Paradoxes or trade-offs of entrepreneurship: Exploratory insights from the Cambridge eco-system

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The literature in business and management studies presents trade-offs (either/or) and paradoxes (both/and) as two different approaches of making choices. However, research in entrepreneurship has not analyzed entrepreneurial decisions through a paradox and a trade-off approach. Using insights from unstructured interviews with founders of start-ups in health care and medical devices industry in Cambridge (MA, USA), this study explores two approaches entrepreneurs follow while making decisions, a trade-off versus a paradox approach. Four dimensions emerge from the analysis: technology, market, customer, and team. Results show that within each dimension, in some cases successful entrepreneurs consider a trade-off approach (e.g. technology push over market pull, simplicity over complexity, or breakthrough over incremental). In other cases, they take a paradoxical approach (e.g. passion versus preparedness, improvisation versus planning, exploitative versus explorative innovations, a reactive versus a pro-active approach). Occasionally founders consider a trade-off approach in an early stage and move to paradox later (e.g. when deciding about listening to early versus late adopters or when selecting a single versus multiple market applications). Because of high certainty, a paradoxical approach occurs more often at a later stage of venture creation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5101-5105
JournalJournal of Business Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Choice
  • Decision making
  • Entrepreneurial performance
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Paradox
  • Trade-off

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