Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Allen Batteau


The intention of this research is to reveal the humanity of the startup experience for American growth companies. What is it about the growth entrepreneurship experience that has been hidden from view? Can we begin to articulate a holistic view of entrepreneurship--including those human universals and culture-bound particulars that must be successfully navigated?

This study is an ethnographic account of three Detroit-based entrepreneurial communities and the people within them. This research examines the sociocultural features of entrepreneurship on three levels. The first level of context for growth businesses to be studied is that of their entrepreneurial community. These communities have unique properties that shape the strategies for companies operating within them. The second level of study is organizational. Understanding the factors that catalyzed the emergence, transitions and culture of a business can yield important insights. The third level of study is through the perspective of the entrepreneur, understanding their activities and motivations.

Activity theory is used as a guiding theoretical framework for the research. Four categories of activity systems are identified as important for business development: organizing, networking, pitching and nurturing. The dissertation findings reveal insights about organizational culture, representation, kinship, magic and faith.