An entrepreneur: Perceptions of students versus small business owners

The perception that an individual has of a person, action or event influences his or her feelings and decisions about that person, action or event. Perceptions associated with entrepreneurship are important drivers of entrepreneurial activity (Nagy, Pete, Györfy, Petra and Benyovszki, 2010: 20); and to understand entrepreneurial behaviour better, it is important to understand these perceptions (Sester, Dacremont, Deroy and Valentin, 2013:476). Individuals’ perceptions are the sum of their mental associations about certain concepts, leading to mental images of these concepts (Vahie and Paswan, 2006: 70). These mental images can be interpreted in terms of positive or negative associations, which in turn lead to an attitude towards a phenomenon. It is this attitude that influences behaviour. Marketers often make use of images to position a product or brand in the minds of consumers, resulting in positive or negative associations (attitude) that ultimately influence consumer decisions (Prayag, 2010: 463). Similarly, attitude is a useful indicator of entrepreneurial tendencies, and it has an indirect influence on entrepreneurial intention (Uslay, Teach and Schwartz, 2002: 102). Entrepreneurship will not thrive if society has a negative attitude towards it (Moy, Luk and Wright, 2003: 18). In other words, a person will not consider an entrepreneurial career as desirable if he or she believes that the outcomes will be unfavourable (Nabi and Holden, 2008: 548). Potential and current entrepreneurs are influenced by their external environment (stimuli) and their motivations (push and pull factors) when formulating their perception of a typical entrepreneur. A positive perception leads to a favourable attitude that influences subsequent entrepreneurial behaviour (Liñán, Santos and Fernández, 2011: 374). If entrepreneurs are positively perceived by individuals, the likelihood of their becoming entrepreneurs increases (Stephan, Lukes, Dej and Richter, 1987). Perceptions of entrepreneurship play an important role, since the judgements individuals make are based on their perception and may influence their decisions to become entrepreneurs (Liñán et al., 2011:376).

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