Copreneurs Experiencing Entrepreneurial Failure: A We-Ness Perspective

Corrick, Steven Cameron
Cooper-Thomas, Helena
Singh, Smita
Ho, Marcus
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

Scholars acknowledge that a substantial proportion of entrepreneurial activity involves couples in committed relationships; however, the effect and implications of their efforts remain under-investigated. Because couples share in entrepreneurship’s success or failure, they are conceptualised as copreneurial couples.

The phenomenon of entrepreneurial failure is receiving increasing attention. However, the impact of this experience on copreneurs and how they cope with it in their relationship is not well understood. The lack of research at the dyadic level of copreneurs is surprising since entrepreneurial endeavours failing can significantly impact a copreneurial couple’s well-being and even end their relationship. The primary aim of this thesis is to understand entrepreneurial failure from the perspective of copreneurs who have endured the experience.

This research draws principally on the concept of we-ness to reflect copreneurs’ experience of shared identity and is understood as each person’s sense of interdependent unity with the other. We-ness benefits couples by increasing their capacity to cope with difficult life events and sustain relationships. It provides a valuable lens through which this study can view the significant and challenging experience of entrepreneurial failure.

The overarching research question for this thesis is: “How do copreneurial couples experience entrepreneurial failure from their we-ness perspective?” The two supporting subquestions are: “How does the experience of entrepreneurial failure transform copreneurial couples’ sense of we-ness?” and “How do copreneurial couples maintain their sense of we-ness following entrepreneurial failure?” These questions are explored using the theoretical perspective of narrative identity to understand copreneurial couples’ sense of we-ness conveyed through their storytelling.

This study explores how 12 copreneurial couples experienced entrepreneurial failure. Jointly told stories were the primary data source, but individual stories were also collected to enhance interpretation. This research extends the understanding of entrepreneurial failure to the level of copreneurs.

This study firstly shows how entrepreneurial failure can threaten and sometimes cause the loss of valued personal identities, leading to instability in the copreneurial relationship. Attempts by individuals to safeguard these important identities, or the personal consequences of identity loss, can lead to relationship tensions and subsidence of we-ness, hindering their ability to cope as a copreneurial couple.

Secondly, this research provides a theoretical understanding of how copreneurs can naturally use various identity work strategies to maintain and rebalance their sense of we-ness. These strategies allowed copreneurs to downplay the negativity of failure, align their social values and beliefs, reconcile conflicting individual needs, and reinforce how ongoing entrepreneurship is vital to their sense of we-ness.

Thirdly, this study shows that copreneurs endeavour to preserve we-ness as a location to construct new, positive shared meaning from their experiences of failure. These findings can benefit entrepreneurs, policymakers, educators, and therapists by highlighting the importance of viewing entrepreneurial failure as a shared experience in copreneurial relationships. Some copreneurs can naturally access strategies to cope with failure at the level of we-ness, while others may require assistance. This study provides insight into how copreneurs can use various strategies to negotiate solutions helping to sustain their relationships.

Publisher's version
Rights statement