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White Rose PhD Studentship

The role of entrepreneurship, innovation networks and knowledge exchange in institutional change

based at The University of Sheffield Management School Start date October

Research on entrepreneurial networking and innovation has focused on diverse themes. One area of particular interest has been the way entrepreneurs engage in networks and use them to leverage resources and enhance business credibility to enable firm creation and growth (Hoang and Antoncic, 2003). Much work in entrepreneurship has focused on the individual as the unit of analysis and has tracked and mapped their approaches to networking (Larson 1991; Liao and Welsch, 2003). Within these studies research has explored issues such as the role of social relationships and the importance of trust; and it has explored power as it relates to the entrepreneur’s position within these business and social networks – particularly where there are external contingencies impacting on relationships, such as in supply chains (Pittaway and Rose, 2006).

This previous work, while providing a valuable foundation for understanding the role of entrepreneurs in innovation networks, has two major limitations. First, it tends to privilege individuals as the main unit of analysis. This means that teams, communities, families or other social groupings that collectively realise entrepreneurial initiatives are ignored. Secondly, many studies of entrepreneurial networks ignore the wider institutional environment in which entrepreneurial activities take place. As a result, there is an abundance of studies of individual networking practices and there are extensive studies of industry networks or supply chains. But we rarely see studies that investigate entrepreneurial activity across these multiple levels of analysis. An example of this is debates about economic development and entrepreneurship in the context of ‘peak oil’ and climate change. We can identify local entrepreneurial innovations addressing these challenges at a local or micro level. It is also possible to identify policy initiatives at an industry or national level. But it is rare to see how the entrepreneurial practices interrelate across a number of levels contributing to (or being shaped by) climate change/peak oil.

This PhD will be concerned with the interrelationship of entrepreneurial innovation, knowledge exchange and networking processes as drivers of institutional change. The study will seek to apply a situated and contextualised understanding of entrepreneurial innovation and knowledge exchange that fully acknowledges the context and structural conditions within which a range of actors (entrepreneurial or otherwise) operate when constructing network relationships. It is expected therefore, that the PhD will draw from theories relating to institutional theory, entrepreneurial networks, institutional entrepreneurship, innovation networks, community or social entrepreneurship to investigate how entrepreneurial ideas or innovations are constructed across boundaries to bring about institutional change. These boundaries can be national, cultural, local, organisational, regional, ethnic, institutional or political. The key aim is to demonstrate the role that entrepreneurial action and knowledge exchange plays in enacting transformations of particular (local, organisational, community etc) contexts.
The following themes are invited:

  • The processes through which innovation networks are constructed relationally between various actors (i.e. industry, trade, community, philanthropic, family businesses, communities, not for profit, or entrepreneurial people, teams or organisations).
  • Entrepreneurship as an enabler or barrier to institutional change or regional development
  • The travel of entrepreneurial ideas from one (global) context to another.
  • The process through which entrepreneurial ideas are ‘translated’ at a local level.

Especially welcome are proposals that address the above theme(s) against the context of climate change/ peak oil/energy challenges and demands for sustainable development. Studies might, therefore, focus on the food processing industry, food commodities, dairy/cattle/farming sector; the construction or engineering sectors; or on the diffusion of new technologies or scientific innovations/creation of new networks that will help to alleviate climate change/energy/regional development challenges.

The studentship would be located in the Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development (CREED) at the University of Sheffield Management School and would complement existing PhD students working in CREED and the Management School. This includes PhDs on networks, enterprise policy, entrepreneurial learning and enterprise education, informal economy, family business. The student would be a member of the School’s MRes and RTP programmes which would provide a firm foundation for their research skills. A grant of c£12,000 per annum will be awarded to fund the studentship.

The principal supervisor, Dr. Denise Fletcher, is Director of Research for CREED and has a track record of PhD supervision in different contexts of entrepreneurship. She is a board member of Entrepreneurship and Regional Development and of the Board of the Institute of SmallBusiness and Entrepreneurship. Her work centres on narrative, social construction, institutional entrepreneurship, networks and the travel of entrepreneurial ideas across different socio-cultural contexts.

Denise Fletcher’s profile page

Dr Nicky Shaw, the co-supervisor, currently directs the Graduate School at Leeds University Business School. She has worked on a major EPSRC-funded project on improving innovation, has researched innovation sharing within the partnership network of a major utility and is now leading an industry-funded project to apply social network analysis to further understand networking both within a large organisation and with its partners

Application process


Applications should take the form of:

  1. A personal CV;
  2. A covering letter stating why you are the best person for this studentship;
  3. A maximum 3000 word research proposal outlining your proposed topic. (This should include a proposed title; brief review of relevant literature; a statement of the aims of your research and a summary of appropriate research methods to be utilised to implement the study).

Please note that there is no requirement to download or submit this application via the university application system. Overseas students can send attachments by email but applications in hard copy are preferred. Also email applications should be sent in one complete word document.

Send CVs with covering letter and research proposal to reach us by 5.00 p.m. on Monday 11th August, 2008, to:

Mandy Robertson,
Research Administrator,
University of Sheffield Management School,
9 Mappin Street,

For further information contact: Denise Fletcher on


Hoang, H. and Antoncic, B. (2003). Network-based research in entrepreneurship: A critical review. Journal of Business Venturing. 18 (2), 165.

Larson, A. (1991). Partner networks: Leveraging external ties to improve entrepreneurial performance. Journal of Business Venturing, 6(3), 173.

Liao, J. and Welsch, H. (2003). Social capital and entrepreneurial growth aspiration: a comparison of technology- and non-technology-based nascent entrepreneurs. Journal of High Technology Management Research, 14(1), 149.

Pittaway, L. and Rose, M. B., 2006, ‘Learning and relationships in small firms’, International Small Business Journal, 24(3), 227-231.

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