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Biography & Abstract
Stratos Ramoglou

Stratos is Professor of Entrepreneurship Studies and Head of the Department of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (DSIE) at the University of Southampton, UK. He holds a PhD and an MPhil from the University of Cambridge and currently conducts research on the conceptual foundations of entrepreneurship studies.

Rethinking the knowledge problems of entrepreneurship

“What is an opportunity?” This question has preoccupied entrepreneurship research for more than a couple of decades. In response to this question, entrepreneurship researchers typically engage in “deep philosophical debates” (Henderson & Graebner, 2020: 1433) – working on the assumption they are confronted with a “profound philosophical question” (Kirzner, 2009: 150). Thus, scholars often debate whether opportunities exist as discoverable, created, or imaginable entities (Bylund & Packard, 2021; McBride & Wuebker, 2022; Ramoglou & Tsang, 2016).

Recently, Ramoglou and McMullen (2024) argued that the “big” question – the “holy grail” of entrepreneurship theory – is not, in fact, a difficult question that only penetrating academic intellects can penetrate. Instead, they argued that it is nothing but a pseudoquestion: There is simply no entity named opportunity – discovered, created, imagined, or actualized things are not opportunities but respectively ideas, products, ventures, or results (inter alia). This critique is inspired by Wittgensteinian philosophy. For Wittgenstein, bogus ontological riddles emerge when language “goes on holiday” (1958) and can be resolved only once we bring ordinary concepts back to their ordinary uses.

Following this method, Ramoglou and McMullen (2024) accordingly clarified that opportunity-talk is not thing-talk but possibility-talk and elucidated that the opportunity concept works against the backdrop of the ABC model: A stands for imagined futures, B for ways of actualizing them, and C for causes (reasons) making imagined futures possible (or entrepreneurs confident). In an extension of this perspective, McMullen and colleagues, define opportunities as “the desirable and ex ante unknowable possibilities that can actualize by means of entrepreneurial action whenever the right set of conditions exists” (2024: 3; emphasis added).

I maintain that these recent conceptual developments do not only allow us to get out of blind alleys regarding the nature of opportunities; as importantly, the clarity afforded by grounding the opportunity concept firmly in ordinary understandings allows us to further rethink interrelated entrepreneurial phenomena as well. It is in this spirit that I would wish to explore what these developments entail for how we can rethink the so-called “knowledge problems” of entrepreneurship (Knight, 1921; Townsend et al., 2018). More specifically, I would wish to scrutinize whether the possibilities at the core of entrepreneurship are invariably “ex ante unknowable possibilities” (McMullen et al., 2024: 3). In so doing, I intend to revisit and critically reexamine Ramoglou’s (2021) pessimism about the possibility of opportunity knowledge – an epistemic pessimism reproduced by Townsend and colleagues’ (2024) evaluation of the prospects of AI technologies to help us overcome problems of Knightian uncertainty. To this end, I ask a deceptively simple question: Can we know what can happen in contexts of Knightian uncertainty? I advocate a more optimistic perspective provided that we enhance analytical clarity on key concepts and logical relationships. In particular, I maintain that we should move beyond the standard “knowable / unknowable dichotomies”, and patiently study subquestions, such as, 1) do claims of modal knowledge vis-à-vis claims of event knowledge require different epistemological approaches, 2) when and how may opportunities be knowable and for whom, and 3) what kind of knowledge are we talking about in the first place when we talk about the knowledge of “an opportunity”, and 4) How does AI reshape epistemological landscapes in which entrepreneurs venture? I plan to sketch out some initial responses.

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