PhD student in Information Systems and Innovation
Thesis: 'Entrepreneurial Learning and the Acquisition of E-Commerce Services: A Qualitative Study of Small Online Retailers in the South of England
E-commerce entrepreneurship and the adoption of e-commerce technologies by small and medium-sized enterprises are considered to be quintessential ‘knowledge economy’ phenomena, the fostering of which has been a policy objective of both the United Kingdom and the European Union. Theories of organisational knowledge and learning have played a prominent role in entrepreneurship studies and in the justification of government policies supporting e-commerce adoption by small firms. However, the process of e-commerce entrepreneurship, and in particular the adoption of innovative e-commerce technologies by small firms, is still little understood. Organisational knowledge and learning-based theories of the firm tend to treat the acquisition of technological resources as unproblematic. Small firms, including e-commerce enterprises, are often sidelined in these literatures by both theoretical and empirical studies in favour of large corporations.
The emergence of e-commerce technologies complicates our understanding of entrepreneurship. Specific e-commerce technology artefacts rarely exist prior to the process of their acquisition and are often co-created by the small firms and their suppliers. E-commerce entrepreneurs therefore are very much concerned with the acquisition of technological artefacts, which often involve entering into and managing complex service relationships. The process of finding, evaluating, acquiring and integrating these e-commerce services into the firm is a significant matter of concern for e-commerce entrepreneurs. While organisational knowledge and learning may still be apt metaphors for describing this phenomenon, they need to be revised to accommodate the dynamic character of e-commerce entrepreneurship and the complexity and heterogeneity of e-commerce services.
How do small e-commerce firms learn about and acquire e-commerce services as part of their entrepreneurial processes of creating new combinations? The thesis addresses this question by way of a three-year qualitative study of two online retail micro-enterprises and an executive education firm that provided peer-learning services to a community of e-commerce entrepreneurs in the South of England. Drawing on the literatures of science and technology studies and economic sociology, actor-network theory is utilised as a research approach. The study aims to provide an object-orientated description of entrepreneurial learning, which considers both the organisational processes of acquiring critical resources for entrepreneurial combinations, and the market processes that make the assessment and acquisition of e-commerce services possible.