While start-up activities are an important component when trying to understand an emerging organization, it is also important to develop an understanding of the individuals involved in the start-up process. It has been estimated that at any one time over 500 million people globally are involved in the process of starting up a new venture (Reynolds, Bygrave, & Autio, 2003). Organizational emergence involves those activities and events that are undertaken before an organization becomes an organization. Organizational emergence is a dynamic process involving activities such as obtaining resources, developing products, hiring employees and seeking funding.
The individuals who undertake purposeful actions to construct an organization based on their vision are referred to as nascent entrepreneurs (Aldrich, 1999; Baron, 1998, 2000; Bird, 1988). These nascent entrepreneurs may form an organization on their own, or work with others in a team (Aldrich, 1999). Early research on entrepreneurial cognition looked at what is now known as “trait research.” Trait factors included characteristics such as age, marital status and family background. Typically these traits were easy to identify and readily measurable (they included items such as gender, education, family, and race).

According to Katz and Gartner (1988) organizational emergence has four basic properties. One is intentionality. This is the purposeful effort involved in organization emergence. Organizations are created by individuals acting purposefully, and therefore it is the entrepreneurial intentions that lead to activities involved in organization creation (Bird, 1988; Shook, Priem, & McGee, 2003). Secondly we have resources. They are tangible building blocks of an organization. Studies examining the role of resources in new ventures find that different resource configurations influence new firm success, firm resources interact with firm strategies and entrepreneurs “make do”with the resources that they have (Baker & Nelson, 2004; Brush et al. 2001; Chandler & Hanks 1994; Edelman, Brush, & Manolova, 2005).
In third place there is a boundary, the creation of protected or formalized area in which emergence occurs. Boundary is the “space” where the organization exerts some control over the resources in its environment. Boundaries can be determined by social relations, time, legal and formal contracts, and physical and spatial considerations (Scott 1987). Early boundary-defining actions include deciding on which people to hire, how jobs are structured, and how new members interact with each other, including how they interact with people outside the organization (Aldrich, 1999). Finally there's the exchange at fourth place which is the crossing of boundaries to either secure inputs (e.g., resources) or outputs of the organization.
While exchange can occur within the boundaries of an organization (i.e., across different areas of the organization), for small fledgling firms, most exchanges occur across organizational boundaries or between firms. Exchanges are inherent in the social contract: employees or participants in the organization agree to perform certain work in exchange for pay, rights, or privileges (Weick, 1979). Resources are acquired through an exchange process while goods and services are produced and exchanged across boundaries of the organization (Scott, 1987).
Trait research has largely been undercut by more recent scholarship, however work in this area still exists on specific key individual dimensions. Previous experience in starting one’s own firm has been found to correlate with start-up behavior (Cooper & Gimeno-Gascon, 1992). The level of education has been explored in international studies of nascent entrepreneurs, with the general finding that individuals with medium to high levels of education are more likely to engage in start-up behaviors (Arenius & De Clerck, 2005; Delmar & Davidsson, 2000). However, traits such as previous management experience, and amount of work experience have not been found to lead to new venture start-up (Aldrich & Kim, 2005; Delmar & Davidsson, 2000).
Another extension of the work on intentions is a recent study on the reasons why nascent entrepreneurs choose entrepreneurship as a career (Carter, Gartner, Shaver, & Gatewood, 2003). Counter to many of the common notions about entrepreneurship, the results found that financial success and innovation were not primary reasons why people started their own businesses. The study examined the importance of (a) financial success, (b) innovation, (c) recognition, (d) independence, and (e) self-realization by comparing nascent entrepreneurs to a control group of non entrepreneurs. None of the variables studied were found to have a singular impact on the start-up motivations of nascent entrepreneurs, suggesting that motivations behind starting a new venture are complex and interrelated.
Moving away from intentions, other scholars use the idea of entrepreneurial cognition in their work as well. Cooper, Woo, and Dunkelberg (1988) discovered that entrepreneurs believe their own chances of success are very high - higher than the chances of success they perceive for other firms. Gatewood, Shaver, and Gartner (1995) found that the cognitive beliefs associated with entrepreneurial persistence vary by gender. Finally, Forbes (1999) provided a comprehensive review of the literature on cognition and nascent entrepreneurs. One important, boundary-spanning activity in which nascent firms are involved is the development of relationships, or social capital, with others who are outside the newly defined boundaries of the firm.
Recently, a number of empirical studies have examined the role played by social capital in the process of starting a new venture. Davidsson and Honig (2003) found a general pattern of the increasing importance of social capital over the startup period. Their findings suggest that not only is the developmental and use of social capital a necessary component of growing a new venture, but also that as a resource, social capital becomes increasingly important as young firms move beyond the initial start-up phase and into growth. Kim, Aldrich, and Keister (2003) found a positive effect between the decision to become nascent entrepreneurs and the number of relatives who own their own businesses.
This finding suggests that mentoring and family ties are important when starting a new firm, implying that it may be possible to transfer social capital among friends and family. International studies on nascent entrepreneurs indicate that those who know others who are self-employed, and hence have more extensive social networks, are more than twice as likely to start a new venture (Arenius & Minniti 2005).