Entrepreneurship requires human agency (Shane, 2003), but agency’s relative influence on new venture performance is highly contested (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006). Three separate and distinct theories posit different main effects on new venture outcomes based on environmental characteristics, human capital endowments, and psychological attributes. We use a complexity science perspective – combining concepts from population ecology (Carroll & Hannan, 2000), resource-based view (Alvarez & Busenitz, 2001), and regulatory focus theory (Brockner & Higgins, 2000) – to understand how entrepreneurs self-regulate their interactions with the environment according to initial intentions to grow the venture.

Modeling high-growth intention as a promotion focus (striving for maximal goals) and lowgrowth intention as prevention focus (safely achieving minimal goals), we hypothesize that human capital endowments are most important for new venture survival when population density is high. In more munificent environments, psychological and behavioral aspects inherent within prevention and promotion focus play a more important role in both survival and potential growth. More specifically, while prevention focus – socially motivated by vigilant adherence to avoiding mistakes – facilitates venture continuance, growth is stifled. Alternatively, while promotion focus – internally motivated by a need for achievement – facilitates growth, survival is compromised.