Do the networks always reveal the truth? The case of tripartite business incubator in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Anika Totojani

Purpose: The existing literature on business incubators has rarely addressed network establishments thus far. The purpose of this study is to shed light on the process of network formation and its structure during the incubator creation process. The study focuses on establishing a network involving three key types of partners in the initial phase of setting up four agribusiness incubators. These partners come from universities, research organisations and private companies operating in a developing context. Design/methodology/approach: This study uses social network theory, using a combination of qualitative and network survey approaches in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. The qualitative data were used to investigate partnership formation, while the network survey was conducted to map the organisational network of business incubator partners. Constructs of social network theory, including relational content, relational form, centrality of actors and instrumentality, were qualitatively measured in this study. Findings: The findings indicate that partners rely on previous informal relationships, which are formalised during the creation of business incubator partnerships. In the African context, once these relationships are formalised, they become part of what is referred to as business networks, irrespective of the nature of the relationship content. Personal networks serve as precursors to establishing organisational networks that cater to incubated firms. Incubator partners facilitate the networking process and enhance the formation of new connections in the early-stage partnership-based tripartite business incubators. They act as brokers, bridging structural holes by coordinating actors across the hole and linking disconnected nodes by activating their sub-networks. The results reveal that the partners' level of embeddedness in various organisational settings increases the diversity of contacts integrated into the incubator networks. In terms of relational content, partners tend to perceive the ties as business-oriented, even though the content of the relationship may differ. The strength of relationships depends on their formalization and the frequency of interaction. Research limitations/implications: The findings of the study contradict the reviewed social network literature, emphasising the necessity to adapt methodological approaches based on the cultural and institutional context in which they are applied. The social network questionnaire requires modification when used in different contexts and settings. Specifically, methodologies should be adjusted in situations where actors need to be discreet concerning their various relationships. It is important to note that organisational culture does influence actors' behaviours. Practical implications: This study is deemed relevant to managers and practitioners of business incubators alike. It highlights that understanding the contextual factors that influence networking practices, the type and strength of networks and the resources provided to participants are crucial elements that should be considered in future policy and intervention initiatives. Originality/value: This paper addresses the identified gap in examining network formation during the establishment of business incubators. The research is significant as it provides insights into networking at the incubator level of analysis within a tripartite business incubator setup. Ultimately, this paper helps increase our understanding of networking within the context of emerging countries.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Enterprising Communities
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited.

    Research areas

  • African countries, Business incubator, Partners, Relational content and strength, Social networks

ID: 361844213