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Communicating entrepreneurial passion: Personal passion vs. perceived passion in venture pitches

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. December 1, 2016

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Research problem: Entrepreneurial passion has been shown to play an important role in venture success and, therefore, in investors’ funding decisions. However, it is unknown whether the passion entrepreneurs personally feel or experience can be accurately assessed by investors during a venture pitch. Research questions: (1) To what extent does entrepreneurs’ personal passion align with investors’ perceived passion? (2) To what cues do investors attend when assessing entrepreneurs’ passion? Literature review: Integrating theory and research in entrepreneurship communication and entrepreneurial passion within the context of venture pitching, we explain that during venture pitches, investors make judgments about entrepreneurs’ passion that have consequences for their investment decisions. However, they can attend to only those cues that entrepreneurs outwardly display. As a result, they may not be assessing the passion entrepreneurs personally feel or experience. Methodology: We used a sequential explanatory mixed methods research design. For our data collection, we surveyed 40 student entrepreneurs, video recorded their venture pitches, and facilitated focus groups with 16 investors who viewed the videos and ranked, rated, and discussed their perceptions of entrepreneurs’ passion. We conducted statistical analyses to assess the extent to which entrepreneurs’ personal passion and investors’ perceived passion aligned. We then performed an inductive analysis of critical cases to identify specific cues that investors attributed to passion or lack thereof. Results and conclusions: We revealed a large misalignment between entrepreneurs’ personal passion and investors’ perceived passion. Our critical case analysis demonstrated that entrepreneurs’ weak or strong presentation skills led investors either to underestimate or overestimate, respectively, perceptions of entrepreneurs’ passion. We suggest that entrepreneurs should develop specific presentation skills and rhetorical strategies for displaying their passion; at the same time, investors should be wary of attending too closely to presentation skills when assessing passion.