Copyright 1999 by
Toward a Reconciliation
of the Definitional Issues
in the Field of Corporate
James J _Chrisman
Although authors generally agree on the nature of entrepreneurial activities within existing
firms , differences in the terminology used to describe those activities have created confu-
sion_This article discusses existing definitions in the field of corporate entrepreneurship,
reconciles these definitions, and provides criteria for classifying and understanding the
activities associated with corporate venturing.
S cholars have begun to pay increasing attention to entrepreneurial activities within
existing organizations (e_g., Birkinshaw, 1997; Burgelman, 1983; Caruana, Morris, &
Vella, 1998; Drucker, 1985; GUlh & Ginsberg. 1990; Kanter, 1983 : Miller, 1983; Pinchot. 1985; Zahra, 1986, 1995, I 996). Unfortunately, and simi lar to the study of entrepreneurship in general, there has been a striking lack of consistency in the manner in
which these activities have been defined. A number of scholars have expressed concern
about this lack of universally acceptable definitions (e.g., Jennings & Lumpkin, 1989;
Stopford & Baden-Fuller, 1994; Wortman, 1987; Zahra, 1991). Although the choice of
definitions in behavioral sciences generally remains subject to debate (Hoy, 1995), a
clearly stated set of definitions is necessary for scientific understanding, explanation , and
prediction (McKelvey. 1982). Moreover, clearly stated and agreed-upon definitions
makes it easier for researchers to bui ld on each other's work, and for practitioners to
decide whether research findings are applicable to their situation . Because the field of
corporate entrepreneurship is still in its infancy. the time is ripe to work on the clarification of existing terminology.
This article represents one effort to systematize the use of terminology in the field
of corporate entrepreneurship. To do this we first review some of the existing definitions
and illustrate how they are contradictory. This review is conducted to provide a grounding from wh ich a framework of definitions can be developed lhat covers the field of
corporate entrepreneurship. In developing this framework we go from a general to a
specific point of view in order to clarify the existing boundaries of' the field, reconci le
the various terms used to describe the phenomena of interest, and illustrate the territory
Each of the definitions we will propose are broad, by intention . We are of the opinion
that broad definitions of concepts are preferable to narrow definitions at this stage in the
field's development for several reasons. First, broad definitions are less likely to exclude
as-yet-unspecified problems, issues, or organizations that are potentially important or
interesting. Therefore, starting broad makes it less likely that the definitions will become
outmoded and in need of revision as new issues are discovered. Furthermore, broad
definitions are more amenable. and more resilient. to the discovery and classification of
unique populations and subpopulations of firms and events since they avoid premature
or arbitrary decisions about the variables that delineate one group from another. Broad
definitions make it possible for the natures of different organizations and events to
emerge through empirical research and theories of differences. Finally. broad definitions
are more likely to be acceptable to most scholars since most will find a place for the topic
or sites of research that are of interest to them. In sum, broad definitions better reflect the
early stage of development of the field, avoid the need for excessive retrenchmem as new
knowledge becomes available, and provide considerable latitude for a theoretical and
empirical process to emerge that will eventually permit the unique parts of the whole to
be classified. defined. and understood in relation to that whole.
After we have presented our framework of definitions pertaining to corporate entrepreneurship, we then proceed to discuss some of the critical constructs by which
internal corporate venturing efforts might be classified to illustrate the possibilities of the
approach taken. We focus on internal corporate venturing because it is the sub-area that
has been perhaps the most thoroughly studied thus far and is. therefore, the most amenable to further classi ficatory efforts.
Before discussing existing definitions in the field of corporate entrepreneurship, we
briefly turn our attention to the term "entrepreneurship." Entrepreneurship has meant
different things to different people (Gartner, 1990; McMullan & Long, 1990). The
historical development of the term has been documented by various authors (e.g .• Gartner, 1988; Hisrich, 1986; Livesay, 1982; McMullan & Long. 1983). The earliest reference of the term has been traced to Richard Cantillon's work (1734). To him, entrepreneurship was self-employment with an uncertain return (McMullan & Long, 1990).
In a recent study. Gartner (1990) identified two distinct clusters of thought on the
meaning of entrepreneurship. The first group of scholars focused on the characteristics
of entrepreneurship (e.g., innovation, growth, uniqueness, etc.) while the second group
focused on the outcomes of entrepreneurship (e.g .. creation of value). Scholars who
subscribe to the notion that entrepreneurship should be defined by its characteristic
attributes appear to be the largest group, accounting for 79% of Gartner's sample.
Among members of this group, most seem to rely on variations of one of two definitions
of entrepreneurship: Schumpeter's (1934) or Gartner's (1988).
To Schumpeter (1934). an entrepreneur is a person who carries out new combinations, which may take the form of new products, processes, markets. organizational
forms, or sources of supply. Entrepreneurship is, then, the process of carrying out new
combinations. In contrast. Gartner states that "Entrepreneurship is the creation of organizations" (1988, p. 26). Gartner was careful to specify that this was not offered as a
definition but rather as "an attempt to change a long held and tenacious viewpoint in the
entrepreneurship field" toward "what the entrepreneur does, not who the entrepreneur is"
(p. 26). Nevertheless, it is clear from the literature that a large number of researchers in
entrepreneurship have employed this definition, including Gartner himself (e.g .• Bygrave, 1993; Gartner, Bird, & Starr, 1991; Learned, 1992).
Whereas both these definitions have merit. it should be clear that despite their
ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
overlaps, each covers a somewhat different territory. Thus, while the carrying out of new
combinations (i.e., an innovation of product, process, etc.) may result in the creation of
a new organization, it does not necessarily have to do so. Likewise, the creation of a new
organization may involve a new combination; however, there are many new organizations that can make no claim to innovative activity. The debate about what entrepreneurship is will surely rage on for the foreseeable future in spite of the best arguments
of scholars on any side of the debate. Yet there are clear advantages to attempts to
reconcile the language used in the field, as ambiguity in terminology holds back the
development of cohesive, explantory. or predictive theories (Low & MacMillan, 1988).
As explained below, in this article, we seck definitions that do not exclude what has been
termed entrepreneurship or corporate entrepreneurship in the past, are most likely to
cover those aspects of entrepreneurship and corporate entrepreneurship that will draw the
attention of scholars in the future. and will faci litate the reconciliation of the theory and
research on entrepreneurship and corporate entrepreneurship.
Corporate Entrepreneurship Terminology
In recent years, the entrepreneurial abilities of corporate organizations has become
a major subject of discussion both among practitioners and academicians. With this
broadening of perspective. entrepreneurship has become more a hypothetical and abstract term attached to any individual or group creating new combinations (e.g., Lumpkin
& Dess, 1996: Pass, Lowes, Davies, & Kronish, 1991), either on their own or attached
to existing organizations. This is renected in some academic writings. For example,
Covin and Slevin (1991) have suggested that the three entrepreneurial postures of risk
taking, innovativeness, and proactiveness, brought forth by Miller (1983). can be applied
to corporate processes as well as to new independent ventures. Collins and Moore (1970)
have differentiated between "independent" and "administrative" entrepreneurs, with the
former creating new organizations from scratch, and the lauer creating new organizations
within or adjunct to existing business structures. More recently, Lumpkin and Dess
( 1996) have stated that launching a new venture can be done either by a start-up firm or
an existing firm.
Although there is an increasing recognition of the entrepreneurial activities within
existing firms, ambiguities continue to plague attempts to define such activities. In fact,
the language problem is, if anything, more acute when entrepreneurship is applied to a
corporate setting. While the terms "entrepreneurship" or "independent entrepreneurship"
are used to describe entrepreneurial efforts of individuals operating outside the context
of an existing organization, a variety of terms arc used for the entrepreneurial efforts
within an existing organization such as corporate entrepreneurship (Burgelman. 1983;
Zahra, 1993), corporate venturing (Biggadike, 1979), intrepreneuring (Pinchot, 1985),
internal corporate entrepreneurship (Jones & Butler. 1992), internal entrepreneurship
(Schollhammer, 1982; Vesper, 1984). strategic renewal (Guth & GinSberg, 1990), and
venturing (Hornsby. Naffziger, Kuratko, & Montagno, 1993). A list of definitions used
in the literature for these related terms is presented in Table I.
Definiti onal Ambiguities
A careful examination of Table I reveals that the same term is sometimes used
differently by different authors. and some authors use different terms to describe the
same phenomenon. Examples of these definitional ambiguities are provided below and
highlighted in Table 2.
Authorls & Yr.
CORPORATE ENTREPRENEURSH IP
Corporate entrepreneur;hip refeN to the process whereby the firm .. engage in diversification
through Internal development. Such dlvcr;ification requires new re ..ourcc combinations to
extend the finn'., activities in area .. unrclalcd. or marginally related. to its current domam of
Corporale cntrcprcncursrup is an organizational process for lran .. forming individual ideal! into
through Ibe m:magemenl of uncerlainlles (p. 14 ).
ex tendmg the finn's domain of competence and
corrc'>r>inClll> endeavors within the corporate
framcworl.. (p. 30).
Zahra (J 993.
Internal ventures arc a finn's attempts to enter different marl..cls or develop substantially
different products from those of ils existing hase
by "clling up a separate entity
with in the existing corporate body (p. 6).
New Business Venturing OCCUN when 'indlvidual'i ilnd small learns form entrepreneurial
groups Inside an organil.ation capable of pcNuading otherll to aller their behavior, thus
innucncing the creation of new corporate resources' (p. 522).
by expanding oper-Jtions in existing
Venturing means that the finn will enter new
or new markets (p. 1715).
Internal corporate Venturing involve!;; 'the creation of an 1I1temally-\laffed venture unit that i..
semi-autonomous. with the
organtz3tion ma1lltaining ultjmate authority' (p. 171).
Intraprcneurshlp IS the de\ielopment within a large organization of internal markeL" and
rclatl\:ely small and independent unit" de<;igncd to create, intcmally tCllt-markel. and expand
improved and/or innovative lItaff "ervices, technologic.. or method .. within the organization.
Thl'l is different from the large organization entreprencurship/\ienture units whO'ie purpose
is (0 de\ielop profitable pollliions 111 external marl-eLI, (p_ 181).
Intrapreneurs arc any of the "dreamer.. who do." Those who t.1ke hand.\-on responsibility for
creatlllg innovation of any kind within an organizallon. They may be the creators or
IIlventor.. but are always the dreamer.. who figure out how to lurn an idea into a profitable
reallly (p. ix).
STRATEG IC or ORGANIZATIONAL RENEWAL
Strategic renewal involves the creation of ncw wealth through ncw combinations of resources
Organizat ional rencwal alters thc resource pattern of bu .. inc!o.s to achieve beller and sustainable
overall economic pertonnance. To be su<,t:linable, morc pcrva... ive effort is needed,
involving more than a few IIldividuals and the finance function (p. 522),
Renewal means revitalizing a company's business through 1I1nOVall011 and changing its
compeli tive profile. It means revitali7ing the company's opcraLions by changing the scope
of iL.. business, its compctilive approaches or both. II al ..o meanli building or acquiring new
capabilities and then creauvely leveraglllg them to add value for shareholders. (1995. p.
227: 1996. p. 1715).
Renewal hm; many facets. including the n!definitlOn of thc
changcs for innovation .... Renewal is achieved
and the Introduction of
through the redefinition of a firm's
through the creative redeployment of resources,
leading to new combinaLions of products and technologies (l993. p. 321).
Burgelman (1983) defines corporate entrepreneurship as "the process whereby the
firms engage in diversification through internal development. Such diversification requires new resource combi nations to extend the firm's activities in areas unrelated, or
marginally related, to its current domain of competence" (p. 1349). Biggadike (1979), on
the other hand, describes corporate venturing as "marketing a product or service that the
parent company has not previously marketed and that requires the parent company 10
obtain new equipment or new people or new know ledge" (p. 104). Taking a still different
approach, Ellis and Taylor (1987) define corporate venturing as "a strategy of unrelatedness to present activities, to adopt the structure of an independent unit and to involve
a process of assembling and configuring novel resources" (p. 528).
Examples of Some Definitional Ambiguities
Au thors and terms used
Ellis & Taylor (1987)
Extent of Innovation
. . to
as ..cmbhng & configuring
reqUire)' new resource
unrelated to present activities
aCilvi ti c .. in arcas unrcJatcd
or marginally related to
current domain of
reqUires obtaining ne\\equipment. or people. or
knowledge to introduce a
new product or serv ice
CV - Corporale Venturing
It is observed that all three definitions describe the creation of a new business in an
area that requires innovative resource combinations. A closer observation of these definitions, however, ...
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