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date: 28 September 2023

Entrepreneurial Resiliencefree

Entrepreneurial Resiliencefree

  • Robert GarrettRobert GarrettCollege of Business, University of Louisville
  •  and Lauren ZettelLauren ZettelCollege of Business, University of Louisville


Given that entrepreneurs regularly face challenges in the process of starting a new venture, their ability to adapt and respond to adversity is of great interest to entrepreneurship researchers. Hence, entrepreneurship scholars have begun to build on and extend the idea of individual-level, psychological resilience in the domain of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial resilience includes the processes entrepreneurs utilize to develop and deploy their capabilities in order to adapt and respond to adversity encountered in their role as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial resilience may be conceptualized as a set of capabilities, as a process, and as an outcome. The idea of entrepreneurial resilience as a set of capabilities implies that resilience is comprised of certain psychological and behavioral capacities or tendencies that allow an entrepreneur to overcome adversity. Entrepreneurial resilience as a process is the demonstration of those capabilities in action and is exhibited as entrepreneurs encounter and then recover from a stressor. Finally, entrepreneurial resilience as an outcome is often conceptualized as a lack of negative outcomes from an adverse or stressful event.

Research in entrepreneurship has begun to explore each of these conceptualizations of resilience. Importantly, resilience capabilities have been connected with a greater likelihood of venture survival. Additionally, research has demonstrated that entrepreneurial action may be an important tool that individuals use to overcome persistent adversity. Future research is needed to clarify how entrepreneurs both develop and deploy their capabilities and resources to achieve positive outcomes in the face of challenges. The remaining questions related to the nature of entrepreneurial resilience make this domain a promising field for continuing scholarship.


  • Operations Management
  • Organizational Behavior


Resilience has become a prevalent area of interest in management research and is emerging as a key concept in entrepreneurship research as well. Resilience is important for individuals in nearly all professions because the demands of work are increasingly experienced in other domains of life, such as family life (Kossek & Perrigino, 2016). As the burden of work increases, the ability of individuals to adapt and overcome the challenges presented by their career becomes important not only to performance, but also to overall well-being. Furthermore, in their analysis of occupational resilience, Kossek and Perrigino (2016) suggested that resilience is essential for those with jobs that require the individual to perform a variety of different tasks, as they seek to adjust and perform in their roles.

Although resilience is important for people in all roles and walks of life, the occupational nature of entrepreneurship makes resilience especially important for venture founders. While starting one’s own business provides the freedom to schedule work according to personal preferences, this often means that entrepreneurs experience blurred boundaries between work and home life (Ezzedeen & Zikic, 2017). Furthermore, entrepreneurs must be sufficiently skilled in a wide variety of areas to create and run a special business (Lazear, 2004). For example, although corporations often have an employee or entire unit dedicated to human resource management, the entrepreneur must take on this role, as well as CEO, CFO, VP of technology, Director of Marketing, and more. In essence, the characteristics of the job make entrepreneurial resilience a necessity for those who start and run their own venture.

In this article, entrepreneurial resilience is defined as the processes an entrepreneur utilizes to develop and deploy capabilities in order to adapt and respond to adversity encountered in the entrepreneurial role (Williams, Gruber, Sutcliffe, Shepherd, & Zhao, 2017). This definition is adapted from the management literature and is tailored to the current subject matter. However, as discussed in this article, resilience has taken on different meanings in different domains, including in the domain of entrepreneurship. Similarly, there are several levels of analysis in which resilience is essential to entrepreneurship scholars. For instance, team-level resilience (e.g., Stoverink, Kirkman, Mistry, & Rosen, 2020) is of great importance to start-up teams, and the contribution of entrepreneurial activity to the resilience of organizations and even regions has significant research potential (Korber & McNaughton, 2018). However, this article takes as its focus the individual-level resilience of entrepreneurs.

In this article, a brief overview of the current state of entrepreneurial resilience scholarship is provided. As the idea of entrepreneurial resilience is developing, this article presents various viewpoints and debates related to entrepreneurial resilience. Lastly, in order to explore the construct of entrepreneurial resilience, it is necessary to return to the psychological roots of the concept of resilience. Therefore, while the discussion is tailored to the context of entrepreneurship, much of the background on resilience is obtained from the psychology literature and applied to entrepreneurs.

Varying Perspectives on Entrepreneurial Resilience

The study of resilience in social sciences has been fraught with debate over the definition of the construct. The definition of entrepreneurial resilience offered in this article is adapted from Williams et al. (2017) and is tailored to the context of entrepreneurship because it acknowledges three key ways in which resilience has been defined: as a set of capabilities, as a process, and as an outcome. The idea of resilience as a set of capabilities implies that resilience is comprised of certain psychological and behavioral capacities or tendencies that allow an individual to overcome adversity (e.g., Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). Resilience as a process is the demonstration of those capabilities in action and is exhibited as individuals encounter and then recover from a stressor (King, Newman, & Luthans, 2016). Finally, resilience as an outcome is often conceptualized as a lack of negative outcomes from an adverse or stressful event (e.g., Seery, Holman, & Silver, 2010). Although some may find a multifaceted definition problematic, scholars have noted that accepting the pluralistic nature of resilience in social sciences may actually best facilitate the advancement of knowledge on this subject (Olsson, Jerneck, Thoren, Persson, & O’Byrne, 2015). Therefore, this article acknowledges the multifaceted nature of the construct of resilience, and thereby, entrepreneurial resilience.

In the following, definitions and research perspectives that highlight each of the three conceptualizations of resilience and entrepreneurial resilience are explored, in turn. Several articles from the entrepreneurship literature are further utilized to highlight these ideas. It should be noted that, although the studies examined in this article may define and measure resilience as either a process, capability, or outcome, most studies at least acknowledge the multiple aspects of resilience. Thus, although a study may be highlighted as an example of a particular conceptualization, resilience could actually be represented in several ways throughout that text. Furthermore, the highlighted articles are by no means comprehensive. Rather, they are selected for their ability to demonstrate the various aspects of entrepreneurial resilience.

Resilience as a Capability or Capabilities

One stream of resilience research in psychology and management has generally focused on the potential for resilience, or the capabilities associated with resilience. In the psychology literature, Tugade and Fredrickson (2004) conceptualized resilience as a set of capabilities. Drawing on several scholars’ work (e.g., Block & Block, 1980; Block & Kremen, 1996; Lazarus, 1993), they propose that resilience is “the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences and by flexible adaptation to the changing demands of stressful experiences” (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004, p. 320, emphasis added). Similarly, in the management literature on occupational resilience, Kossek and Perrigino (2016):

treat resilience as a multifaceted gestalt construct integrating resources individuals can draw on—namely traits (i.e., personality hardiness), capacities (i.e., developing capabilities and coping strategies), and processes (i.e., appraisal of feedback and experiences with adaption)—into a process model where these factors—plus contextual influences—interact to determine how individuals will successfully (or unsuccessfully) respond to stressors. (p. 732)

Notably, the definition of entrepreneurial resilience offered in this article speaks of the “capabilities” that are necessary for a resilient response to adverse events. As noted by Williams et al. (2017), capabilities include skills, knowledge, and access to resources that can be leveraged, when needed (Teece, Pisano, & Shuen, 1997). This implies that such capabilities related to resilience may remain dormant until called upon, but that they exist, nonetheless, and can be measured in the absence of adversity. In essence, this perspective suggests that individuals are capable of responding to adversity in a way that promotes optimal functioning because they possess the factors necessary to do so (Britt, Shen, Sinclair, Grossman, & Klieger, 2016).

Financial, Physical and Informational Resources

Exactly what the resilience capabilities and resources are, particularly in the case of entrepreneurs, remains somewhat unclear. However, researchers have begun to outline and identify a number of factors that appear to be critical to resilience. Williams et al. (2017) speak of capability “endowments” related to resilience, which can be both trait-based and acquired. Although Williams et al. (2017) focus on the level of the organization, they note that their definition also applies to individuals. The first of these endowments considered by Williams et al. (2017) are financial capability endowments, which provide the resources needed to absorb shocks and adapt to adversity. Similarly, in their theoretical model, Hayward, Forster, Sarasvathy, and Fredrickson (2010) suggested that some entrepreneurs develop and possess “financial resilience” which represents their ability to obtain capital. Although each of these perspectives suggests that financial resources are related to resilience, it seems likely that this category of resources could be expanded to access to many types of financial (e.g., financial reserves, access to debt), physical (e.g., property and equipment) and informational (e.g., patents, trade secrets) resources. Access to these resources provides the slack that allows entrepreneurs to make changes in the face of challenges.

Social Resources

In addition to these types of resources, Williams et al. (2017) specifically noted that relational capability endowments are important to resilience because they represent access to a network of social support. Importantly, the entrepreneur must be capable of accessing these resources when a challenge arises (Bonanno, Westphal, & Mancini, 2011; Luthans, Vogelgseang, & Lester, 2006; Masten, 2001). In other words, it is not just the knowledge that social support exists somewhere in the environment; rather, the entrepreneur must have the ability to access that support. Some scholars suggest that various types of social connections are important to resilience, such as family, the work unit, and the community at large (Britt et al., 2016). However, it is also possible that, for entrepreneurs, the most relevant source of social support comes from business-related ties. These individuals are more likely to be able to empathize with the entrepreneur’s plight and may have access to information relevant to the challenge at hand (Pollack, Vanepps, & Hayes, 2012). In either case, access to ties that can provide information, as well as instrumental and emotional support, can help the entrepreneur to overcome the adverse situation.

Cognitive and Behavioral Capabilities

Resilient entrepreneurs may also possess the ability to direct their attention to issues, process and understand the challenge, and then solve the problem. These abilities are what Williams et al. (2017) deemed “cognitive capability endowments.” In addition to these cognitive capability endowments, resilient entrepreneurs may have developed actions and behavioral routines to deal with challenges, which are known as “behavioral capability endowments” (Williams et al., 2017). The idea of these cognitive and behavioral capabilities are very similar to what psychologists refer to as “coping skills,” which are the thought processes and actions that individuals use to manage a stressful event or circumstance (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980). In fact, coping skills have been proposed as a set of capabilities that are important to resilient responses to adversity (Seery et al., 2010). At present, research has not identified exactly which types of coping skills are most important to resilience. However, research in entrepreneurship has found that entrepreneurs who utilize a combination of coping techniques recognize better long-term well-being. Specifically, these entrepreneurs used techniques aimed at solving the problem (approach-oriented coping) as well as coping techniques that allowed them to remove themselves temporarily from the problem (avoidance-oriented coping) (Uy, Foo, & Song, 2013). Given that these types of coping capabilities have been connected with resilience as an outcome, it seems reasonable to assert that these coping, or emotional and behavioral capabilities, are relevant capabilities of resilience. Nonetheless, further work in this area is required to verify and understand this relationship.

Emotional Capabilities

Emotional capital, such as hope and optimism, as well as the ability to influence when and how emotions are experienced, is an additional resource and capability related to resilience (Williams et al., 2017). In particular, Tugade and Fredrickson (2007) indicated that resilient individuals appear to be skilled at drawing on positive emotions to overcome or “undo” the effects of negative emotions. They even suggested that the ability to access these emotions is honed over time so that positive emotions become “chronically accessible” to resilient individuals (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007, p. 323). These types of emotional capabilities have not yet been explored in the context of entrepreneurial resilience, but given their importance in the psychology literature on resilience, these point to areas of great interest for future entrepreneurship research as well.

Efficacy and Mastery

Several scholars have suggested that a sense of self-efficacy or mastery serves as a resource for resilient responses to adversity (e.g., Luthans et al., 2006; Sutcliffe & Vogus, 2003). For entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s ability to accomplish tasks required for success in entrepreneurship, serves as a resource for resilience as well (Bullough & Renko, 2013; Zhao, Siebert, & Hills, 2005). Bullough and Renko (2013) argued that entrepreneurial self-efficacy enables entrepreneurs to cope and persist when they encounter adversity because this sense of mastery “allows individuals to believe in their ability to take the appropriate actions necessary for business in challenging contexts, which in turns helps them develop the ability to grow from adversity and thrive rather than recoil” (p. 345). Having a sense of mastery over past challenges provides the confidence that an entrepreneur needs to take on new challenges, adapt, and respond to adversity. Entrepreneurial self-efficacy, then, serves as a confidence-based resource that fuels the capacity for resilience, and thus can also be seen as a capability of resilience.

Personality Traits

Although the conceptualization of resilience solely as a trait is declining, the definition of capabilities offered in this article suggests that some traits may be related to resilience capabilities. This is not to say that resilience is solely trait-based. However, research has demonstrated that self-enhancement (Gupta & Bonanno, 2010) as well as low negative and high positive trait affectivity (Quale & Schanke, 2010) are related to resilience (Bonanno et al., 2011). The extent of the role of traits in entrepreneurial resilience is only beginning to be explored.

Resilience Capabilities in Entrepreneurship Research

The capabilities approach to resilience has been utilized in several studies of entrepreneurial resilience. Using this perspective, some have chosen to examine entrepreneurial resilience and its role in weathering adversity. In this vein, Bullough, Renko, and Myatt (2014) defined resilience as “an ability to go on with life or to continue living a purposeful life after hardship or adversity” (p. 474). It is through this lens that they studied the relationship between resilience, entrepreneurial self-efficacy, and entrepreneurial intentions among potential entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. This context can be considered one of severe adversity for entrepreneurs, due to the poor infrastructure and prevalence of crime and violence. The authors argued that because resilient individuals have a propensity to work proactively to solve challenges, resilient individuals facing such severe adversity should be more likely to start a new venture to alleviate some of the constraints imposed upon them by that context. Indeed, Bullough et al. (2014) found that resilience is positively related to entrepreneurial intentions and that resilience also positively moderates the relationship between entrepreneurial self-efficacy and entrepreneurial intentions. They operationalized resilience using the Brief Resilience Coping Scale (Sinclair & Wallston, 2004), which asks respondents how various means of coping align with what they typically do when experiencing a difficulty or loss. In other words, this scale, consistent with the authors’ definition, measures the potential for resilience.

In a similar study of entrepreneurs’ ability to weather adversity, Chadwick and Raver (2018) conceived of resilience as a psychological resource or individual capacity. Their study explored the impact of resilience over time in a set of nascent entrepreneurs involved in a start-up program. They hypothesized and found that, because resilient individuals have a tendency to appraise adversity as a challenge that they have the skills to overcome, and because they are more likely to take proactive measures to solve business problems, they should also have higher venture survival rates. They operationalized resilience using part of the Resilience Scale (Wagnild & Young, 1993) which measures behavioral and psychological tendencies such as whether the respondent generally “has self-discipline” and “takes things in stride.” This is also consistent with the definition of resilience as a set of capabilities. In sum, the study demonstrates that the ventures of entrepreneurs who generally display resilient behaviors and cognitions are more likely to survive (Chadwick & Raver, 2018).

An additional article has examined entrepreneurs’ resilience in the face of business failure using the capabilities approach. Hayward et al. (2010) constructed a theoretical model suggesting that confident entrepreneurs will be more likely to start another business after experiencing a failure because of their resilience resources. They proposed that confident individuals experience positive emotions even in the face of failure. These positive emotions help them build resilience resources, including emotional, cognitive, financial, and social resources. These resilience resources make confident entrepreneurs better able to found a subsequent venture, and therefore more likely to do so (Hayward et al., 2010). Although Hayward et al. (2010) did not operationalize resilience in any particular way, as their model is theoretical, they argued that confidence helps to build the capabilities and resources that comprise emotional, social, and financial resilience, and that these capabilities and resources, in turn, influence the ability and likelihood of such entrepreneurs to start again.

In summary, the capabilities approach to resilience has been adopted in empirical and theoretical investigations of entrepreneurial resilience. This has yielded important insights, such as the fact that resilience is positively related to entrepreneurial intentions in conditions of adversity and that entrepreneurial resilience can even foster business survival. Although the capabilities approach focuses on behavioral and cognitive tendencies associated with resilience, it may be especially useful in empirical research as it provides a convenient way to assess resilience, even in the absence of present adversity. This approach may also be useful to those studies seeking a better understanding of the antecedents and consequences, both good and bad, of such resilience-related tendencies.

In the future, research on entrepreneurial resilience could identify other capabilities that are associated with resilience. For example, Fisher, Stevenson, Burnell, Neubert, and Kuratko (2020) developed the concept of “entrepreneurial hustle,” which they defined as “an entrepreneur’s urgent, unorthodox actions that are intended to be useful in addressing immediate challenges and opportunities under conditions of uncertainty” (p. 1012). It seems plausible that a capacity for this type of behavior would be essential in helping an entrepreneur to move forward from a challenge or setback. This could be one among several possible capabilities associated with entrepreneurial resilience that are yet to be theoretically defined and empirically explored.

Resilience as a Process

Resilience has also been conceptualized as the process of responding and adapting to adversity. Richardson’s (1990) definition of resilience represents this approach. He suggested that resiliency is “the process of coping with disruptive, stressful, or challenging life events in a way that provides the individual with additional protective and coping skills than prior to the disruption that results from the event” (Richardson, 1990, p. 34). In this view, the process of responding resiliently to adversity is generative, leaving individuals better off than they were prior to facing the adversity. Resilience as a process entails enacting the capabilities and drawing on the resources discussed in the section titled “Resilience as a Capability or Capabilities.” In other words, resilience as a process can be conceptualized as resilience capabilities “in action.”

Some may say that the difference between the latent potential for resilience and the processes of resilience in action are minimal. However, this distinction matters a great deal when it comes to measuring the construct of interest. Those seeking to understand the capacity for resilience may ask individuals what they “typically do” in the face of adversity, whereas those seeking to understand resilience processes would need to observe them in the presence of an adverse event.

Readers will also note that the term “resiliency” is utilized in Richardson’s (1990) definition, in lieu of “resilience.” It appears that there is some disagreement regarding the terminology for resilience as a capability or set of capabilities and resilience as a process. Specifically, Luthar, Cicchetti, and Becker (2000) suggested that “resilience” refers to a process, whereas “resiliency” refers to a trait. Nevertheless, for the current purposes, the terminology “resilience as a process” or the “process of resilience” is utilized. Again, the definition advocated in this article acknowledges this facet of resilience.

Mechanisms of Resilience

A good deal of existing research has been conducted on the mechanisms that facilitate the process of resilience. This stream of research centers on how individuals cope or deal with adversity. While resilience is associated with certain cognitive and behavioral capabilities, in the present domain, research focuses on those capabilities in action.

One primary mechanism of resilience identified in the literature is the process that resilient individuals utilize to deliberately cultivate positive emotions. In a sense, this process entails the use of both cognitive and emotional capabilities. Experiencing positive emotions is key to the process of resilience as they have been demonstrated to help resilient individuals rebound from the cardiovascular effects of stress. These positive emotions are also important because they broaden attention and thought patterns and also improve general well-being. According to the broaden-and-build perspective on resilience, positive emotions also aid in building and accumulating resources needed to overcome future adversity (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). However, it is unlikely that an individual would automatically experience positive emotions in the face of a challenge. In fact, research has demonstrated that resilient individuals experience negative emotions, like frustration, in the face of adversity (Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh, & Larkin, 2003; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). Therefore, Tugade and Fredrickson (2007) noted that, at least initially, positive emotions must be intentionally cultivated in stressful situations. One primary way that resilient individuals do this is by finding positive meaning in the challenge they are facing (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). Specifically, researchers noted that resilient individuals were better able to consider the fact that their situation could be worse, and that there was the potential for something good to come out of coping with a given challenge. These thought processes then facilitate the experience of positive emotions (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). This mechanism has yet to receive much attention in research on entrepreneurial resilience.

Another cognitive mechanism of resilience lies in the way that resilient individuals first interpret the adversity or challenge. When faced with a stressor, people evaluate the stressor as either a threat that they are not likely to overcome and therefore may result in harm, or as a challenge that is manageable and may even result in personal gain (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). Research in psychology has shown that, when faced with a challenging task, resilient individuals appraised the situation as less threatening (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). In entrepreneurship research on resilience, resilient entrepreneurs have also been found to be more likely to appraise the start-up conditions for their business as a challenge, meaning that they saw the potential for gain in the situation, and that they could succeed under the given circumstances (Chadwick & Raver, 2018). In summary, it appears that resilient individuals, including entrepreneurs, perceive and cognitively process the presence of adversity in a more constructive manner (Chadwick & Raver, 2018).

A final mechanism that functions in the process of resilience is drawing on resources from social network ties to overcome a challenge. Although the presence of social ties has been connected with resilience (e.g., Masten, 2001), it is yet unclear what types of support entrepreneurs obtain from their network. Theoretically, entrepreneurs may obtain structural support, including information about how to overcome a challenge and capital resources to leverage against a challenge, or they may receive functional support in the form of emotional support and affirmation from their network ties (Bonanno, Brewin, Kaniasty, & La Greca, 2010; Pollack et al., 2012). Furthermore, scholars have yet to study how resilient entrepreneurs then deploy these resources in the process of coping with adversity. Additional focus on what resources resilient entrepreneurs acquire from social ties, how they acquire them, and how they deploy them are promising areas for future research.

Resilience Processes in Entrepreneurship Research

Shepherd, Saade, and Wincent (2020) conducted a qualitative study of entrepreneurship and resilience in conditions of persistent adversity. Their research is notable in that it examines a number of aspects of resilience, including resilience outcomes. However, of particular interest in this section is the fact that Shepherd et al. (2020) discovered that adversity prompts some individuals to act entrepreneurially, and that entrepreneurship, in turn, may lead to resilience outcomes. Therefore, entrepreneurship becomes a part of the process of responding to adversity and serves as a mechanism of resilience. Shepherd et al. (2020) conducted a qualitative study of Palestinian individuals living in Lebanon, both inside and out of refugee camps. Some of these refugees were prompted to start their own businesses because of the vocational constraints placed on them in the country they were forced to flee to. They noted that those refugees who acted entrepreneurially worked to overcome the numerous constraints placed on them and also were often motivated to start and run their business to help fellow refugees. As a result of engaging in entrepreneurship, these individuals were able to realize resilient outcomes such as self-reliance and proactive problem-solving. Entrepreneurship also served as a mechanism of resilience in that it allowed these entrepreneurs to create additional social network connections. This, in turn, also led to resilient outcomes (Shepherd et al., 2020). Again, entrepreneurship was part of the process of responding to adversity, and served as a mechanism of resilience for some refugees. This research exemplifies the idea of resilience as a process because it analyzes qualitative accounts of the actions taken by individuals to overcome a specific type of adversity and also recognizes the recursive nature of resilience processes and outcomes.

Similarly, Williams and Shepherd (2016) studied individuals’ responses to the Black Saturday bushfires in Australia. In particular, they examined how the human capital of survivors impacted their ability to realize resilient outcomes after the disaster. The researchers discovered that only when individuals utilized their human capital to create a new venture to alleviate the suffering of other victims, did their human capital have a positive impact on their post-disaster functioning (i.e., resilience outcome). Here again, engaging in entrepreneurial activity served as a mechanism through which individuals could adapt to adverse circumstances and thereby display resilience in the face of severe challenges. Specifically, Williams and Shepherd (2016) suggested that entrepreneurial activity acts as a mechanism of resilience because it allows individuals to “deploy resource reserves toward future gains” (p. 380). This highlights the potential for entrepreneurship to facilitate the process of adapting to certain challenges and points to entrepreneurial activity as a potential mechanism in the process of realizing individual-level resilience outcomes. This study is an example of resilience as a process because it investigates the subjects before, during, and after a specific instance of adversity and thereby the actions taken to adapt to that adversity.

Each of these studies examines entrepreneurs’ responses to a specific instance or type of adversity and thus analyzes resilience “in action.” Future work in this domain may dig deeper to examine the unfolding psychological process of entrepreneurs’ resilient responses to adversity. This would likely require a case study approach so as to capture the details and sequences of thoughts and behaviors related to entrepreneurial resilience in response to an adverse situation.

Resilience as an Outcome

Resilience has also been characterized as an outcome or set of outcomes that individuals may realize after facing adversity. In the psychology literature, Bonanno et al. (2011) defined resilience as “an outcome pattern following a potentially traumatic event characterized by a stable trajectory of healthy psychological and physical functioning” (p. 513). In this case, resilience can be identified after the fact in the behaviors and cognitions of the individual who has faced a challenge. Indeed, it is the minimal or lack of symptoms that many individuals display after trauma that first inspired research into resilience, or what Masten (2001) called “ordinary magic” (p. 227).

Naturally, continued functioning after an adverse event will appear different for different individuals. However, the psychology literature has tended to look at physical and mental health outcomes, including the absence of depression, anxiety, and somatization. Respondents’ satisfaction with their lives and the absence of post-traumatic stress symptoms, have also been considered to constitute resilience outcomes (Seery et al., 2010). For example, Bonanno, Galea, Bucciarelli, and Vlahov (2007) studied the resilience of individuals following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and looked specifically at either zero or one PTSD symptom as an indicator of resilience.

These models in psychology tend to examine outcomes of more general (i.e., not role-specific) and severe instances of adversity. Therefore, it is possible that a set of more relevant resilience outcomes for the role of an entrepreneur may be related more so to their work. In this vein, Britt et al. (2016) developed a theoretical model of employee resilience. In their model, they identified well-being, the presence of healthy relationships, and job performance as resilience outcomes (Britt et al., 2016). These, presumably, also apply to individuals in their role as an entrepreneur. The entrepreneurship literature, however, points to a more specific set of resilience outcomes that entrepreneurs may realize.

Resilience Outcomes in Entrepreneurship Research

Shepherd et al. (2020), also examined the resilience outcomes that refugee entrepreneurs were able to realize. They considered these outcomes to represent “positive functioning in the face of adversity” (Shepherd et al., 2020, p. 8). They noted that most of the refugee entrepreneurs that they interviewed were able to realize resilient outcomes, including proactive problem-solving, establishing a connection with a broader purpose, as well as self-reliance. However, certain refugee entrepreneurs were also able to remain realistically optimistic and to find a sense of belonging in several sociocultural groups. For instance, some refugee entrepreneurs who lived or worked outside the refugee camps were able to establish connections with individuals outside the camps, and thereby developed a sense of identity related to both their home country and the country they had sought refuge in (Shepherd et al., 2020). These outcomes also served to facilitate the entrepreneurial actions of the refugees. Perhaps more so in this study than in other existing studies in the entrepreneurship literature, Shepherd et al. (2020) recognized the recursive relationships of resilience processes, outcomes, and capabilities.

Resilience is also important to entrepreneurs because many will face the failure of one or more ventures (Corner, Singh, & Pavlovich, 2017). Byrne and Shepherd (2015) have noted one potential downfall of resilience as it relates to entrepreneurial failure. In a qualitative study of the emotions and cognitions experienced by business owners following the failure of their venture, the authors labeled those individuals who only experienced primarily positive emotions after the failure as resilient. However, these individuals displayed little ability to actually make sense of the failure of their business and thereby were unable to maximize learning from the failure. As Byrne and Shepherd noted, this suggests a need for future research on how emotions, including those associated with resilience, impact entrepreneurial sensemaking and other important outcomes.

Studies of the outcomes of resilience, like those that utilize the process perspective, necessitate that the researcher identifies a particular instance or type of adversity that the entrepreneur has endured. Future research in this area may be able to pinpoint additional specific outcomes of entrepreneurial resilience; that is to say, what “sustained functioning,” or the “absence of negative symptoms” after facing a challenge, looks like at the level of the individual entrepreneur.

Scholarly Debates on Resilience

It is very likely that debates will continue to surface as to the true nature of resilience—is it a capacity, a process, or an outcome? However, it is also possible that resilience takes all three forms. Some individuals have an innate and/or developed latent potential for resilience (i.e., resilience capabilities). Likewise, resilience is displayed in the cognitions and behaviors that individuals use to respond to and adapt to specific instances of adversity (i.e., resilience processes). Also, it is possible that resilience is reflected in signs of positive adaptation, such as continued functioning, after the fact (i.e., resilience outcomes). Perhaps these three aspects of resilience are simply dependent upon the researchers’ perspective of their subjects, whether it be prospective (before facing adversity), concurrent (during the process of facing adversity), or retrospective (examining outcomes of having faced adversity). It is suggested that researchers, no matter their focus, specify which aspect(s) of resilience they are focusing on, and measure the construct appropriately. For example, the processes of resilience cannot be measured in the absence of actual adversity, because these processes are resilience “in action.”

Debates about the construct of resilience extend beyond those mentioned. Many of these debates are rooted in the psychology literature, but they also extend to and thereby influence research on entrepreneurial resilience. Different deliberations are more or less relevant to each of the aspects of resilience under study. Of particular interest to the conceptualization of resilience as a capability is disagreement over whether resilience is an inherent trait, or whether it is a set of skills that are learned and developed.

In the first part of the 21st century, there has been a movement away from the idea of resilience as a completely innate trait, and thus it may be more correct to say that there is a lack of consensus over the degree to which resilience is inherent or learned (Olsson et al., 2015). For example, research shows that resilient individuals are able to find positive meaning in challenges and adversity (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004). Therefore, it seems likely that those who are naturally optimistic would also be more resilient. Yet research has also demonstrated that those who have weathered a moderate amount of adversity appear to be more resilient to stressors than those who have encountered little or no adversity (Seery et al., 2010). This suggests that the capabilities associated with resilience are developed over time.

The extent to which resilience can be developed is of interest to entrepreneurship scholars because it has implications for efforts to intentionally develop resilience in entrepreneurs. Given the high failure rate of new ventures, the ability to overcome and move forward from failures is absolutely essential to the success of any entrepreneur’s career (Hayward et al., 2010). Future research could focus on the degree to which resilience can be cultivated in entrepreneurs, and more importantly, to understanding how such skills can be learned and developed.

The study of resilience as a process involves examining individuals’ reaction and adjustment to a challenge or stressor. Accordingly, disagreement relevant to this conceptualization of resilience relates to the level of functioning resilient individuals maintain during challenging times. For example, a prevalent definition of resilience in the psychology literature is that provided by Tugade and Fredrickson (2004), which conceptualizes resilience as the ability to bounce back and adapt after experiencing adversity. This implies that resilient individuals may first experience some decline in functioning from which they can recover. Conversely, in the management literature, the definition provided by Williams et al. (2017) suggested that resilient individuals maintain their level of functioning “prior to, during, and following adversity” (p. 742). Similarly, Bonanno et al. (2011) described a trajectory of resilience as one with very little disruption in functioning following a potentially traumatic event. Conversely, in the entrepreneurship literature, Corner et al. (2017) suggested in their qualitative study of failure that a resilient trajectory after an experience of failure can entail at least a mild, temporary, disruption in psychological and emotional functioning. Although it seems likely that even resilient entrepreneurs experience negative effects from an adverse event, future research may be necessary to understand if resilience does indeed entail an initial decline in functioning, and what types of psychological, emotional, and venture-related states exemplify this functioning.

In the study of resilience as an outcome, the focus is the end state of the individual after having encountered adversity. Relatedly, there is some disagreement in the literature as to the nature of the adaptation that resilient individuals undergo and its results. After having adapted to a challenge, do resilient entrepreneurs ultimately (perhaps after some length of time) return only to their pre-adversity level of functioning, or do they experience some growth and enhanced functioning? As noted exemplified in the definition provided by Williams et al. (2017), some scholars only point to the ability of resilient individuals to maintain functioning, not necessarily to grow, following adversity. Indeed, the model in Carver (1998) indicated that resilience is exemplified by only a recovery to the normal level of functioning. Conversely, Richardson (2002), in his model of disruption and reintegration, described a resilient trajectory as one that involves growth and gaining insight. This allows the individual to become more resilient in the future, for having experienced and recovered from adversity in the past (Richardson, 2002). A similar idea was supported in Seery et al. (2010) who found that those who had endured more adversity were also less affected by more recent challenges and negative events. In the entrepreneurship literature, the resilience outcomes identified by Shepherd et al. (2020), which included the ability of refugee entrepreneurs to find multiple sources of belonging, also seem to represent gains. In other words, it is possible that resiliency is reflected in the ability to learn, grow, and become more resilient from facing challenges (Richardson, 2002). Future research could focus on how and if resilient entrepreneurs experience gains through facing adversity.


Research on entrepreneurial resilience appears to be at a nascent stage, with much future potential. Entrepreneurship scholars have begun to draw on the psychology literature in order to understand resilience as a capability, process, and outcome. However, because the general concept of individual-level resilience has taken on many forms, it is likely that differing perspectives will also be reflected in research on entrepreneurial resilience. Nonetheless, it is through theoretical debate and discussion, accompanied by empirical testing, that entrepreneurship scholars may help to move the understanding of this construct forward, while providing useful insights to practitioners.


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