This chapter provides an overview of our research methods and argues the reasoning behind our research approach. Scientific literature about Strategic Entrepreneurship is still emerging and there has not been a focus on practical case study research. For the purpose of this research we credit Huberman and Miles (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis 2nd Ed. as an important piece of text that has provided us proficient guidelines for structuring our qualitative research.
Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research
“Qualitative research is conducted through an intense and/ or prolonged contact with a ‘field’ or life situation” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 6). Moreover, these contacts are often reflective and concern the normal ‘everyday life’ of individuals, groups or organisations. ‘Qualitative data can take the form of words, and also still or moving images’ (Huberman & Miles, 1994). “The words are based on observation, interviews or documents. These data collection activities typically are carried out in close proximity to a local setting for a sustained period of time” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p.9). Qualitative data has been advocated as the best strategy for discovery, exploring a new area and developing hypotheses. In addition, it is a strong approach to see whether specific predictions hold up. Important with qualitative research is that the researcher attempts to capture the perceptions from the inside. A main task is to explicate how people in a particular setting come to “understand, account for, take action, and otherwise manage their day-to-day situation” as explained by Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 7).
Sieber (1973, cited in Miles & Huberman, 1994), states, “quantitative data can help with the qualitative side of a study during design by finding a representative sample and locating deviant cases. It can help during data collection by supplying background data, getting overlooked information, and helping avoid “elite bias”. Linking qualitative and quantitative data can, for instance, provide richer detail and development in analysis, and to initiate new lines of thinking through attention to surprises or paradoxes – providing fresh insight’ (Miles & Huberman, 1994). However, we argue for practical, exploratory research, whether the linkage of quantitative and qualitative data is required for a research that is based on exploring life experiences, presuppositions, assumptions, motivations, challenges, critical moments and perceptions.
We chose to use a qualitative research approach. A resounding feature to qualitative data is its richness and holism. Qualitative data provides “thick descriptions that are vivid, nested in a real context, and have a ring of truth that has strong impact on the reader” (Huberman & Miles, 1994). Qualitative data offers more than a ‘snapshot’ of the ‘what’; it allows assessing causality as it plays out in a particular setting (Huberman & Miles, 1994). A qualitative study has an inherent flexibility that presents confidence for the research to really understand what has been going on (Huberman & Miles, 1994).
Following our qualitative research approach, this research adopts inductive reasoning. We do so as deductive reasoning would lead us to derive invalid consequences of our assumptions and conclusions, even though our analysis points out they are valid. In other words, the nature of our research requires an inductive approach as the phase in which Sustainable Entrepreneurship research currently is does not permit a deductive approach.
Case studies are the most suitable type of research to be able to fulfil the research goal of this paper. Yin (1989, p. 23) defined case study research as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used”. Case study research is known to be very suitable for explanatory, descriptive and exploratory research (Blumberg, Cooper & Schindler, 2008). We are aware that large sample sizes and quantitative research are very valuable as well as they allow to statistically test hypotheses and either accept or decline them. However, as explained before, this paper has identified and aims to fill in the gap in current literature that calls for exploratory research. A
suggestion in current Sustainable Entrepreneurship research (Hockerts & Wüstenhagen, 2010) is a longitudinal comparative case study research. We are aware this would be a very beneficial research approach, however due to the limited timeframe, we have chosen an explorative case study research. Miles and Huberman (1994, p. 25) state that qualitative researchers can struggle with questions like; “what is my case and where my case leaves off”. A case is a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context. Multiple-case sampling adds confidence to findings. By looking at the range of similar and contrasting cases, a single-case finding can be understood and it can be grounded by specifying how, when and why, it carries on as it does (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 29). To provide a meaningful and credible research, we have focused upon one specific industry, which eases the path for identifying similarities, trends, challenges and impacts and allows a better generalisation of our results.
Formal data collection is necessary to ensure that data gathered is both defined and accurate and that subsequent decisions based on arguments embodied in the findings are valid (Sapsford, 2006). Data collection included both primary and secondary data sources.
Primary data was collected through semi-structured interviews. Executing semi-structured interviews ensured the participants answered our predetermined customised questions, and covered our prescribed themes, while still making sure our interviews were open and would deliver quality, usable and relevant data. Interviews were administered face-to-face or by virtual communication (i.e. Skype meeting). Following the completion of the interview, transcripts were written, extracting key quotes to support our analysis. Our aim was to show a direct correlation to the data collected and our proposed themes.
This study was limited to a small sample size of five start-up ventures that specialise in renewable energy solutions and products (mobile solar & urban wind/ solar technologies). The CEO, owner(s) and/ or founder(s) were requested for the interviews. Participants had diverse nationalities (Canadian, Dutch and American), and were all fluent in English.
Prior to conducting each interview, extensive background research was conducted into the entrepreneur’s business start-up. A web search was made, searching for key terms, such as ‘sustainable start-up,’ ‘green wind start-up entrepreneur,’ ‘renewable green energy start-up,’ ‘urban wind green entrepreneur’. A number of the entrepreneur’s start-up websites were stumbled upon through various forum links and industry web pages. After reviewing each business website, and an extensive Internet search, we as researchers had an open discussion about whether to continue to find more information about the entrepreneur and start-up to determine if they would be a worthy case study participant.
Participants were selected based on the research developed in the theoretical background. The entrepreneur had to satisfy both environmental and social dimensions, giving our research the best opportunity to explore Sustainable Entrepreneurship theory in a real life practical business sense.
‘Cold’ emails were sent out to the businesses that had the best ‘fit’ with our theoretical background and research objective. The participants who replied to the initial ‘cold’ email were most probably going to be interviewed, as the number of respondents who had time to partake in the research was limited.
Four out of the five interviews were conducted via the virtual communication tool, Skype. The other interview was conducted in a face-to-face meeting outside the participant’s office. Initial contact was made through email, specifying our goal to speak with the founder(s), owner(s), or CEO. A customised email address was created to offer greater credibility to our research, with the objective to increase the response rate and interest from the contacted businesses. Within the email, the research objective, company selection reasoning, and the entrepreneur’s requirements were explained. Upon receiving acceptance to participate in the research, Skype addresses were exchanged and an agreed interview time was scheduled. The duration of each interview lasted between 60-75 minutes.
To provide meaningful case studies, research was aimed at entrepreneurial start-ups generally recognised as successful. In all cases this means that the entrepreneur, or their start-up have been elected and honoured with national and international awards concerning sustainability, innovation, social and environmental value, as well as entrepreneurship. Permission was granted from our participants to record the interview, allowing for greater data analysis and detailed transcripts to be written.
Secondary data included a wide variety of academic sources, and included both qualitative and quantitative data. Journal articles, published books, industry related websites and material received from the participants themselves (product brochures, business plans).
We collected data from five case studies, making this a multiple-case study research. To provide valuable empirical analysis, we conducted cross-case analyses. Cross-case analysis enhances generalisability, which allows deepening understanding and explanation (Miles & Huberman, 1994). We have used a mixed strategy approach for our data analysis. This mixed strategy is for one part case-oriented according to Yin’s (1984) replication strategy: studying one case in depth, followed by successive cases to identify patterns found matches with previous cases. Furthermore, we have used the variable-oriented strategy (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to look for themes that cut across our cases and locate recurring themes.
The Quality of the Results
To assess the quality of this research and its results, we will discuss objectivity, validity, reliability and generalisability – key quality criteria elements of qualitative research.
Objectivity examines if the researcher has been “explicit and as self-aware as possible about personal assumptions, values and biases, affective states” (Miles & Huberman 1994, p.278). Moreover, the issue here is whether the study is replicable by others. To ensure objectivity we have included in the appendix each set of customised interview questions. The questions are leading questions, for the purpose to have an open, semi-structured interview.
Validity has no single agreed upon definition. In general it refers to whether research findings make sense, are credible, accurate and most importantly, results are consistent. It can also be considered a truth-value that is often assessed with reliability. Warner (1991, cited in Miles & Huberman, 1994) also speaks of ‘natural’ validity – the idea that the events and settings studies are uncontrived, unmodified by the researchers presence and actions. As our research contains only five case studies, a small sample size, external validity may be argued as a dilemma. As authors of this study we have made a conscious effort to construct transferable theory from the research, to be applicable to other settings of different contexts, nature and time. (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Miles and Huberman (1994, p.278) underlie the issue of reliability, determining whether the “study is consistent, reasonably stable over time and across researchers and methods”. Reliability is a means of quality control. Interview questions were written to ensure relevancy to the study design. Moreover, a teacher review was conducted before questions were asked to participants. The formulated questions hold no restraint over future repeated studies and are adaptable over different points in the same time and over time.
Generalisability is also known as external validity, transferability, and fittingness. The term is a statistical framework, which refers to the applicability of research findings across other contexts. Firestone (1993 cited in Miles & Huberman, 1994) suggests three levels of generalisation: from sample to population, analytic, and case-to-case transfer. We consider that it is difficult to propose generalisability, as our exploratory research is not congruent with any other prior practical study. However, findings of this research proposes interesting insights to transferable case studies, and would be very much possible. Entrepreneurs considering exploring ‘green’ business ideas, especially in the renewable energy industry, would value such research. This thesis provides insights for researchers extending the current sustainable development research into a practical sphere. Moreover, Entrepreneurs exploring sustainable business ideas, either social or environmentally, would value such research.
Table of contents
1.3 Research Questions
2. Theoretical Background
2.1 Sustainable Development
2.2 The Triple Bottom-Line (TBL)
2.4 Social Entrepreneurship
2.5 Ecopreneurship & Social Entrepreneurship Similarities
2.6 Sustainable Entrepreneurship
2.7 Gaps in Sustainable Entrepreneurship literature
3. Research Methods7
3.1 Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research8
3.2 Case Study
3.3 Data Collection
3.5 Data Analysis
3.7 Renewable Energies
4. Empirical Data Analysis
4.1 Case study companies
4.2 Exposure to a Need for Change
4.4 Balancing The Triple Bottom Line
4.6 Breaking through Customer Unawareness
4.7 Good Practices
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Sustainable Entrepreneurship: The Motivations & Challenges of Sustainable Entrepreneurs in the Renewable Energy Industry