Entrepreneurship is a learning process, yet the paths that entrepreneurs take to achieve success and the resources they assemble differ widely. To better understand when and for whom specific learning styles and new venture organizing activities are beneficial, this study develops a theoretical framework based on entrepreneurs' learning orientations. We compare the founding trajectories of concrete experience and abstract conceptualization learner/entrepreneurs, as defined in experiential learning theory (ELT). The study tests the predictions with multinomial logit models. The results, using longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics, show that entrepreneurs who learn through sensory information and action benefit most from informal sources of capital and from their social networks, while those who learn by analyzing and systematically planning benefit most from formal sources of capital and from following their developed plans. The different trajectories that emerged in terms of capital formation and social network involvement should be of considerable interest to those attempting to either teach or promote entrepreneurship, as students and entrepreneurs undoubtedly have different learning requirements as well as pedagogical needs.
Entrepreneurs muster unique combinations of resources with the goal of creating something new – organizations, products and/or services. Only when converting their ideas into reality can entrepreneurs bring about a future state. Such realization involves judgments (Newbery, Lean, Moizer, & Haddoud, 2018), capital investments (O'Brien & Sasson, 2017), actions (Stroe, Parida, & Wincent, 2018), social networks (Shu, Ren, & Zheng, 2018) and learning experiences (Boso, Adeleye, Donbesuur, & Gyensare, 2018). Entrepreneurs can differ in degrees of sophistication, and organizing patterns may differ widely. Yet much of entrepreneurship research still treats the entrepreneur as a homogenous entity, or is anchored in computational exercises that examine decision-making, as though there were an ideal entrepreneurial path (Felin, Kauffman, Koppl, & Longo, 2014). The shortage of studies that examine heterogeneity within the process of entrepreneurship may lead to naïve generalizations (Delmar & Shane, 2003; Greene & Hopp, 2017; Honig & Samuelsson, 2015). The present article's primary contribution is to develop and test a theoretical model of learning orientation that explains when, and for whom, specific learning styles and organizing activities can lead to new venture creation. Learning orientations are an important and largely unexamined aspect of nascent entrepreneurial emergence. Recognizing different learning orientations is important to understanding entrepreneurial emergence, particularly because both individuals and firms continuously attempt to learn. By focusing on learning theory, the present study addresses individual preferences and individual differences in learning orientations to observe how and why heterogeneity emerges in entrepreneurs' business-founding trajectories. For example, some individuals prefer to learn through planning and engaging in explicit knowledge and conceptual development. This highly rational style of learning may facilitate legitimacy, inviting formal financial investment with all its related expectations, measures, and performance. In contrast, other business founders prefer to learn through trial and error, by experiencing the results of their experiments and incorporating experientially learned outcomes in their subsequent behavior.