Participant selection in early stage entrepreneurship research: a systematic review and ontological assumptions

Lucrezia Casulli, Andrew MacLaren

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In this paper, we take stock of the sampling rationales in the area of early stage venturing by conducting a systematic review of empirical literature in premier entrepreneurship journals. Based on the systematic review, we distil the ontological assumptions behind emerging categories of sampling choices in early entrepreneurial research.

We conduct our literature search on three premier entrepreneurship journals, our initial sample is composed of a total of 901 papers (ETP=326, JBV=417 and SEJ=158). We search for and manually scan all empirical papers in the chosen journals in the past ten years.

From the initial sample, we go through a process of excluding papers from the sample. Our polished sample yields a corpus of 38 papers (ETP=13, JBV=17, SEJ=8).

Next, we go through the corpus in order to identify categories of sources of participants and selection criteria. In order to arrive at our findings, we rationalise our emerging categories based on the ontology of entrepreneurial action.

Our findings respond to the question “what are the ontological assumptions in sampling early stage venturing?”
From our inductive analysis, we find that there are four categories of ontological assumption guiding sampling choices. These are:
1.Declarative Entrepreneurial Action
Entrepreneurial action defined by entrepreneurial intention
2.Ascribed Entrepreneurial Action
Action defined as entrepreneurial by the researchers.
3.Retrospectively Inferred Entrepreneurial Action
Action defined as entrepreneurial by the researcher and the study participant because of it being led from a post-hoc vantage point (firm fully established)
4.Non-denominational Action
Action observed concurrently, regardless of declared intentionality and in the context of the wider population.

There is a dominance within the study of early venturing towards a certain type or state of entrepreneurship: one where intention is either explicit or implicit. There is an emergence of attention towards non-intentional action and there is also an established convention of the researcher ascribing entrepreneurial status on its subject matter. This suggests that a richer picture of the nature of early stage entrepreneurship could be built by extending some of the less dominant approaches and applying them to all early stage entrepreneurship research.


ConferenceBabson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference
Abbreviated titleBCERC
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • entrepreneurship
  • ontology
  • operational definitions
  • sampling


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