In what ways do the experiences of supporting and the experience of being supported match up as a support tie to an entrepreneur? We investigate the features of relationships that provide entrepreneurs with accessible and valuable resources. Our theorization stems from the assumptions that entrepreneurship is fundamentally a social process (Downing, 2005) because entrepreneurs articulate resources controlled by people other than themselves (Stevensen & Jarillo, 1990; Venkatamaran, 1997) and relationships establish the value of the resources by determining how these are to be employed (Dyer & Singh, 1998; Kraaijenbrink et al., 2010; Wills-Johnson, 2008). Observing the social context of entrepreneurs implies observing the relationships in terms of their specific qualities, such as affect, reciprocity, type, (dis)similarity between connected actors, and so on (Granovetter, 1973, 1983). While much has been described regarding the general characteristics of these support networks and ties around the entrepreneur (e.g., Brüderl & Preisendörfer, 1998; Hanlon & Saunders, 2007; Hite and Hesterly, 2001; Jack, 2005; Kotha and George, 2012; Newbert & Tornikoski, 2012; Newbert et al., 2013; See Rawhauser et al. [forthcoming] for a review), further investigation is in order to understand the mechanisms that enable or hinder these networks and ties (Jack, 2010; see also Ibarra et al. 2005).
Repeated calls have been made to examine the experiences of the actors within these relationships to shed light on these relational mechanisms (Ibarra et al. 2005; Jack, 2010). In this paper, the focus is on the shared, emerging, experience between the actors who are connected through a tie. While research on support has shown that finding the right match between the entrepreneur and the supporter secures support (Rawhauser et al., forthcoming), a key feature of relationships highlighted in the literature is that they are founded upon mismatch between the actors, which the actors struggle to navigate around (Emirbayer, 1997; Fuhse, 2015). Mismatch arises from ambiguities within the relationship (White, 2008). An example of this within the present study is the amount of requests that can be made: commonly, entrepreneurs express gratitude and avoid asking for further support, while supporters complain that entrepreneurs do not request even more from them.
The present investigation employs phenomenological investigation through interviews with entrepreneurs and their supporters regarding the support relationships in which they are surrounded. Interviews were conducted with 10 entrepreneurs and 12 of their supporters. A narrative approach is taken in this investigation (Bamberg, 2006; Deppermann, 2013; Georgakopoulou, 2006; Downing, 1997, 2005), where the narrative used to describe the tie is observed within both actors’ accounts. These accounts are subsequently compared, using situations and ties both actors have in common to anchor the comparison. A preliminary analysis of the data suggests that “matching” the supporter with the entrepreneur is about the experience of the connection between them – which is only partially shared by these two people and is shadowed by mismatch. How they handle the mismatch between them constitutes the routine of interaction that secures support.