Big dreams and bold steps: Becoming a startup entrepreneur in Silicon Valley

Hanna Maula

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This dissertation focuses on the entrepreneurial identity work of Finnish startup entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Most existing studies on entrepreneurial identity aim to identify the universal characteristics of entrepreneurial identity or to build causal links between identity and outcomes. As many entrepreneurship theories assume fairly stable views on entrepreneurial identity, little attention has been paid to the dynamic and complex nature of the phenomenon or to entrepreneurial identity work in the context of internationalization. In addition, the discursive approach has been largely ignored in research on startup entrepreneurship. This study aims to fill the gaps in previous research by taking a discursive approach on entrepreneurial identity work in the context of global mobility. Language use is considered essential as it has a fundamental role in both reflecting and constructing reality. Entrepreneurial identity is constructed in interaction with others and different articulations of "who I am" serve different purposes, legitimize entrepreneurial efforts, and are related to certain ideological underpinnings. The research produced three essays, which provide different perspectives on entrepreneurial identity work and taken together paint an overall picture of the phenomenon. This dissertation examines how entrepreneurial identities and personal growth stories are constructed by Finnish startup entrepreneurs in the context of global mobility. In particular, it shows the key helpers and opponents, who either support or hinder entrepreneurial efforts in the entrepreneurs' narratives. On the other hand, it adopts a critical and micro-linguistic approach to entrepreneurial identity. Both angles have been largely missing from existing research. The entrepreneurs use different discursive identity strategies and micro-level linguistic devices to construct hero identities and to reproduce masculinity and the dominant ideal view of entrepreneurship. In addition, they use fiction and fictive narratives in constructing entrepreneurial opportunities, entrepreneurial identity, and legitimacy. This dissertation suggests that entrepreneurs continuously construct, maintain, and shape their identities in and through discourse. It increases our understanding of entrepreneurial identity work as a dynamic, nuanced, and social phenomenon and highlights the role of time and place in entrepreneurial identity construction. By taking a discursive approach to entrepreneurial identity work, the dissertation contributes to a detailed understanding of entrepreneurial identity work and suggests that it is a much more complex phenomenon than earlier research has suggested.
Translated title of the contributionSuuria unelmia ja rohkeita askelia: kohti startup-yrittäjyyttä Piilaaksossa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Vaara, Eero, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7810-6
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7816-8
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • startup entrepreneurship
  • entrepreneurial identity
  • identity work
  • entrepreneurial opportunities
  • narrative analysis
  • critical discourse analysis


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