Not all entrepreneurs are corporate rebels, study finds

High performers more likely to set off on own without path to advancement, study finds

Considering leaving the 9-to-5 world of corporate life behind to strike out on your own?

When we think of entrepreneurship, we typically imagine a life of untold riches and the satisfaction of being one's own boss. And when we think of the type of people who create startups, we envision individuals who feel trapped in their current job and have dreams of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Martha Stewart.

But the reality is often much different. While some entrepreneurs are motivated by the desire to strike it big or to escape corporate life, most make the decision to start a new business in the same way they make other career decisions, by weighing the opportunities that arise and considering which seems like the best way to advance their career.

In many cases, entrepreneurs aren't corporate misfits, but just the opposite, according to new research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. If they decide to make a move, individuals who are an especially good fit with their employers are more likely to start their own businesses rather than jump to a rival, Amanda Sharkey of Chicago Booth and Jesper Sorensen of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business write in their paper, "Entrepreneurship as a Mobility Process," which appeared in the April 2014 issue of the American Sociological Review.

The reason is that being well-matched with your employer is a double-edged sword, Sharkey says. "While it helps a person get ahead at their current job, it also means that the person has skills that are uniquely valuable to their current employer and may find it harder for them to find another job that rewards them as well as their current employer does. As a result, when well-matched individuals seek to get ahead, they are more likely to start their own business than they are to move to another employer."

Sorensen and Sharkey write, though, that in these instances people often only think of the success stories, rather than the much more common reality of failure, and the resulting difficulties.

Entrepreneurs make less money than they would if they had stayed in their current job, and work long, grueling hours. And in some cases, workers are not aware of the positive opportunities that they might have with their current company, the researchers write.

So what can companies do to keep these employees in the fold?

"An employer might work harder to ensure that there are opportunities for high performers to innovate or advance within the firm so that they don't feel like starting their own business is their only option to get ahead," Sharkey says.


Contact: Amada Sharkey is available for comment at

From: Ethan Grove, Chicago Booth Office of Media Relations, 773.834.5161 (office), 773.420.8670 (cell),