In business, there lies a seamless linkage between business opportunity, entrepreneurship and innovation. Each of them leads to the other regardless of how one chooses to swap them around. In other words, a business opportunity will always be spotted by an entrepreneurial mind. And by definition, every business opportunity is, to some extent, an innovation (Lindmark, 2006). To understand this position clearer, the linkage of the three, is to look at the definitive elements in these three concepts.
To begin with, a business opportunity is the situation where there exist a 'window' to fulfil a need at a profit. This includes the identification of a need and the means through which the need is satisfied. Having the expertise to fulfil this process positions an entrepreneur to exploit the 'window' profitably. Hence, the linkage between entrepreneurship and business opportunity.
According to Lisa Gundry and Jill Kickul (2008), business opportunities are either created, where they do not exist, or sometimes identified as they may already exist. Either of these two requires an entrepreneurial lens to embark on a good measure of exploration, through questions and observations, in order to unearth the business opportunity. Gundry and Kickul asserts that 'to more effectively identify new business opportunities, you have to dig deep and ask lots of questionsâ€¦as a guide to help you create or adapt business strategies to meet the changing needs of your market.' Some of these questions, Gundry and Kickul observes, are as follows:
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â€¢ What frustrates customers or users of this industry? Some of the best ideas come from looking at things that bug you, including not having enough options or selection, not getting the product or service quickly enough, and poor quality.
â€¢ What should businesses be making, providing, selling in this industry that many are not yet doing? What do you believe customers will want three to six months from now, one year from now, that they can't find today?
â€¢ What have you experienced as a consumer of this industry? How would you do business differently? What would you change based on what you experienced?
â€¢ What does everybody think "won't work" in this industry? Asking questions about what others have thought impossible is a great way to get new ideas.
These sorts of market related questions, such as the above, define entrepreneurship, according to Leif Lindmark (2006), a professor in economics at the Stockholm School of Economics. Lindmark observes that the 'market is defined by supply and demandâ€¦and entrepreneurship is focused on both sides,' acknowledging that 'entrepreneurs develop new goods and services, mobilize resources, enter new markets and in other ways, drive the market process' (Lindmark, 2006 p 3). On the demand side, entrepreneurs are increasingly 'inciting' consumers' quests for needs that they may otherwise not crave for.
In relation to innovation, the linkage with entrepreneurship could also be understood from Lindmark's observation that 'entrepreneurship requires, by definition, some form of newness,' arguing that 'some entrepreneurial activities are more radical, others less innovative' with the former being attributed to Schumpeter (1934) and the latter, to Kirzner (1973).
Lindmark notes that Schumpeterian opportunities are 'innovative and disequilibrating,' indicating that such business opportunities usually break grounds, are game-changers and requires an industry - wide changes where competitors are forced to adapt or risk going out of business eventually. In recent times, new business model case studies such as that of the Amazon, is an example of a Schumpeterian opportunity. The Amazon scenario kicked started a whole new ways of selling books, records and all kinds of literature and media materials affecting the business strategies and operations of long established players like WH Smith, Waterstones, etc in the book publishing and retailing industry. Another example of Schumpeterian opportunity is the entry of Easy jet and Ryanair and the concept of no frills in the airline industry.
For Kirzner the point of departure is instead a process towards equilibrium. He defines entrepreneurship as "the competitive behaviours that drive the market process" (Kirzner, 1973, p 19-20). It is a process where alert entrepreneurs exploit market opportunities through the reallocation of productive resources (Koppl and Minneti, 2003). This kind of business opportunity is not so drastic as the Schumpeterian model, however it is also innovative in the sense that it departs from the status quo nevertheless.
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An example of Kirzner's model of entrepreneurship and business opportunity is that of John Ardent, a young entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of Ardent Financial Group (AFG). Interviewed for this report, John helps aspiring entrepreneurs to invest their retirement funds into a business or franchise without taking a taxable distribution or incurring penalties. In 2007, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) named John Ardent the national Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. He was also named one of the top 40 entrepreneurs under 40 years of age. In 2008, Ernst and Young named him a finalist for their coveted Entrepreneur of the Year award.
An avid investor himself, John Ardent has purchased millions of dollars in real estate and helped to initiate many businesses within the service industry, including a real estate agency/property management firm and real estate development company. John and his company have been highlighted in media sources such as The Financial Times.
According to Miller and Crabtree (1999, p 89) 'interview is a research-gathering approach that seeks to create a listening space where meaning is constructed through an interexchange/co-creation of verbal viewpoints in the interest of scientific knowing.' A number of methods exist in conducting interviews. They could be structured, semi structured, in-depth, face to face and telephone based (Bryman, 1993; Patton, 1990). Interview may be carried out on a one-to-one basis or on a group basis (Saunders et al., 2000). Each of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages and are decided upon by the interviewer's and the interviewee's pre-existing conditions.
A structured interview, usually used in surveys, has its questions designed in a closed - ended fashion. An interviewer in a structured interview simply moves to the next question right after a respondent finishes answering one without the interviewer reacting to any prompts as it were in semi-structured or unstructured interviews.
Unstructured interview on the other hand is a loosely designed process mainly aimed at investigating a respondent's ways of thinking about an issue (Bryman, 1989, p 147). It is used where constraints should be at the barest minimum; usually conducted without any pre-existing schedule. In an unstructured interview, respondents are allowed to drift away from the issue to talk about what they think is important, the interviewer however is expected to drift along without interruption.
Semi-structured interview however, is a combined method of both structured and unstructured interview techniques. It permits flexibility in, for example, changing the ordering of questions, modifying existing ones, and addressing new questions that were hitherto not part of the research questions. Semi-structured interview also permits the use of "probes and invitations" (May, 1997, p 109; Patton, 1990, p 324) in order to lead on an interviewee to expand more on issues raised. By design, semi-structured interview allows respondents to express more on issues in their own terms (Bryman, 1989, p 149) than would be in the case of structured interview. However, unlike unstructured interview, a respondent in a semi-structured interview is promoted to stay on course in case of a drift from the issues.
In this report, an in-depth interview method is conducted over the telephone. This method was chosen because, according to Miller and Crabtree, it allows open, direct and verbal questions that elicit stories and case oriented narratives which is suitable for the topic of interest. It also affords detail, intimate and vivid revelations of the topic in question.
In this research, 8 open-ended questions were used in a semi-structured interview that lasted for 30 minutes. Although the researcher had a list of specified questions and themes as a guide, some were modified during the interview as and when it was necessary. Additional probing questions were sometimes asked when they were relevant to the line of answers.
Data gathering procedures
The respondent, John Ardent, was pre-contacted three months to the commission of the research project. The respondent was informally contacted and informed through an email about the research topic but not the detailed questions since that was still in the formation stage.
A formal request for participation was then sent out. The request letter included a brief background to the research area - business opportunities, innovation and entrepreneurship, the questions and what it sets out to achieve. A confidentiality statement, highlighting issues of data protection was also included. A proposed schedule of date and time for the interview was left to respondent to dictate, however a deadline for confirmation of participation was highlighted. This was to ensure that the exercise was carried out in the respondent's own convenience but on time to meet the project deadline.
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According to Miles and Huberman (1984), three keys to consider when conducting interviews: the setting, actors and the event. With the settings, the interview was conducted at the respondent's own convenience. Date, time and place, for example were determined by the respondent. The interview session took place over the telephone, with the respondent in his office and the researcher calling from his residence. This setting ensured a relaxed atmosphere and allowed conducive, convenient and reliable process for both the interviewer and the interviewee.
Because the telephone was being used as the channel, possible technical difficulties associated with telephone interviews such as crackling noise have been considered. The telephone handset and the telephone conversation recorder were therefore tested to ensure that failures in the performance of the facilities are prevented.
Facilities used in the interview were: a telephone handset, a retell telephone conversation recorder to enable researcher effectively capture and transcribe the interview data; a guided questions to ensure that relevant questions are captured with pen and paper to make any adjustment during the process. The interview lasted for 30 minutes.
In conclusion, it must be stated that conducting an in-depth interview had ensured that detailed information is gathered on how the entrepreneur John Ardent ended up seizing a business opportunity to create an innovative business model different from the existing ones in the market. As observed in research methodology literature, being a primary source of data, interviews when administered well ensures that the data being collected are current; are specific to the issues being investigated and are relevant to the needs of the researcher. However, it has its own limitations as the amount of data generated through interviews could be burdensome to analyse. In appendix A is a detailed transcript of the interview data and the question guide for further information.