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The Entrepreneur’s Mind: An Interview with Prof. Dr. Nicola Breugst

17 September 2020 Central, Germany, News Nicola Breugst holds the Professorship of Entrepreneurial Behaviour at the Technical University of Munich since March 2012. She addresses questions of entrepreneurial affect, entrepreneurial motivation, and the collaboration in start-up teams. Her papers have been published in leading entrepreneurship and management journals. In this interview, she gives us her insight into the world of entrepreneurship.

The Entrepreneur’s Mind: An Interview with Prof. Dr. Nicola Breugst

Tell us a little bit more about your work in academia and how it relates to entrepreneurship.

I studied Psychology at university and I learned a lot about organisations – how people perform, behave and are shaped by them. That was a time in Germany when entrepreneurship was not discussed at all. So I become curious about how people form organisations and I did my PhD in Entrepreneurial Behaviour. For aspiring entrepreneurs, nothing is really given, there are no rules or supervisors, everything is created by the entrepreneur’s mind. We can learn a lot from start-up founders which can be applied to any field of work.

What is the psychology of an entrepreneur? What is entrepreneurial affect and motivation?

Being an entrepreneur means that you act on opportunities with the limited resources available to you. Therefore, successful entrepreneurs typically think differently than managers and they focus on generating opportunities. Because the entrepreneurial context is often challenging, entrepreneurs also tend to be influenced by their feelings which can be positive or negative – passion and excitement as well as anxiety and anger. Moreover, when we think of the psychology of an entrepreneur, we often refer to one individual. But a lot of tech-based and knowledge-based start-ups have a team of co-founders. These team members can complement each other when it comes to skills, but they can also motivate each other. While the team provides many benefits, the individual members have to find ways to communicate, define their roles, and deal with conflicts.

In your opinion, what qualities are needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

In general, being an entrepreneur is not easy and there is not a simple formula that guarantees success. From a substantial body of research, we know there are some characteristics connected to your success rate such as openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. During your entrepreneurial journey, you get lots of negative feedback. Successful entrepreneurs take the negative feedback as a chance to grow without feeling attacked by it. This approach allows them to extract the valuable points and use them to improve their venture. Interestingly, while risk takers have a higher likelihood to become an entrepreneur, risk taking itself is not associated with success. As a matter of fact, it can sometimes have negative consequences for the business.

You are also a field editor of the Journal of Business Venturing. What is your focus of work and how can entrepreneurs benefit from it?

There are numerous entrepreneurship researchers across the world who want their manuscripts to be published in this journal. As a field editor, I am responsible for making the decision which ones should be published. I rely on the help of experts who review these manuscripts and provide helpful feedback to the authors and advice for me. These expert reviewers do not know who wrote the manuscript and the authors do not know the names of the reviewers. This so-called “double-blind peer review process” ensures the academic rigor of the journal. For entrepreneurs the short summaries and videos published alongside the articles might be more insightful. Here, we try to bridge the gap between the academic world and the world of practice.

The Technical University of Munich is one of EIT Food CLC Central’s partners in building a successful innovation system. What is your insight on the entrepreneurship opportunities at the TUM?

TUM sees itself as an entrepreneurial university. We have a vibrant ecosystem, there are lots of courses from all the different schools and a great network that supports students. The numerous incubation programmes as well as the facilities and investment funding give rise to an impressive amount of start-up projects. In order to first get a foot in the door, it is incredibly helpful to be present at network events, ask the founders about their experience, and get access to different investment opportunities. Typically, an accelerator programme offers that. But it is not just the support that start-ups get from the outside: what should not be underestimated is the effect of your own cohort – when you get accepted in a batch, you have lots of aspiring entrepreneurs around you.

In a way, this ecosystem is also self-reinforcing.

 How does the current COVID-19 pandemic affect entrepreneurs?

For many entrepreneurs the situation is quite problematic, it is really difficult to meet people and build up important partnerships. In a world where it is no longer so easy to access potential stakeholders – for example big companies - young entrepreneurs can get discouraged by the lack of financial help. However, for digital start-ups, this crisis can be a great opportunity. One example is the start-up “StudySmarter” which was found by some of our students in 2017. They provide a learning platform supporting university and high school students and they witnessed a tremendous increase in users in times of home-schooling.

Some countries tend to be more oriented towards innovation and technology. Can cultural differences affect entrepreneurship?

Yes, there are cultural differences and in some countries people tend to be more anxious and avoid taking risks.

However, entrepreneurship has the amazing ability to transform economies.

Innovative ventures can help an entire region by creating jobs and solving important issues. Universities play an essential role here because they offer world-class scientific, engineering and technological training for an increasing amount of young people. Ideally, universities also inspire their talents to think and act entrepreneurially. Then, countries can reap the fruits from the investments made in education and entrepreneurship.

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