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The Base Model

The purpose of the present study is to build on previous intent studies, and take them one step further toward servicing policy design purposes. Our intent is to develop and test a model that incorporates situational variables that can be manipulated through policy intervention. For this purpose, it is necessary to focus on environments that can be manipulated. An ideal example of such an environment is the university. University is an institution through which students pass on their way toward working life. University students will be making career decisions imminently after, and often before, graduation. It is also our impression that the career preferences of university students can be influenced, and that university students tend to gravitate toward fashionable career options. Finally, it has been shown that career aspirations among adolescents are significantly predictive of eventual career choice (Trice, 1991).

Our model is based on the model of Davidsson (1995). We have developed some modifications to account for the characteristics of university students. The base model is shown in Figure 1.


Base model

The base model analyzes the entrepreneurial intent in the context of career choice, which is a justifiable approach for a study focusing on university students. In Davidsson’s domain attitudes, we introduce variables relating to the image of entrepreneurship as well as to the expected payoff. As in Davidsson’s model, these are expected to influence conviction, together with variables relating to the social context. Entrepreneurial intent is expected to be moderated by conviction as well as by social context variables. In the model, social context variables try to capture characteristics of the university environment as well as situational variables.

In the model, personal background variables are viewed as influencing general attitudinal dispositions (money orientation, need for achievement, competitiveness, and autonomy) and the image of entrepreneurship as a career alternative. The personal background variables listed in the model include also variables that have a situational flavor in student context, such as marital status, breadth of work experience, and student status. The situational character of these variables is due to the fact that breadth of work experience, age, and even marital status tend to correlate positively with the imminence of graduation. As the graduation becomes more imminent, the question of career choice becomes more actual. It is thus possible that some of the background variables emerge as direct influences on conviction and intent in the empirical data. In his study, Reynolds (1995) found a high occurrence of nascent entrepreneurs among students. Because of ample previous findings demonstrating the importance of role models for entrepreneurial behavior, we also expect components of vicarious experience (parents or close relatives as entrepreneurs, previous work experience in SMEs) to possibly emerge as a direct influences on conviction and intent.

Operationalization of the Model

In the model, the image of entrepreneurship corresponds to Ajzen’s attitude toward the behavior, Shapero’s perceived desirability, and to Davidsson’s (1995) domain attitudes. Krueger (1993) measured perceived desirability with statements such as: "I would love doing it", and: "How enthusiastic would you be?". Davidsson operationalized domain attitudes to comprise three constructs: societal contribution, expected payoff, and know-how. Of these, societal contribution and expected payoff measured respondents beliefs about what was true about entrepreneurship in general, whereas knowledge was related to the respondent herself. In the model of the present study, we have preferred to use a construct that combines influences from Davidsson’s societal contributions and expected payoff, and added statements relating to the respondent’s perceived image of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. This approach was chosen because we expect role models and the perceived fashionability of the career alternative to be important influences on the career selection by university students.

The construct statements of the Image-Payoff construct are listed in appendix 1. Unfortunately, the Cronbach alpha for this construct is fairly low, only 0,39 in the combined database. In the different country samples the alpha is higher, however, suggesting a probable disturbing cultural influence in the combined database. The general attitude constructs are based on scales generally used in the literature. To prevent the questionnaire from becoming excessively long, we used slightly abbreviated versions of these constructs. The Cronbach alphas for these constructs vary between 0,49 and 0,61 in the combined database.

The entrepreneurial conviction is adapted from Davidsson (1995). It refers to the perceived feasibility in Shapero’s (1982) model and to the perceived behavioral control in Ajzen’s theory. This construct measures the perceived ease of starting up a new firm by the respondent, as well as to the perceived feasibility of such a choice. The construct statements of this construct include statements like: "It would be easy for me to start a firm of my own", and "Starting up a firm of my own would be the best way for me to take full advantage of my education". The Cronbach alpha of this construct in the combined database is 0,75.

The perceived support of the university environment relates to the degree to which the university is perceived as supporting entrepreneurial aspirations. This construct is measured using a set of statements like: "In my university, people are actively encouraged to pursue their own ideas"; "In my university, you get to meet lots of people with good ideas for a new firm"; and: "The university has a clear policy regarding the intellectual ownership of ideas developed during research and studies". The Cronbach alpha for this statement in the combined database is 0,67.

The ultimate dependent variable in the model, entrepreneurial intent, has been measured in different ways in different studies. Krueger (1993) used a dichotomous variable, with a yes/no statement: "Do you think you’ll ever start a business?". This is a fairly loose operationalization. Davidsson used a different approach, basing the operationalization of intent on an index of three questions: (1) "Have you ever considered founding your own firm?"; and (2-3) "How likely do you consider it to be that within one (or five) years from now you’ll be running your own firm?". Also Reitan (1996) adopted a similar approach, using an index measure of intent based on short and long term intentions as well as on the tradeoff between running one’s own firm, as opposed to being employed by someone.

The present study has measured both short and long term intent as well as the preference for an entrepreneurial career. The analyses in below will be based on a fairly strict operationalization of intent, however. In the analyses of the present paper, we have used only the short-term intention to start up a new firm as a dependent variable. The operationalization of intent in the present study is based on responses to the question: "How likely do you consider it to be that you would start a new firm, on full-time basis, within one year from now?". This operationalization is considerably more strict than the ones used in previous studies, and come close to Reynolds (1995) operationalization of a nascent entrepreneur.

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