The meaning of networking for start-up entrepreneurs - A way of life

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Management and International Business (MIB)
Networking has become a term that is strongly associated with doing business in today’s society. Kuwabara, Hildebrand and Zou refer to Casciaro, Gino and Kouchaki (2014) in their 2018 article defining professional-instrumental networking (or simply “networking”) as “proactive and purposeful efforts to build, manage, or leverage relationships toward professional goals” (p. 51). Throughout my years in university, I have learned how networking can play a significant role during the early stages of starting a business, but also how opinions about networking vary a lot among entrepreneurs. However, a lot of the early networking theory has focused on business leaders of established firms. It has also mostly covered topics like the networking process (Larson, 1991) and how it is consciously done in practice. The prior approach to networking has been very focused on seeing networking as an intentional activity, a part of the job, which can lead to financial benefits. There is not only a lack of understanding of what networking truly means for business leaders, both in business and on a personal level, but also questions if start-up entrepreneurs’ networking is something that could be unique among business people in general. The aim of this study is to contribute to the understanding of what networking means from the perspective of a start-up entrepreneur. I searched for answers to three questions: what does networking mean for start-up entrepreneurs, why do they do it, and how do they think they can benefit from it. I conducted a qualitative study using a phenomenological design, limiting the scope to early stage start-up entrepreneurs operating in the Canadian market. In order to understand the meaning of networking for start-up entrepreneurs, my study also seeks to understand how they construct meaning. My study contributes to sensemaking theory, especially to narratives and identity, as a secondary literature by comparing these theories on how my interviewees made meaning around networking. I was able to form a model that visualizes how networking can be seen as a way of life that is more than part of the job for entrepreneurs. It is a way of life contributing to two different life journeys: personal journey and business survival. Start-up entrepreneurs execute these journeys through two kinds of actions: intentional activities and random interactions. The underlying component called the “snowball effect”, fuels all the networking activities tying them together to benefit the two life journeys.
Thesis advisor
Kent, Derin
networking, start-up, entrepreneurship, sensemaking
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