Start-up competitions as learning environment to foster the entrepreneurial process

Purpose
The purpose of this paper is threefold: first, to shed light on the increasing start-up competitions (SUCs) phenomenon; second, to provide an interpretive framework to understand whether the SUCs have the potential to be effective entrepreneurial learning environment; third, to analyse the different roles of public and private actors in organizing SUCs.

Design/methodology/approach
The paper presents a cross-section analysis of the Italian SUCs population. In total, 77 competitions are analysed on the basis of different criteria which should properly mirror their distinguishing structural features, helping understand the potential of SUCs as learning environments.

Findings
The recent increase in the number of SUCs has been mainly fuelled by private actors. Moreover, Italian SUCs show some features that make them rich learning environments. Private and public actors play different roles, as confirmed by statistical tests performed. Privately organized SUCs follow mainly a market-oriented approach, while publicly organized ones are more education oriented.

Research limitations/implications
The findings cannot be easily generalized mainly due to the peculiarities of the Italian context.

Practical implications
Soft forms of regulation should be defined to strengthen those features which could potentially support the entrepreneurial learning processes. In this view, SUCs should be part of a start-up friendly ecosystem where actors (startuppers, incubators, venture capitalists) are effectively coordinated with each other.

Originality/value
Despite the remarkable diffusion of SUCs, there are significant gaps in literature about this phenomenon. Given the lack of a systematic and comprehensive analysis of SUCs as effective entrepreneurial learning environments, the paper represents an important starting point.

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