Dissertation: Start-ups are the counterculture of the markets

The burgeoning start-up culture means that speculative entrepreneurship based on hypothetical products has become a generally accepted form of entrepreneurship. Start-up culture offers a means of identifying as an entrepreneur without a clear stream of income or even a concrete product. Start-ups are also capable of pivoting rapidly and completely transforming the main product idea without a major identity crisis. These are the findings in a doctoral dissertation to be examined at the University of Helsinki.

According to the dissertation, the institutions, concepts and conventions of the start-up world are breaking away from the general consensus in the corporate world which considers entrepreneurship a financial pursuit. Start-ups occupy their own spaces, but they also inhabit a separate conceptual sphere which is different from mainstream entrepreneurship.

 “Seeking a separate space allows start-ups to speculate on the opportunities afforded by new technology in peace. Financial speculation is only tentatively added to technological and social speculation later, in the form of monetisation and business models,” explains MSocSc Antti Hyrkäs.  

Start-ups have their own language and culture

In his dissertation, Hyrkäs examined start-up stories and guides as well as the concepts surrounding this subset of entrepreneurship. Most of the material is from US business magazines, in addition to which Hyrkäs went to San Francisco and attended start-up events there to collect additional data.

 “Traditional concepts of growth entrepreneurship were insufficient for the start-up world, which wound up developing its own language. The start-up scene is similar to a subculture, or even a counterculture," says Hyrkäs.

According to the doctoral dissertation, product development outside the market is not a new concept in itself – what is new is how it has crystallised and grown into a full-blown cultural phenomenon with many followers.

 “Anyone can see this, for example, at the presentations and talks at Slush. Now start-up culture is even attracting companies which are not start-ups by any stretch of the imagination. Major corporations and politicians also want in on this world of speculation and hypotheses," says Hyrkäs.

 “It’s made ‘speculative growth entrepreneurship’ into a household word, which is drawing in an astounding number of people."

Start-up buzz doesn’t always mean growth entrepreneurship  

Hyrkäs does advise caution in terms of politics, as the buzz around start-ups is not directly related to robust growth in new business.

 “Perhaps statistics should differentiate between start-ups and other growth enterprises. At the moment, start-up statistics are primarily drafted by private companies, such as CB Insights, and venture capitalist organisations, such as the NVCA.”

According to the researcher, political investments in the start-up scene in general are a gamble.

Hyrkäs explains, “Technology start-ups aren’t a sound line of business.”


MSocSc Antti Hyrkäs will defend his doctoral dissertation Startup Complexity - Tracing the Conceptual Shift Behind Disruptive Entrepreneurship in a public defence on 20 December 2016 at 10.15 at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Social Sciences. The public examination will take place in Auditorium XII.

Associate Professor Morten Knudsen, Copenhagen Business School, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Matti Kortteinen as custos.

The dissertation will be published in the series Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The dissertation can be purchased through Unigrafia Bookstore.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the e-thesis service.

Contact details:

Antti Hyrkäs

Tel. +358 50 469 6071