Matthew Haynes
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Current Themes and Future Directions for Entrepreneurship

M.K. Ward, Curtin University

Entrepreneurship scholars have been open to new ways of conducting research and eager to explore how neurological topics may connect to more conventional entrepreneurship scholarship. Indeed, recent calls for papers indicate more papers connecting neuroscience and entrepreneurship are on the horizon (”Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice”, 2019). There have been several nonempirical publications and a handful of empirical papers written to explore ways of merging neurosciences with entrepreneurship. Thus, it appears that we are on the cusp of much more research in this area.

This issue is intended be a springboard from which entrepreneurship research can dive deeper into the multidisciplinary space of organizational neuroscience. Where are we at in terms of the intersection of neuroscience and entrepreneurship? Where might we go from here to produce the highest quality organizational neuroscience research in entrepreneurship? These fundamental questions are the focus of this issue. To answer them, I describe major themes from a review of extant literature and suggest key pathways to for future research. This review is not exhaustive, and I do not address questions about what we should do in this research space. What is ethical? What is the best use of our finite resources? Neuroethics is an important topic touched on in our interview with Vivienne Ming. See Ward, Volk, and Becker (2015) for considerations of these and other challenges in organizational neuroscience research.

The Current State of Organizational Neuroscience in Entrepreneurship Research

Theme 1: Research Opportunities Abound

Essentially, all topics in entrepreneurship are open and ready for consideration from an organizational neuroscience perspective. Topics like opportunity recognition have already been discussed and linked to cognitive functions of pattern recognition and classification (Baron & Ward, 2004). Baucus and Baucus (2014) focused on episodic memory processing and neural correlates of such memory functions in relation to opportunity recognition. Work has been done in entrepreneurial cognition (e.g., Shepherd & Patzelt, 2018) and in organizational behavior (e.g., Waldman, Ward, & Becker, 2017). Of course after consideration, some topics may be seen as not viable for using neuroimaging techniques. Nonetheless, the extant literature provides a good base upon with future research in neuroscience and entrepreneurship can build.

Theme 2: Empirical Studies Are Needed

Most of the work at the intersection of neuroscience and entrepreneurship has been conceptual (Nofal, Nicolaou, Symeonidou, & Shane, 2018). This mimics what has been done in OB topics (e.g., Nofal et al., 2018). To date, a small number of articles have used neuroscience measures in entrepreneurship research. (Laureiro-Martínez et al., 2014; Martin de Holan et al., 2013; Ortiz-Terán et al., 2013; Rahmati, 2014; Zaro et al., 2016). Within the conceptual pieces, multiple neural mechanisms have been proposed including pattern recognition, ventral visual system, dopaminergic responses, and episodic memory. In their meaty chapter, Baucus and Baucus (2014) thoroughly explain their arguments, provide diagrams, and present specific propositions to research. In so doing, their chapter is a good example of how to construct and present arguments to connect neural functioning with entrepreneurial phenomena. Thus, the arguments are there, we simply need to test propositions via empirical studies. Below I outline two ways future research in entrepreneurship can fill this gap.

Possible Future Pathways for Organizational Neuroscience in Entrepreneurship Research

Path 1: Leverage Extreme Contexts to Improve Understanding

Startups that are scaling, particularly high-growth ventures, must grapple with extreme growth within short periods of time. Within those startups are founders and CEOs and their brains are trying to keep up with massive amounts of change occurring at a rapid pace. Their work environment is highly uncertain and is packed with threats to success. That is a meaningful context in which to study neural activity in response to complex, emotional, challenging work. How does neural activity (e.g., fear-related networks, amygdala) of founders help them respond adaptively (or not) to pressure from investors or clients. It may be that low sensitivity to those threats as seen in the Behavioral Inhibition System could help founders scale their startups (Lerner et al., 2018).

Path 2: Be Open to Integration

Valuable contributions to the literature could come from linking additional topics into an organizational neuroscience approach to entrepreneurship research. For example, connections between entrepreneurship and neuroscience could incorporate work design, specifically feedback. Feedback in work is increasingly available via wearables, online dashboards, web content regarding competitors’ performance, and entrepreneurs receive feedback from advisory boards, customers, and employees. At its core, feedback is information. It is information specific to task performance (Hackman & Oldham, 1976). Thus, to process feedback is to process information, which requires attentional control relying on neural networks involved in sensation, perception, memory, and emotional regulation.

Another topic that may be worth integrating is physical space. Growing popularity of coworking spaces for startups means a different collection of stimuli requiring different neurological processing compared with remote working arrangements. The physical work space can decrease control over interruptions, both audio (e.g., that talkative business development guy loves to strike up conversations with you) and visual (e.g., your favorite place to work in the coworking space becomes hectic when an external speaker comes for an event). Relatedly, virtual teamwork means different cognitive processes occur in order to collaborate compared with the rich, nonverbal information from in-person interactions with coworkers. Neural processes can both influence behavior and can be influenced by behaviors. Thus, future work should consider research designs to explore reciprocal relationships and take into account the influence of context. A good resource for thinking through contextual influences is socially situated cognition, explained in Healy and Hodgkinson’s (2015) book chapter.


In a sense entrepreneurship scholars can look at organizational neuroscience from an entrepreneurial mindset to view it as a research opportunity to exploit. Just as second entrants can benefit from lessons learned, entrepreneurial scholars should be aware of what scholars have already done in leadership and other areas to build on their body of knowledge. The interest in connecting entrepreneurship with neuroscience exists, but hefty challenges remain. The most critical next step to advance this area is to do the empirical research that offers meaningful insights. Like founders with their own ventures, taking action will be key in order to iterate and learn from other researchers in this space. A popular saying heard in relation to Buddhist meditation is no mud, no lotus. Plenty of writing has outlined specifications of the challenges in organizational neuroscience (i.e., the mud). Now let’s collectively don our boots, take steps getting our feet dirty, and make our way to that metaphorical lotus of scientific discovery.


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