Many of my past research projects have ended up with consistent observations about lifestyle entrepreneurs, so I have begun to put together some of these ideas into what I hope will become a proposal for research on the topic. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, lifestyle entrepreneurs are people who are in business but who are motivated primarily by lifestyle reasons. Some have suggested that profit maximization, innovation and rational business decisions are not as common with this group of individuals - or suggest that it is lifestyle vs. profit vs. lifestyle with profit.
For a good overview of some of the work in this area, Peters, Frehse and Buhalis (2009) have written a paper that pulls together some of the concepts of lifestyle entrepreneurship.
So far though, my reading on the topic and my experience as a researcher AND as a lifestyle entrepreneur are not necessarily consistent. Let me explain a few of these thoughts.
I have met a number of people in rural BC that I would classify as lifestyle entrepreneurs. They are often strongly connected to the place they live in and the lifestyle that they can have while living there. Many are "amenity migrants" having moved to a beautiful place after having visited it. Their business interests range widely but here is where my observations differ from some of the literature. These people are often highly innovative, and keen to profit from their business so that they can remain where they are and invest back into the place. They don't fit the mould so often attributed to lifestyle entrepreneurs as non profit focused innovation laggards. Now, there are other observations of perhaps a different cluster of these individuals as well. A number of them close their doors for the off season so they can ski, move somewhere else for a bit, or just take a break. They are less interested in finding ways to improve the off season because they want the time away from the business. In some planning sessions, community members have expressed frustration over these entrepreneurs because they are not open year round - assuming that all businesses should be interested in maximizing profits over other motivations. I have even been asked once at a presentation to the province - "do you mean that these lifestyle entrepreneurs are getting in the way of us doubling tourism in BC", to which I responded "that is your goal, but it is not theirs".
So, these observations of lifestyle entrepreneurs suggest that there are perhaps different clusters or types of them around. I believe we have much left to learn about them.
I mentioned I am also a lifestyle entrepreneur. I have operated an art and photography business part time for the past few years and have also opened a small gallery and guesthouse on our farm. I am profit oriented, with the hopes of someday being able to immerse myself fully in this work (yes, and leave this position!). I would also say that I am quite innovative in my business model and I am very prone to collaborative or cluster initiatives (as are my partners). But... I am not necessarily as attached to place as the entrepreneurs that I have come across in my travels around rural BC. So, is there a third grouping like me?
The reason this topic is of such interest to me is that I see lifestyle entrepreneurship as a great opportunity for repopulating rural Canada with people who are committed to place, but who also invest in regions and create employment opportunities. We will soon be at a stage where people will be able to work wherever they want to and the lower cost of living and high quality of life afforded in small communities may facilitate mobility into rural areas. I know of a number of small communities that are already developing innovative models to attract these individuals. If their efforts are to succeed and the transition to rural living smooth, we need to know more. Some of my questions include: how many lifestyle entrepreneurs are there? where are they most attracted to? What industries? What is their transition like? How are communities facilitating their transition? What does their business model look like? What contributions are they making to regions - economically, socially and environmentally?
If you are interested in exploring some of these questions, let me know as I am pooling together my ideas right now for proposal writing this spring.
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