How entrepreneurs’ supporters form homophilous relational shells to meet their own challenges

Sean White, Andrew Parker, Gazi Islam


Entrepreneurship is increasingly considered a social phenomenon, dependent on support networks (Hjorth & Holt, 2016). Extant literature on entrepreneurs’ support networks has typically developed studies from the perspective of entrepreneurs, rather than inquired into their supporters’ reasons for engaging in support relationships (e.g. Dubini & Aldrich, 1991; Kotha & George, 2012; Newbert & Tornikoski, 2013). This focus on entrepreneurs unwittingly takes for granted that supporters will “naturally” render resources to entrepreneurs, as long as the entrepreneur provides the right form of connections (e.g. McKeever et al, 2015; Newbert et al., 2013). We challenge this by arguing that supporters have just as much agency in the creation of support ties as entrepreneurs do, putting in just as much effort and serving their own interests within and against their experience of the wider network. Support is a practice that establishes and develops relationships (Steyaert & van Looy, 2010), embedded within other practices across supporters’ own relationships (Bouwen, 2010). This establishes support networks as a nexus of experienced relationships (Hjorth, 2007). Complementing literature discussing entrepreneurs’ direct support relationships, we examine how indirect relationships, connecting entrepreneurs’ supporters to third parties, enables support for entrepreneurs. We refer to these combinations of relationships as “support paths”. How do these support paths, as established by the entrepreneur’s supporter, shape supportive interactions? We begin our analysis with Qualitative Structural Analysis (Herz, Peters, & Truschkat, 2014) to perform a within-case analysis of twenty-two support paths. This provides insight as to how indirect relationships (supporter and third party) interplay with direct relationships (supporter and entrepreneur). Then, through across-case analysis, we compared these accounts in their cognitive, structural, and relational dimensions. We find that supporters respond to entrepreneurs’ signals of need for support as a means to enhance the peculiarity of the support path within and against the larger context of the surrounding network. Relationships with third parties inspire and constrain supporters in their response to entrepreneurs’ needs. We show that interactions are bound by value homophily, where participants along the support path enhance their similar values against a wider network. Given the support path that supporters have established, they experience the surrounding network as a source of pressures, threats, or opportunities that challenge the shared modus operandi within the support path. This establishes an experience of value homophily, i.e., that together they uphold certain ethos. This is an effort on the actors’ part to focus on and cultivate shared characteristics, while ignoring or eliminating challenges to their sense of shared values. By engaging in supportive practices, supporters explore the similarity among the challenges faced by actors in the support path, experiencing situation homophily. When they establish situation homophily, the practices that are relevant to the third party are seen as transferrable to the entrepreneur, and vice versa. Support networks, then, stem from these experiences of homophily as they are developed in interaction along the support path.

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