Purpose: Using the social constructivist perspective of learning, this study aims to examine the patterns and the key areas of entrepreneurial learning based on a case study of 16 participants who were the incubatees of two technology-based business incubators in China. The key research question is: how do novice entrepreneurs, focusing on technology-based business incubators, learn from a social constructivist perspective? Design/methodology/approach: The researchers applied a qualitative methodology in this study as they wanted to understand better the complexity of the learning process that is hard to achieve quantitatively. The qualitative data was collected through in-depth interviews with the incubatees, who were the managers and owners of their businesses. The interviews with the entrepreneurs were mainly focused on the learning patterns and the factors influencing learning through the use of the critical incident technique. Findings: This will allow incubator managers to better evaluate the extent of effective entrepreneurial learning within the incubator's eco-system. The results show that the participants learn through socially constructivist systems that are structured around the support provided by the incubators. Learning in this context takes place in an extended spectrum, and participants are more interested in learning from networking with experienced entrepreneurs rather than from other incubatees or formal courses. Findings of this study help incubator managers and novice entrepreneurs to better shape learning and teamwork in an effort to improve the learning process. Policy makers should consider introducing schemes that encourage novice entrepreneurs to exhibit the creativity and innovation behaviour reported by experienced entrepreneurs. Research limitations/implications: The focus of this study is primarily on incubators as the context of learning, whereas the macro-environmental factors, such as the socio-cultural and regulatory environments in China, were considered as playing a subtle role and would affect the incubatees' learning indirectly. The paper is based on a relatively small sample size and is geographically located in Ningbo, China. As such, the authors call for further research for comparative studies with a larger sample size so that a possible theory of entrepreneurial learning in the context of incubators might emerge in the future.
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- Business incubator
- Novice entrepreneurial learning
- Qualitative methods
- Social constructivist perspective