Entrepreneurial formulas. Business plans and the formation of new ventures

This paper studies the new venture formation process, and thus aims at improving our understanding of how markets and the economy are constantly being re-populated with new business entities. It does so by empirically analyzing the ways in which business plans contribute to the formation of new firms, and to the shape of these new firms, based on the telling cases of three French academic spin-offs.

Business plans, it is shown, participate in business formation by playing a major part, as inscriptions, in the textual and visual formulation of the new firms, on paper and beyond. Four different types of formulation are identified that coexist and complement each other within every plan.

The first one is a market formulation, thanks to which the business plan constitutes the new firm’s business model as the ultimate solution to a business problem—or opportunity.

The second formulation is an organizational one, which puts forward the specific combination of resources, e.g. technological and human, needed to carry out the proposed business model.

The third formulation is a financial one, which puts together the new firm as a worthy investment.

The fourth formulation is a legal one, which relies on contracts, e.g. loan contracts and real-estate leases, to demonstrate the actual availability of the promised resources.The paper shows that these four formulations are best understood as actual ‘formulas’—or ‘small forms’ of the firm, etymologically—and can be submitted to a highly heuristic comparison with, respectively, literary, chemical, mathematical and magical formulas.

Further, it argues that the business plan as a whole, which articulates these four formulas, is also best described as a formula: a hybrid yet standardized entrepreneurial formula, which shapes and thus restricts the types of new businesses entrepreneurs are encouraged to carry out. This approach refreshes the study of entrepreneurship by focusing on entrepreneurial work, methods and tools. In studying how business formation derives from the formulation of new firms, it also constitutes a careful and original development in the analysis of the performative power of accounting.