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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Ventured Student: Impacts of University Startup Culture

  • Author(s): Davis, Daniel
  • Advisor(s): Binder, Amy
  • et al.

Undergraduate entrepreneurial training in colleges and universities is rapidly expanding. The creation of university-sponsored venture incubators—programs providing workspace, resources, and advice to nascent startups—is another expanding campus phenomenon. I conducted observations for two years within the San Diego regional startup ecosystem anchored by two universities and their incubators. Additionally, across California, I conducted web analysis of university incubators, correspondence with incubator staff, interviews with 56 student participants, and followed the LinkedIn profiles of 301 student participants post-graduation. My findings come in three articles. In article one, I show that campus incubators have remarkable similarity in the services they offer, however universities differ greatly in the model of their startup ecosystems. Centralized models are dominated by business students, decentralized models are dominated by STEM students. STEM students are less likely to persist with their startups after graduation, but are also less likely to need supplemental work to make ends meet. In article two, I analyze student interviews and show why some of these gaps exist. Students come to college with little startup know-how, but find themselves drawn into campus entrepreneurial programming via events and peer influence. They report significant sacrifices in time and resources, and typically avoid other internships. Post-graduation, STEM majors at more research-oriented universities often find that their experience supplements their resumes nicely, making them more appealing to employers. On the flip side, others find that their non-STEM majors, from broader access colleges, and their typically less sophisticated products, fail to give them resume-boosting capital. Nevertheless, these student’s new entrepreneurial identities make it hard to let go of their startup dreams, and often persist in languishing projects. In article three, I take a more theoretical turn, exploring the foundations of emerging entrepreneurial identity. The language that new entrepreneurs use to talk about their entrepreneurial identity maps on to three traditions of sociological literature about identity formation—identity is simultaneously individually internalized, contextually performed, and collectively mobilized. I show how using a more integrative approach helps make sense of a range of complex identity experiences.

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