational at the time of data collection; the number of respondents who participated in these interviews ranged from 67 (2002) to 26 (2004).

The varied contents of the telephone interviews and questionnaire reflect the intellectual domains of the many entrepreneurship scholars involved in the PSED project. The questions attempt to obtain a wide variety of knowledge about the entrepreneurial start-up process. More details about the questions appear in Reynolds (2000).2 For reasons of parsimony and theoretical focus, we focus on a limited number of variables that are consistent with either goal setting or expectancy theory frameworks.' For each construct, we choose one or two items that best reflect the content domain covered by the construct (Sharma, 1996).

Measures

Our dependent variable, goal commitment, involves two questions[degrees] and a five-point Likert scale (I =completely untrue; 5=completely true): "There is no limit as to how long I would give maximum effort to establish my business" and "My personal philosophy is to do whatever it takes to establish my own business." The mean value of the composite measure across the two questions is 3.69, with a standard deviation of 0.93 and alpha of 0.72. We determine the validity of the goal commitment measure (derived from the survey instrument) by calculating its correlation with the following question, asked during the phone interview: "On average, how many hours per week do you devote to the business?" We find a positive and significant correlation of 0.39 (p < 0.001).

The assessment of the four independent variables also uses a five-point Likert scale (1=completely disagree; 5=completely agree). First, entrepreneurial self-efficacy measures responses to "Overall, my skills and abilities will help me start a business" (mean = 4.20; std = 0.90). Second, the availability of external financial support employs two questions to reflect the two possible sources of financial capital: private financial support, measured by "Bankers and other investors go out of their way to help new firms get started" (mean = 2.22; std = 1.15), and the availability of public financial support, measured by "Federal and provincial governments provide good support for those starting new firms" (mean = 2.84; std = 1.11). Third, personal value attributed to entrepreneurship uses the following item: "I would be proud of my children if they started their own business" (mean = 4.17; std = 1.09). Fourth, normative support relies on "Young people are encouraged to be independent and start their own business" (mean = 3.05; std = 1.13).

To account for alternative explanations for variations in nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment, we consider three control variables in the analyses, derived from the telephone interviews. First, educational level refers to the "highest level of education ... completed so far" (mean = 4.58; std = 2.18), which ranges from 1 (some high school) to 9 (doctoral degree). Second, gender is a dichotomous variable (0 = male; 1 = female); 64% of the respondents are men. Third, age represents a continuous variable (mean = 41.65; std = 10.24).

Results

Table 1 shows the correlation matrix and variable descriptives, and Table 2 provides the results from the regression analyses. The first column in Table 2 shows the results with only the control variables included in the model; the second column also includes the independent and control variables. Only one of the control variables relates significantly to goal commitment: older nascent entrepreneurs exhibit higher levels of goal commitment than their younger counterparts (p < 0.05). The four independent variables together (derived from expectancy theory) explain 12.6% more variance in the level of nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment.

The results in the second column of Table 2 provide support for most of our hypotheses. First, nascent entrepreneurs' self-efficacy relates positively to their goal commitment, in support of Hypothesis 1 (p < 0.05). Second, we find partial support for Hypothesis 2, because though the availability of private financial support relates positively to goal commitment (p < 0.05), the availability of public financial support relates negatively (p < 0.01). Third, we find strong support for Hypothesis 3, in that the personal value that nascent entrepreneurs attribute to entrepreneurship as a career choice relates positively to their level of goal commitment (p < 0.01). Fourth, the level of normative support for entrepreneurship is positively, albeit weakly, related to goal commitment, in weak support of Hypothesis 4 (p < 0.10).

To determine if our results may be coloured by the "phase" of the nascent entrepreneurial process, we ran supplementary analyses with an additional control variable to assess how many months had passed since the respondent initially worked on the business plan for his or her venture. Including this control variable does not change the significance of the reported results; in fact, this control variable itself is not significant. Furthermore, to check whether higher goal commitment is in turn associated with a higher propensity to create a fully operational start-up, we also undertook supplementary correlation analyses, in which we correlated the goal commitment measure (assessed in 2001) with the status of the start-ups in 2002, 2003 and 2004 (ranging from "abandoned" to "fully operational"). We found very weak correlations for all three years: -0.216 [P = 0.080 (n = 67)] for 2002, -0.146 [p = 0.273 (n = 58)] for 2003, and 0.037 [p = 0.86 (n = 26)] for 2004. Although these weak correlations indicate the absence of any effect of goal commitment on future performance, the low n-values demand caution in interpreting the results.

Discussion

We examine factors associated with nascent entrepreneurs' commitment to achieve their goal of establishing a new business, to argue that the levels of effort nascent entrepreneurs are willing to exert depend on their belief that the outcomes of their efforts are feasible and desirable. While the feasibility dimension refers to the belief that efforts enable the goal of establishing a venture, the desirability dimension refers to the anticipated satisfaction with this goal. Applying the expectancy and goal setting frameworks to the context of nascent entrepreneurship contributes to the literature because it answers a question that has received little previous attention: Why do nascent entrepreneurs differ in their willingness to exert strong efforts during the gestation phase leading up to the creation of a new business? Prior research focuses on the question of why some people are more likely to launch a new business (e.g. Davidsson and Honig, 2003) or succeed in doing so (Chandler and Jansen, 1992). However, we provide insight into the dynamics that characterize the period prior to the actual establishment of the business (Rotefoss and Kolvereid, 2005). Given the limited sample size, and therefore the exploratory nature of our study, we recognize the need for caution in interpreting the results. However, we believe our findings provide further insights into the process of new venture creation.

First, we find support for the argument that nascent entrepreneurs' self-efficacy relates positively to their goal commitment. That is, their belief in their ability to bring the start-up to fruition positively influences their motivation to mobilize efforts to achieve that goal. This result portrays people's inclination to prefer situations in which their perceived personal capability is higher, which may bring them more personal control. Therefore, prospective entrepreneurs may be less willing to invest significant effort in activities for which they perceive they have low competence (Bandura, 1997). Alternatively, nascent entrepreneurs with high levels of self-efficacy for the entrepreneurial process are strongly motivated to exert high levels of effort when setting up their company. Although not a focus of our study, we also note that entrepreneurs' self-efficacy may evolve over time through the process of new venture creation, according to the fresh knowledge they obtain over the course of their actions (Gist and Mitchell, 1992). As they experience the trials, errors, and successes related to creating a new venture, nascent entrepreneurs' judgments about their entrepreneurial fitness may change. For example, successes may strengthen their beliefs in their capability to bring a task to fruition, whereas failures may cause their competence perceptions to decrease (Gist and Mitchell, 1992). Furthermore, prospective entrepreneurs who are used to "easy successes" may be accustomed to quick results and therefore become more easily discouraged when faced with adversity (Boyd and Vozikis, 1994; Wood and Bandura, 1989). Therefore, prospective entrepreneurs may be better off, in some cases, if they have experienced situations in which they prevail over adversity through their perseverance and effort. Additional research is needed to disentangle the different possible mechanisms that link prospective entrepreneurs' prior experiences, self-efficacy, and willingness to invest high levels of efforts in their start-up activities.

Second, we find partial support for the argument that nascent entrepreneurs' perception of available external financial support positively influences their goal commitment. Although we uncover a positive relationship between the availability of private financial support and goal commitment, we find a negative relationship with public financial support. A lack of external financial support may decrease the likelihood that nascent entrepreneurs can meet preset financial objectives during the gestation phase, which creates a perception that they cannot succeed in the long run (Vroom, 1964). Our results indicate that this reasoning holds true only with respect to the financial support provided by private sources, such as banks or other non-public investors. The negative relationship between the availability of public financial resources (e.g. government grants) and nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment may exist because prospective entrepreneurs perceive government funding as very difficult to obtain. Furthermore, even when access exists, the time delays and excessive paperwork required to meet government demands may act as disincentives to investing high levels of effort in the process of setting up a new business (Verheul et al., 2002).

Third, the attractiveness of entrepreneurship as a career choice, based on personal preferences or normative pressures from the environment, influences nascent entrepreneurs' willingness to invest energy in setting up their business. Internal factors (e.g. personal value attributed to the career choice of entrepreneur) have stronger effects on the level of commitment than external factors (e.g. normative support for entrepreneurship), perhaps because prospective entrepreneurs experience their personal preferences as more immediate factors (Locke and Latham, 1990). That is, to the extent that embarking on a career as an entrepreneur represents a path that can fulfill fundamental needs (e.g. autonomy, self-realization), a person should evince a more positive attitude toward investing significant time in start-up endeavours (Longenecker, Moore, and Petty, 2000). In contrast, the perception of normative support may be a more distant driver of nascent entrepreneurs' attitudes and only indirectly indicate the rewards of becoming an entrepreneur. In other words, our study suggests that people's desire to conform to environmental pressures is subordinate to their personal preferences in terms of driving their commitment during the gestation phase of new venture creation.

Fourth, our supplementary analyses to examine how nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment relates to their subsequent business success provide some interesting insights. Whereas prior research implies a positive relationship between goal commitment and performance (e.g. Locke and Latham, 1990), we ford no significant correlation between nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment and the status of their venture over time. To explain this "non-fording," we note, in addition to the low sample size, that nascent entrepreneurs may not always be accurate in their perceptions of entrepreneurial ability because of their overconfidence (Forbes, 2005) or may get carried away by their desire to become an entrepreneur (Krueger, 1993). Therefore, their level of goal commitment may not always be commensurate with the actual viability of their operational start-up.

Implications

From a practical perspective, entrepreneurs should benefit from this study by gaining insights into why they may differ with respect to their willingness to put strong efforts into their start-up activities. That is, our results suggest possibly hidden mechanisms that guide entrepreneurs' attitudes. Entrepreneurs should recognize that, subconsciously, the level of energy they are willing to devote to their start-up during the gestation phase will be influenced by their perceptions about their own capabilities and their personal preferences. Our supplementary fording of no relationship between goal commitment and start-up success could indicate that the mechanisms we describe might be misleading in terms of how much energy entrepreneurs actually devote (i.e., attitudes do not necessarily reflect behaviour) or need to allocate to start-up endeavours. For example, high levels of perceived capability, if overoptimistic and unjustified (Forbes, 2005), may lead nascent entrepreneurs to devote too much, perhaps useless energy to their start-up activities, even if their venture is not viable in the marketplace.

The results of this study also have implications for stakeholders interested in the training and support of prospective entrepreneurs. First, our fording that nascent entrepreneurs' level of commitment is influenced by their self-perceptions indicates educational institutions must provide an accurate view of entrepreneurial abilities. Schools might pay special attention to the importance of setting realistic goals when launching a business. Business planning projects could be a useful tool in this regard, in that such projects may help people envision entrepreneurship as an attainable and realistic career goal. Second, our finding with respect to the role of a normative social component in shaping entrepreneurs' goal commitment points to the importance of establishing an entrepreneurial culture-through educational infrastructure, the media, or government initiatives-to drive entrepreneurs to see their ventures through to fruition.

Limitations and Future Research

We recognize that this study's research design is exploratory in nature, and therefore, caution is needed when interpreting its findings. In turn, our study's limitations offer several avenues for future research.

First, our analyses rely on one-item variables, so we cannot provide strong checks of their reliability or validity. Although single-item measures may be acceptable for the context of this study-that is, an exploratory investigation of a process about which relatively little is known-additional research should develop multi-item variables that better capture the content domain corresponding to our theoretical concepts (Sharma, 1996). Furthermore, some of the survey questions may be subject to social desirability bias (e.g. items assessing goal commitment and self-efficacy), which may explain the relatively high mean values of these variables. Although these high mean values provide a more conservative test for our hypotheses-as less variation makes it more difficult to identify significant relationships-future research could reduce the potential for such bias by rewording the questions.

Second, additional research would benefit from including commitment items that reflect both entrepreneurs' attitudes and behaviour to determine whether willingness to exert strong effort automatically translates into higher levels of effort and energy.

Third, future research might use larger longitudinal data sets to provide a more powerful statistical test of the relationship between nascent entrepreneurs' goal commitment and their subsequent success in launching a fully operational business.

Fourth, in addition to proposing main effects of personal and environmental factors on goal commitment, it would be interesting to include interactive effects in the model. For example, a person's entrepreneurial self-efficacy might relate to goal commitment only if he or she anticipates a high level of satisfaction from becoming an entrepreneur; if that level is low, perceived capabilities may not make a difference in shaping the level of effort exhibited during the gestation phase. Furthermore, personal variables may interact with environmental variables to influence goal commitment. For example, a person's entrepreneurial self-efficacy may be particularly useful when the immediate environment supports people who envision a career as an entrepreneur, such that social norms would have their greatest effect on those who already have grounds to believe that they can attain the desired effects through their own actions. Finally, the effect of self-efficacy may interact with other dimensions not included in this study, such as the settings of growth-oriented entrepreneurs versus traditional small businesses (Cliff, 1998) or the composition of the start-up team (Chandler and Hanks, 1994).

Acknowledgements

The authors are most grateful for the generous financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Research Grant No. 412-98-0025, and Industry Canada.

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Contact Information

For further information on this article, contact:

Dirk De Clercq, Faculty of Business, Brock University, St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1, Canada

Tel: +1 905 688 5550 x 5187

E-mail: ddeclercq@brocku.ca

Dirk De Clercq, Faculty of Business, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario

Teresa V. Menzies, Faculty of Business, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario

Monica Diochon, Department of Business Administration, St-Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Yvon Gasse, Faculte des sciences de l'administration, Universite Laval, Sainte-Foy, Quebec

(1.) The instrumentality dimension in this context refers to higher-level outcomes that entrepreneurs expect to obtain from their ability to launch a venture, such as establishing a profitable venture or increasing their self-esteem. We do not assess this dimension directly.

(2.) More details about methodological issues pertaining to the PSED project in Canada appear in Gasse, Diochon, and Menzies (2004), Menzies, Diochon and Gasse (2004), and Diochon, Menzies, and Gasse (2005a, 2005b).

(3.) Because the PSED investigates a process about which relatively little is known (i.e., the gestation process preceding the actual establishment of a new business), our research design could be qualified as exploratory in nature. However, the questions in the telephone interview and survey instrument also originate from the very best and current insights in the field of entrepreneurship, as reported by Reynolds (2000).

(4.) These questions were introduced as follows: "The following statements can be used to describe most people. How accurately would they describe you?"
Table 1: Correlation Matrix and Descriptive Statistics (n = 81)

                                       1         2          3

1. Goal commitment
2. Entrepreneurial self-efficacy    .170
3. Availability of private          .082      .017
  financial support
4. Availability of public          -.127      .119       .350 **
  financial support
5. Personal value attributed to     .212     -.099      -.190
  entrepreneurship
6. Perception of normative          .104     -.022      -.095
  support
7. Educational level               -.107      .341 **   -.166
8. Gender                          -.161      .006      -.012
9. Age                              .264 *    .193       .026
      Mean                          3.69      4.20       2.22
      Standard deviation             .93       .90       1.15
      Minimum                       1.00      1.00       1.00
      Maximum                       5.00      5.00       5.00

                                       4       5       6

1. Goal commitment
2. Entrepreneurial self-efficacy
3. Availability of private
  financial support
4. Availability of public
  financial support
5. Personal value attributed to     .147
  entrepreneurship
6. Perception of normative          .086   -.048
  support
7. Educational level               -.198   -.173   -.032
8. Gender                           .110   -.017    .105
9. Age                             -.145   -.108    .009
      Mean                          2.84    4.17    3.05
      Standard deviation            1.11    1.09    1.13
      Minimum                       1.00    1.00    1.00
      Maximum                       5.00    5.00    5.00

                                       7       8       9

1. Goal commitment
2. Entrepreneurial self-efficacy
3. Availability of private
  financial support
4. Availability of public
  financial support
5. Personal value attributed to
  entrepreneurship
6. Perception of normative
  support
7. Educational level
8. Gender                          -.005
9. Age                             -.048   -.098
      Mean                          4.58     .36   41.65
      Standard deviation            2.18     .48   10.24
      Minimum                       1.00     .00   22.00
      Maximum                       5.00    1.00   64.00

Notes: Zero-order correlation coefficients.

** p [two-tailed] [less than or equal to] .01;

* p [two-tailed] [less than or equal to] .05.

Table 2: Regression Results (Dependent Variable: Goal
Commitment; n = 81)

                                      Goal Commitment

H1: Entrepreneurial self-efficacy
H2a: Availability of private
  financial support
H2b: Availability of public
  financial support
H3: Personal value attributed to
  entrepreneurship
H4: Availability of normative
  support
Educational level                          -.097
Gender (0 = male; 1 = female)              -.135
Age                                         .240 *
F-value (degrees of freedom)           2.650 (3; 77)
                                   (one-tailed p < .10)
[R.sup.2]                                   .094
Adjusted [R.sup.2]                          .058
Difference in adjusted [R.sup.2]

                                       Goal Commitment

H1: Entrepreneurial self-efficacy           .252 *
H2a: Availability of private                .227 *
  financial support
H2b: Availability of public                -.289 **
  financial support
H3: Personal value attributed to            .323 **
  entrepreneurship
H4: Availability of normative              .178+
  support
Educational level                          -.143
Gender (0 = male; 1 = female)              -.121
Age                                        .178+
F-value (degrees of freedom)           3.251 (8; 72)
                                    (one-tailed p <.01)
[R.sup.2]                                   .265
Adjusted [R.sup.2]                          .184
Difference in adjusted [R.sup.2]            .126

Notes: Standardized regression coefficients.

** p < .01; * p < .05; + p [less than or equal to] 10;
two-tailed tests.
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Author:De Clercq, Dirk; Menzies, Teresa V.; Diochon, Monica; Gasse, Yvon
Publication:Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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