Starting an entrepreneurial endeavor is an uncertain and ambiguous project. This uncertainty and ambiguity make it difficult for entrepreneurs to generate much needed resources and support. In order to address this difficulty, a new venture needs to establish legitimacy, which entails being perceived as desirable, proper, or appropriate within the socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions within which it operates. New venture legitimacy is generated from various sources and hence has three broad dimensions—a cognitive, a moral, and a pragmatic dimension. The cognitive dimension accounts for the extent to which the activities and purpose of a venture are understood by key audiences and how knowledge about that venture spreads. The moral dimension reflects the extent to which a venture is perceived to be doing the right thing. The pragmatic dimension accounts for the extent to which a new venture serves the interests of critical constituents. All three of these dimensions factor into a legitimacy assessment of a new venture. Legitimacy is important for new ventures because it helps them overcome their liabilities of newness, allowing them to mobilize resources and engage in transactions, thereby increasing their chances of survival and success.
Although legitimacy matters for almost all new ventures, it is most critical if an entrepreneur engages in activities that are new and novel, such as establishing a new industry or market or creating a new product or technology. In these circumstances, it is most important for entrepreneurs to strategically establish and manage a new venture’s legitimacy. The strategic establishment and management of new venture legitimacy may entail arranging venture elements to conform with the existing environment, selecting key environments in which to operate, manipulating elements of the external environment to align with venture activities, or creating a whole new social context to accommodate a new venture. Enacting each of these new venture legitimation strategies may necessitate employing identity, associative, and organizational mechanisms. Identity mechanisms include cultural tools and identity claims such as images, symbols, and language by entrepreneurs to enhance new venture legitimacy. Associative mechanisms reflect the formation of relationships and connections with other individuals and entities to establish new venture legitimacy. Organizational mechanisms account for manipulating the organization and structure of a new venture and the achievement of success measures by that venture to attain legitimacy. Ultimately all of this is done so that various external parties, with different logics and perspectives, will evaluate a new venture as legitimate and be prepared to provide that venture with resources and support.