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ESRC - The Impact of Networks on Small Business Growth and Leadership Development for Female Entrepreneurs

Fri, October 13, 16:45 to 17:45, SQUARE, Hall 300

Short Description

Presenter will focus on the importance of social networks to support small business growth and leadership development using a social Constructivist approach to entrepreneurial leadership. The study aims to generate grounded theory that links social networking, entrepreneurial learning, and emerging leadership to new leadership and growth strategies for female entrepreneurs.

Detailed Abstract

Although women business ownership has increased four times that of their male counterpart from 2007 to 2012, these firms have not experienced an increase in receipts (OECD, 2016; Upton et al., 2015). Even though the number of women-owned businesses continues to rise, women are still less likely to have adequate access to capital, quality support networks, influential social capital, and targeted learning to meet the challenges of growing globalization than their male counterparts. Current literature postulates that maintenance and growth of a small business require two key tasks: the identification of opportunities and the utilization of resources to act on it (Stuart & Sorenson, 2007). Research further suggests that social networks play a significant part in both entrepreneurial processes through information flows and connection through which financial capital flows.

Networks represent the key learning domain for entrepreneurial activity which enables entrepreneurs to develop processes of shared understanding and cognitive, social capital. The self-directed qualities of informal networks provide value to the small business owner (Brett et al., 2012; McGowan et al., 2015, Upton et al., 2015). There is significant value in enabling entrepreneurs the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue, critical reflection and purposive action with their peers through the creation of leadership “learning networks” (Alon & Higgins, 2005; Powell, 2010).

The poster session will display key elements of social networking, entrepreneurial learning, and leadership development for women-owned small businesses. (McGowan et al., 2015; Powell, 2010; Upton et al., 2015). The goal of this research is to understand how these three elements may have a targeted effect on small business leadership development programming. There are several gaps in the literature referencing the process of networking by women small business owners. More detailed data on the behaviors and outcomes associated with networks and the impact of social capital on business and professional growth processes are needed to support policymakers around the globe attempting to expand opportunities and networks for women (OECD, 2016).


Job creation is a key economic driver for small business growth and the study will focus on three objectives 1) assisting women small business owners in social network analysis of their current network 2) facilitating the entrepreneurial learning in the creation of tools and processes and 3) socially constructing strategies and actionable plans to expand the female entrepreneur’s business community.

The review of the literature has shown the need to develop the leadership capabilities and social networks of influential female entrepreneurs. Women are gaining more and more social capital, and Lemoine et al. (2016) research on women and emerging leaderships show that women emerge as leaders when their groups are highly interactive and diverse. The expansion of social networking and leadership development programming for women small business owners would result in positive changes over time to allow emerging leaders to step forward in both formal and informal networks regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

Social Network Analysis examines the structure and patterns apparent in relationships and how those relationships influence outcomes (Stuart & Sorenson, 2007). Upton, Broming and Upton note that entrepreneurs do not necessarily need to network more, but need to network better and seek out the most beneficial relationships, regardless of gender. Furthermore, small business social networks need to evolve as the company transitions through the startup period to the growth period to meet different entrepreneurial and operational requirements (Upton et al., 2015).

Social networking discussions in previous research studies include the type of networks small business owners may utilize during the nascent stage of entrepreneurship. But the absence of qualitative data on novice and mature entrepreneur’s behaviors requires further investigation into the type and characteristics of networks utilized over time; as well as the outcome and impact of networking by female entrepreneurs in business for at least three years.


The evaluative measure throughout the research process will focus on utilization of current and new networks to grow the business and generate higher annual receipts. This study sets criteria for success in the hands of the individual participants to analysis the impact of social network analysis (McGowan et al., 2015; Stuart & Sorenson, 2007; Upton et al., 2015), entrepreneurial learning (Cope, 2005; Cope & Watt, 2000; Higgins & Aspinall, 2011; Rae, 2005) and dynamically constructed network (Aubrey & Riley, 2016; Brett et al., 2012; Cope & Watt, 2000; Rae, 2005) on business outcomes and their emerging leadership.

This research study will provide further inquiry into the tools and processes necessary to assist women small business owners in analyzing these challenges in their environment. The finding from the study may allow women to explore strategies and plans for building relationships to support operational and professional development. If female business owners can harness their capacity to create new relationships, the potential for new sources of income may manifest and afford them greater opportunities for growth. Assisting women small business owners with pathways to build their capabilities and expand into national and potentially global marketplace may circumvent some of the financial and social obstacles hindering their access to capital and lowering their potential to create jobs (NWBC, 2016a & 2016b). This research sets out to add to the literature by providing a better understanding of the types of social networks and behaviors within a community of practice that results in the greatest impact on women-owned small businesses and their entrepreneurial leadership development.


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