Mentoring Entrepreneurial Networks: mapping conceptions of participants in technological-based business incubators in Brazil

Figure 7. Evocations concerning Career Support Functions categories Discussion and conclusions

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Figure 7. Evocations concerning Career Support Functions categories

Discussion and conclusions

Allocation is the process by which people that receive information, external to their own areas of expertise, determine which persons in their network can receive this information, redistributing it (Monge & Contractor, 2003). Organizational studies have treated these cognitive processes studying the attributes, or the relationships, of these individuals (Higgins & Kram, 2001). However, this study observed that these productive mechanisms may also be part of a transactional system contained in the maps socialized by the incubated entrepreneurs. In this sense, the socialized maps have emerging properties, such as knowledge and experience differentiation, that can be transacted through the incubated network.

The support obtained in the incubated entrepreneurs’ individual network was differentiated from the organizational support derived from the relationships the incubated entrepreneurs develop daily with clients, vendors, suppliers, partners and fomentation organs, for example. This differentiation was observed not only in the socialized map regarding the successful career but in the socialized map regarding the network role for the career development as well.

From the task of categorizing their own statements, the entrepreneurs explicated their thoughts with regard to individual success as well as company success. In the cognitive map concerning the role of the network, the main category that related to organizational scope was “exposure and visibility”. Those related to individual scope were “acceptance-confirmation and counseling”.

The support obtained from the incubated individual network has the property of being a private good, while the organizational support can be considered as being of public nature. Considering the support as a public good, the incubated entrepreneurs can have access to the resources derived from the organizational network, without necessarily directly taking part in the construction of those relationships (Kostova & Roth, 2003). It was possible to note that these two support levels are frequently interrelated. For example, an incubated entrepreneur, through his relationships (Figure 6 – Role of Network: Opportunities), can establish an agreement with another company. In this case, the organizational support was created from the individual network.

As the cognitive map on a successful career (Figure 3 - Successful career: Enterprise success: Financial factors) showed that “financial return” can be considered a statement of central nucleus, it can also be suggested that business men may consider their relationships as competitive. This aspect was drawn from the fact that the category “Relationship” (Figure 4 - Successful career: Personal success: Relationship) does not present evocations with central nucleus. Specifically, the evocation “Keep the network” was positioned among the peripheral evocations, with only two evocations. This may generate the motivation to abandon the relationship with clients, or distant partners, after enough resources or support have been obtained for a certain career advance, not opting for a long term relationship. On the other hand, this did not occur in the map on the Role of the Network, leading us to believe that in closer relationships, the maintenance of the relationship itself is fundamental. This was evidenced by the fact that the evocation “To keep relationships” was a statement of central nucleus in the category “Acceptance and Confirmation” (Figure 6 - Role of the Network: Psychosocial Support Functions: Acceptance and Confirmation).

The incubated entrepreneurs showed readiness not only to seek but to share knowledge in order to improve career development. The knowledge search was evidenced in the shared map on successful career by the central nucleus statement “Knowledge - Search of information” and "Qualification" (Figure 4 - Successful Career: Personal Success: Knowledge: Knowledge - Search of information). In the map on the Role of the Network the disposition to share knowledge is evidenced from the central nucleus statement "To be able to transfer knowledge”. This statement was put in a specific category, where an entrepreneur may also be a mentor, not only a protégé and therefore, may put in practice all or part of Kram's mentoring functions. The option was to allocate this statement to the category “Mentor” (Figure 6 - Role of The Network: Mentor: To be able to transfer knowledge).

The entrepreneur’s central nucleus evocations also revealed a preoccupation with benchmarking, with product quality and with process standardization, which characterizes a preoccupation with the mimetic processes. This was revealed in the category “Management” (Figure 3 - Successful Career: Enterprise Success: Management) showing that, besides worrying about innovation, the incubated also worry about following the best practices of other organizations, or in imitating those companies with good reputations. Isomorphic pressures for legitimizations also influence the entrepreneur’s intent to be involved in similar networks, according to his business activity. Thus, there is content transaction taking place when the entrepreneurs share, through their cognitive maps, interaction logic (Inkpen & Tsang, 2005). This logic is derived from the belief that there is value aggregation to the services, to the company and to the career of the incubated through the cooperation and support obtained in the network.

The cognitive maps showed that informal connections can facilitate resource and information transference among incubated entrepreneurs, in order to accomplish objectives that are instrumental as well as collective. The transacted resources can be: the feedback that flows among entrepreneurs, or the confidence that flows among them regarding confidential information, generating the social support that flows among them. Due to the risk in technological information exchange, a confidence relationship may be necessary. In this relationship there are implicit rules and languages that are shared by the actors. In other words, codes of accepted conduct exist among them.

When concluding this study, the need for investment in business men's incubated relationships could be observed. The support obtained through the network depends on significant investment, so that relationships can be constructed and maintained. Therefore, investments in training in technological and managerial areas should be accompanied by investments to facilitate the social construction of informal networks among entrepreneurs, mentors, professors, managers, financial suppliers, and so on.

The government and fomentation organs can support the incubated in the participation of technical visits, in workshops, conferences, associations and any other means to increase social insertion, favoring the creation of lasting ties. These ties also can be reinforced by the use of formal mentoring programs. The incubator manager can be a mentor, the most experienced business man, the researcher, the accountant, the lawyer, or any other actor with the capacity to perform the mentoring role.

The incubators also are characterized by the constant entrance and exit of their enterprises in the incubator program. From the perspective of the incubated that remain in the incubator, the ones that exit carry important contacts. In a way, the entrepreneurs who stayed should try to keep ties with their former-colleagues. This way, future research can provide important data on the shared meanings found in social networks even by questioning the former-incubated entrepreneurs or the persons in their network, even though, they are external to the incubator.

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