Knowledge Seeking and Communicative Strategies for Early Stage Entrepreneurs

While human capital, social capital, and financial capital are considered key resources for entrepreneurs to survive the process of evolution from idea generation to venture growth, it is the knowledge about where to access these resources and how to deploy them that differentiates entrepreneurs’ experiences in the early stage of founding an organization. This dissertation examines how entrepreneurs seek knowledge through various multiplex communicative strategies during the nascent and new business stages to overcome the barriers of emergence. Prior research on entrepreneurial knowledge provides insights on the outcomes of entrepreneurs’ knowledge-seeking activity, yet few researchers have focused on the specific communicative processes that relate to the acquisition of knowledge. Drawing on scholarship related to knowledge management, media use, and entrepreneurship, this dissertation includes three components pertaining to early stage entrepreneurs’ knowledge-seeking behaviors: knowledge ambiguity management, the influence of prior experience, and mentor selection and engagement. The empirical context is high tech industries in the New York City metropolitan area, featuring one of the biggest entrepreneurship ecosystems in the world. The mixed-method approach employed integrates insights emerging from observation, thematic analysis of interviews, and quantitative analysis of survey data. The results generally highlight the significance of media multiplexity in facilitating entrepreneurs’ access of knowledge and resources. Entrepreneurs use online and offline communication channels strategically to cope with the knowledge ambiguity arising from their social and business environments, with tactics such as optimizing information relevance, accessing indirect knowledge, and increasing communication efficiency. Prior industry experience may not necessarily enhance an entrepreneur’s access of knowledge. The findings also highlight the importance of establishing mentor-mentee relationships in seeking knowledge. Age similarity, ethnic similarity, and trust are key conditions for developing multiplex media ties with mentors. In addition, entrepreneurs rely heavily on peers to facilitate knowledge interpretation. While the traditional concept of mentors emphasizes career guidance, the network brokerage function of a mentor is more relevant in entrepreneurial context. In summary, the findings of this dissertation generate crucial insights into the understanding of communication strategies used by early stage entrepreneurs in acquiring knowledge and overcoming the liabilities of newness and smallness.

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