Abstract

This paper outlines the theoretical foundation of the individual level construct of entrepreneurial legitimacy. Extending the definition of organizational legitimacy (Suchman, 1995) to an individual level of analysis, I define entrepreneurial legitimacy as a generalized perception or assumption that an individual entrepreneur is desirable, proper, or appropriate within a system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions that are socially constructed by the parties that participate in the entrepreneurial process.

Within the entrepreneurship literature the concept of organizational legitimacy is seen as an important resource for organizational survival and growth (Aldrich and Fiol, 1994; Zimmerman and Zeitz, 2002; Delmar and Shane, 2004; Tornikoski and Newbert, 2007). Organizations are started by individuals (Baron, 2007), and research shows that individual entrepreneurs can work on a new business idea for more than two years prior to a venture being formed (Reynolds and White, 1997). Prior to establishing an organization, an individual needs to garner support from external stakeholders. Whether an individual is able to garner that support will depend on whether they are perceived to be legitimate as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial legitimacy is therefore argued to be a critical resource for entrepreneurs creating new ventures and an important construct for researchers studying emerging organizations (e.g. Katz and Gartner, 1988).

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