Biculturalism and entrepreneurship

What is the biculturalism theory of entrepreneurship?

Biculturalism refers to an individual characteristic that develops as a result of exposure to two cultures. The typical case is the immigrant who lands and must learn the host countries local culture and in doing so adopts elements of a second culture.

The Al-Shammari team examines individuals with bi-cultural skills and experiences: "those who are exposed to different cultures and environments will experience different types of experiences in their social interactions and thus will accumulate rich knowledge that is diverse" (page 7). They theorize that biculturalism provides advantages in the opportunity recognition, evaluation, selection and exploitation stages. They find that bicultural individuals have advantages in the earlier stages, but struggle with exploitation (due to institutional constraints), unless they are able to build networks in the host country.

This is an interesting theory, though obviously lends itself to an extension to multiculturalism, which would be a label given to those individuals exposed to two or more other cultures. A multicultural individual would be exposed to three or more cultures and theory accumulate an even more diverse set of experiences that could help with recognizing, choosing and exploiting opportunities. Perhaps, however, the richness wanes with each additional layer of lore.

There is the obvious problem too, of differentiating between cultures, making cases of inter-country migration easiest to measure, as compared to state or provincial cultural differences. It also can be extended to the great variety that exists within the subcultures of any given culture, and the potential to experiences many such subcultures. Perhaps cultural distance matters such that individuals with exposure to multiple cultures that are more distant from each other benefit more (or less). Perhaps there is an inverted U-shaped relationship where at some point more exposures (or greater differences) have diminishing returns.

The theory also may complement others theories such as the misfit theory, which looks at the disadvantages that immigrants face in the job market to explain why immigrants are more likely to chose entrepreneurship as a career path. The are also some similarities with Hoselitz's theory, which suggests that individuals from highly developed cultures are particularly apt to start new ventures in their host countries. It also resonates somewhat with the withdrawal of status respect theory that suggests entrepreneurs come from the progeny of previously high status groups.

It would be interesting to be able to design a test that would differentiate individuals (in particular, immigrants) based on the various theories to see which theories are supported and which are refuted.


Al-Shammari, M., and Al Shammari, H. (2018). Biculturalism and entrepreneurship: An introductory research note (A). International Journal of Entrepreneurship, 22(1), 1-11.

Al-Shammari, M., and Al Shammari, H. (2018). The impact of bicultural knowledge, skills, abilities and other experiences (ksaos) on individual entrepreneurial behavior: the context of entrepreneurial discovery, evaluation and implementation. International Journal of Entrepreneurship, 22(2).

This is an insightful talk by a bicultural student:


Paul said…
It certainly seems plausible that exposure to two or more cultures can contribute to entrepreneurship. However, it's debatable that this is a major role. Immigrants typically have a great deal of initiative - otherwise why would they have left their country of origin? Plenty of people prefer to stay in their own country, even in adverse circumstances. The immigrants are the ones who have the drive to move to another country, and sufficient self-confidence and self-reliance to believe they can make a go of it. It's not surprising that someone who has these internal resources will be willing to go out of his comfort zone and start up a business.

Having said that, entrepreneurship also requires thinking outside the box and challenging ones own assumptions. It is much easier to do that when you've had the shock of moving to a new and different environment, which forces you to question your long-cherished beliefs about the right and wrong way to do things. That would seem to be a quality that would benefit a potential entrepreneur.