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Entrepreneurial Failure

Failure is the most likely outcome in entrepreneurship. To succeed, entrepreneurs must know how to learn and recover from failure. Resilience and agility are even more important for women and under-represented minority entrepreneurs, who may face less tolerance of failure. Building on her dissertation, titled “Embracing Failure: How Failure Rhetoric and the Peer Network Influence Entrepreneurial Success,” Dr. Santana’s research investigates how entrepreneurs can successfully navigate failure and transform it into a competitive advantage.


Publications & Projects

Misty Slope

Embracing Failure: A Socio-Computational Analysis of Entrepreneurial Failure Narratives

(under review)

Failure narratives tell the story of “what happened.” However, these stories are more than causal explanations. This study inductively analyzes failure narratives as living artifacts within a social context to address a critical gap in the theorization of learning from organizational failure: how leaders of failed organizations recover their reputation. In this study, I present a hybrid model of learning from failure that includes not only causal explanation but also social identification as mechanisms for failure recovery. I apply a mixed methodology of inductive, qualitative content analysis, computational natural language processing, and correspondence analysis to a novel dataset of public peer-to-peer entrepreneurial failure narratives. Through an empirical analysis of entrepreneurial failure narratives, I show that narrators not only explain failure but also embrace it to identify with the entrepreneurial community. My analysis demonstrates that failure narratives are more than causal accounts and attributions of blame. These narratives are expressive, semiotic displays of identity talk in which failure is a social “performance.”

Remedial Boundary Work and Gatekeeper Centrality in a Virtual Entrepreneur Community. by J. Santana. 2022. 

Front. Commun. 6:753329.

doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2021.753329

Virtual communities of practice invoke novel forms of boundary work that are newly visible via publicly recorded discourse and failure narratives. This boundary work has critical implications for occupational knowledge, membership, and stratification. Building on social exchange theorization of network gatekeeping, the author tests the assumption that centralized peers are more competitive gatekeepers, in that they react more negatively to remedial narratives. The author tests this theory using empirical data from a virtual entrepreneur community on Reddit. The author finds that a peer’s tenure in the community network is directly related to exclusive, competitive boundary work of remedial members. However, by looking beyond the network structure to the content of the tie, the author finds that exclusive boundary work is not as impactful as inclusive, collaborative boundary work in this open network setting. The author builds on relational cohesion and exchange commitment theory to explain how remedial practitioners circumvent central community gatekeepers through failure narratives that provoke empathy from peripheral peers who experience higher uncertainty than core peers. Understanding these dynamics is critical to promoting recovery from failure and vitality of the community of practice.


Positive Business Closure

(in press at Journal of the International Council for Small Business)

Business closure can be positive or negative, and negative closure has social, financial, and psychological costs that influence entrepreneurial and organizational learning. This study addresses the question of what attributes influence an entrepreneur’s likelihood of a positive or negative closure. Using data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s annual Adult Population Survey, I find that women and non-US entrepreneurs are more likely to have negative closures, which means they incur more costs from failure that can discourage or prevent them from trying again.

Public Peer-to-Peer Entrepreneurial Failure Narratives

(under review)

Entrepreneurs must carefully navigate failure. In this paper, I inductively theorize one mechanism for navigating failure: the public peer-to-peer entrepreneurial failure narrative (PPEFN). Using interview and narrative data, I show that entrepreneurs often write PPEFNs and that the peer audience is large and important. I taxonomize the entrepreneurial failure narrative and define the characteristics of the PPEFN to scope this phenomenon. Finally, I argue that peers are an ideally situated audience for making sense of failure while avoiding the stigma associated with failure because they are close enough to the failure experience to understand it but not so close to be harmed by it. Because of this privileged position, entrepreneurs can turn to peers to learn from failure, collectively redefine failure on more positive terms, access necessary social capital, and re-affirm their entrepreneurial identity, which all contribute to recovery from failure and entrepreneurial persistence. I further propose that this peer engagement is made possible, vitally so in the case of isolated entrepreneurs, through the publication of the failure narrative.

Misty Slope