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Eight-hundred thirty-two (832) women business owners responded to a survey developed by the authors in conjunction with Illinois' Department of Commerce & Community Affairs.  The businesses were randomly sampled by industrial sector from Dun's Marketing Database.  The women entrepreneurs who responded represented all industrial classifications, including: service (35%), wholesale trade (14%), construction (14%), retail trade (9%), manufacturing (9%), professional service (6%), finance/insurance (3%), transportation (3%), and agribusiness (1%).  Sixty-eight percent of firms reported annual sales of less than $1 million; 12% had sales of $500,000 to $1 million; 18% had sales of $250,000 to $500,000; 20% reported sales of  $100,000 to $250,000; and 18% reported sales less than $100,000 per year.  Over 50% of the women entrepreneurs had been established in business over 10 years; 12% had been in business less than 5 years.  Overall, most entrepreneurs were between the ages of 45-54 (33%), and 35-44 (31%).  Nearly 10% were between 25-34 years of age, and 19% were between 55-64 years of age.  Educational level completed was post-graduate (9%), college degree (18%), and highschool (30%).  The average number of years experience in the industry in which the firm operated was 16 years, and the average number of years of overall business experience held by the entrepreneur was eighteen.

The Research Instrument

The research instrument completed by women entrepreneurs was comprised of several areas for measurement:  For the focus of this study, growth intention and expansion strategies, organization design, financing strategies, and perceptions of entrepreneurial intensity and opportunity costs were assessed.

Specifically, nineteen dimensions of growth intentions and expansion strategies included activities such as: adding a new product or service, selling to a new market, expanding advertising and promotion, acquiring new technology, adding specialized employees, redesigning operating methods, and applying for a loan.  The type of organizational structure or design implemented by the entrepreneurs ranged from functional and product to team-based, or no structure in place at all.  Entrepreneurial intensity was measured by the extent to which respondents' agreed that, for example, "My business is the most important activity in my life," and ".I would do whatever it takes to make my business a success."  Opportunity costs  were similarly assessed by the entrepreneurs' agreement with statement such as, "I would be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to stay in business," and "I would rather own my own business than earn a higher salary employed by someone else."  Financing strategies included the sources from which entrepreneurs obtained start-up and expansion financing, including personal savings, venture capital, private equity investors, SBA loan programs, and others.  Demographic variables were also measured, including years of business and industry experience, projected and actual sales and employment, and age.  Most items included a Likert-type 5-point response format.


Entrepreneurial and Organizational Characteristics of High-Growth and Low-Growth Firms

The sample was categorized into "ambitious" (high-growth) and "status quo" (low-growth) categories, derived from entrepreneurs' responses to nineteen dimensions of growth intentions.  The "moderate growth" group of entrepreneurs was dropped from the analysis so that a "cleaner" bifurcation is made possible so as not to cloud the dependent variable in any way.  The entrepreneurial and organizational characteristics of the high-growth and low-growth firms are illustrated in Table 1.  Entrepreneurs in high-growth firms had significantly fewer years of industry experience and years of experience in business overall (t=4.46, p<.001; t=3.41, p<.001, respectively).  In addition, these entrepreneurs tended to have held equity in more firms than low-growth entrepreneurs, although this result was not statistically significant.

A comparison of the organizational characteristics of both types of firms yielded significantly different findings for sales revenues and employment levels. Entrepreneurs' projections for "next year's sales" showed the high-growth entrepreneurs estimating nearly three times the sales revenues of the low-growth entrepreneurs.  Further, the employment levels reported reflect an even greater differentiation:  for the number of full-time employees for "last year", "this year," "next year," and "ideal," the high-growth entrepreneurs reported higher figures, (t=-2.40, p<.01; t=-2.44, p<.01; t=-2.54, p<.01; and t=-2.46, p<.01, respectively).

The industrial classifications for the firms show that both types of firms tended to have a similar representation in the service sector (35%), while more high-growth firms were in wholesale, manufacturing, and construction.  For women-owned firms, these industries are non-traditional.

The structure or design for their organizations selected by the entrepreneurs suggest statistically significant comparisons.  High-growth firms were significantly more likely to be either functional or team-based, while low-growth firms were nearly twice as likely to have no structure in place at all.  Thus, hypothesis 3 is supported.

Entrepreneurial Expansion Strategies

 The responses of the entrepreneurs sampled on the likelihood of their firms engaging in expansion and growth-related activities within the next two years are illustrated in Table 2.  These responses enabled the breakdown of the sample into "high-growth" and "low-growth" and are illustrated here to show the pattern of responses and which of the expansion activities were most highly predicted for each group.  This suggests the emphasis placed within each type of firm, and the entrepreneurial focus for the next two years.

As Table 2 illustrates, the three most highly-rated expansion activities for high-growth entrepreneurs were:  Acquiring new equipment, adding a new product or service, and expanding the scope of operating activities.

Entrepreneurial Intensity and Opportunity Costs:  Commitment to the High-Growth Venture

Canonical discriminant functions were computed to determine if the high-growth and low-growth entrepreneurs were classified accurately with respect to entrepreneurial intensity and the willingness to incur opportunity costs.  The canonical discriminant function for entrepreneurial intensity was significant (Wilks' Lambda=.95, p<.001).  Highly correlated with the canonical function were the following items:  the degree to which entrepreneurs agreed that they would "do whatever it takes to establish my own business" (r=.91); "I will do whatever it takes to make my business a success" (r=.81); "there is no limit to how long I would give a maximum effort to establish my business" (r=.64), and "My business is the most important activity in my life" (r=.61).  Hypothesis 1 is supported.

The canonical discriminant function for opportunity costs was significant (Wilks' Lambda=.95, p<.001), and the variables highly-correlated with the canonical function were:  "I am willing to make significant personal sacrifices in order to stay in business" (r=.79); "I would go to work somewhere else only long enough to make another attempt to establish my own firm" (r=.71); "I would rather own my own business than pursue another promising career" (r=.57); and "I would rather own my own business than earn a higher salary employed by someone else" (r=.55).  This supports Hypothesis 2.  Comparisons between high-growth and low-growth entrepreneurs' responses to all the items measured in this section showed that significant differences were found on all items except, "I plan to eventually sell my business."  This rating was low for both groups (2.9 for low-growth and 2.7 for high-growth entrepreneurs).  Interestingly, the other item that received a relatively low rating from both groups was "Owning my own business is more important than spending more time with my family (2.05 for low-growth and 2.34 for high-growth entrepreneurs).
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