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THE FUTURE

As we look forward, we are mindful of the advice that when forecasting it is safer to forecast the distant future, so that all will have forgotten what was forecast by the time those events arrive. We were thus tempted to title this part of our remarks as "A Look Forward - Entrepreneurship in the Year 3000." However, that seems too long to wait so here are some possible patterns of development over the next few years. Howard Aldrich, writing in Entrepreneurship 2000, has noted three views of entrepreneurship research, each of which implies different paths of development. One path is that of a "normal science," with an accumulation of empirically tested hypotheses and well-grounded generalizations in what might increasingly be viewed as a specialized field. A second pattern is a multiple paradigm view, in which research frameworks from a variety of disciplines, such as economics, sociology, and psychology might be applied, as well as work in related functional areas such as finance and marketing. In this view, theories might be borrowed from relevant fields and much of the research might be published in the journals of those fields. A third approach is more pragmatic and less theory driven; it considers topicality, data availability, and perceived usefulness. As we consider which of these describes trends in our field, the answer seems to be "All of the above."

In the future, concern for "academic respectability" and the near universal concern about getting tenure may promote the first two patterns of development. However, the field of entrepreneurship attracts a variety of kinds of faculty. Many are adjunct professors or lecturers, with extensive real world experience as entrepreneurs or venture capitalists. Others are full-time academics of a practical bent, particularly concerned with making their courses and writing relevant and immediately useful. The wide variety of people in the field may mean that it will continue to be eclectic and open to a variety of theoretical frameworks and research methodologies and will continue to speak to a variety of audiences.

It seems likely that the trend toward specialization will continue, as researchers concentrate on particular sub-topics, such as international entrepreneurship, the role of networks, or informal venture capital. It also seems likely that a variety of research methods will be used. This has been a field characterized by many large sample studies. This is exemplified by the Entrepreneurial Research Consortium project, the multiyear study being led by Paul Reynolds. The Dun & Bradstreet/Kauffman Foundation database of 1.2 million firms, being developed by Dan Sexton and Forest Seale, is another example. However, as Howard Stevenson has noted, entrepreneurship might be viewed as particularly concerned with innovative behavior and unusual achievements. Small scale studies of unusual entrepreneurs and their accomplishments have been studied by scholars such as Daryl Mitton. These approaches will probably continue to be emphasized by some researchers. All of this suggests that multiple patterns of development may occur. However, one thing seems certain. It will be the young faculty, trained in the latest methodologies and driven by the desire to build their careers in the field, who will supply much of the energy and innovative thinking. Although as long-time residents in this field our views may be different than newcomers, it has always seemed to us that the field of entrepreneurship has been open to diverse approaches and has tended to be supportive of new scholars. We hope that this will continue.

Entrepreneurship is as old as human history. Queen Isabella functioned as a venture capitalist when Columbus sought capital to support his entrepreneurial vision. Some of the cuneiform tablets in Babylon record commercial transactions involving entrepreneurs. However, as a field of academic study, it is a very young field indeed. Most of the journals we read and conferences we attend have been started in the last 20 years, only about half of a professional’s working life. There are those who criticize it, noting the lack of well-established research paradigms, even the lack of agreement on definitions. But, we would argue that this is very much a characteristic of a young and developing field. When everything is agreed upon and well-established, then a field might be regarded as intellectually mature. However, it is then often less dynamic, and, for those of an entrepreneurial bent, possibly less fun. It is, we would suggest, somewhat like comparing a train station and an airport. The train station was built long ago; the schedules are well-established; things are clear-cut and not very confusing; there may even be some dust here and there. The airport, by contrast, is under continuous reconstruction, with temporary signs, and changes from week to week. There is confusion and it may seem a lack of clear organization, but there is also energy and dynamism, and change. We would suggest that entrepreneurship is like that airport. It is still under construction and the best is yet to come.

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