In the business world, where innovation and adaptability are paramount, the concept of transgenerational entrepreneurship has emerged as a beacon for family firms aiming to sustain and grow through generations. The 2010 paper by Timothy Habbershon, Mattias Nordqvist and Thomas M. Zellweger, titled “Transgenerational Entrepreneurship: Exploring Growth and Performance in Family Firms Across Generations” sheds light on this pivotal approach, which combines the entrepreneurial spirit with the unique dynamics of family firms to foster economic and social value across generations.

Transgenerational entrepreneurship, as defined by Habbershon, Nordqvist and Zellweger, involves processes through which a family develops entrepreneurial mindsets and leverages family-influenced capabilities to generate new streams of value. Streams of value do not only encompass material value but also immaterial value (reputation, social contacts, cohesion, etc.). This concept goes beyond the traditional focus on ownership and leadership succession, emphasizing the creation of entrepreneurial, financial, and social value that spans generations.

The research underscores the significance of family-influenced resources and cultural elements in maintaining entrepreneurial orientation within family businesses. It calls for a deeper understanding of the specific contexts within which these firms operate, including the factors that influence their approach to entrepreneurship. Autonomy, proactiveness, and owner-centric culture are essential components for fostering an entrepreneurial spirit that can be passed down through generations.

Through a series of case studies, the paper illustrates how family-influenced resources and culture can shape the entrepreneurial orientation of a business, ensuring its longevity and success. The evidence presented by the authors points to the entrepreneurial orientation construct, the multiple forms of support provided by business families, and the inherent tensions between the need for change and stability within family firms as key areas of interest.

The study also addresses the challenges of applying a single theoretical framework to the diverse issues faced by family businesses, such as succession planning, raising capital, and managing family conflicts. It suggests that a multifaceted approach, grounded in the unique setting of family firms, is essential for understanding and leveraging entrepreneurship in this context.

As a general approach, the study suggests that families should focus on fostering the following qualities in the younger generation:

  • Attitudes that promote an active stance in pursuing opportunities and taking risks.
  • Values that favor growth and innovation.
  • Beliefs that encourage the investigation of opportunities even when expansion is not immediately pressing or obvious.

The authors also highlight the need for families to support starting up new businesses, such as seed financing granted to family and non-family members, to promote entrepreneurialism.

In general, families need to focus more on how they can support young entrepreneurs. Again, it is not just the financial aspect that is important – non-financial factors are also as important, if not more important. Putting the Why (why should we as a family encourage the offspring to become entrepreneurs?) at the center will show the (strategic) importance and thus the need for “proper” support. I have too often seen a generous but not thought-through approach that solely focuses on the financial aspect (“Here is some money, go forth and be successful”) which boomerangs quickly if the economic impact is not realized.

The advantage a high-net-worth family has should not be turned into a disadvantage by setting unrealistic expectations and setting up the children to likely fail. At the heart of this issue is how we define expectations (and with that success and failure). Allowing a failure to happen may be the biggest gift years down the road.

In conclusion, the research on transgenerational entrepreneurship presented by Timothy Habbershon, Mattias Nordqvist, and Thomas M. Zellweger offers profound insights into how family businesses can thrive across generations. It underscores the importance of cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset and leveraging family-influenced capabilities to create enduring economic and social value. This approach transcends mere succession planning, focusing instead on fostering innovation, adaptability, and a culture of entrepreneurship that can be passed down through generations.

The key takeaway from the paper is the crucial role of cultural elements and family-influenced resources in maintaining an entrepreneurial orientation within family firms. It highlights the need for a nuanced understanding of the contexts in which these businesses operate and the challenges they face. Emphasizing autonomy, proactiveness, and an owner-centric culture as vital for sustaining entrepreneurship, the research calls for families to focus on nurturing attitudes, values, and beliefs that promote growth and innovation.

Moreover, the emphasis on both financial and non-financial support for young entrepreneurs signals a shift towards a more holistic approach to fostering entrepreneurship within family businesses. This approach not only recognizes the strategic importance of supporting the next generation but also cautions against the pitfalls of unstructured financial support. By placing the “Why” at the center of family support for entrepreneurship, the research advocates for a thoughtful, well-rounded approach that sets realistic expectations and embraces failure as a potential stepping stone to future success.

As family businesses look to the future, adopting the principles of transgenerational entrepreneurship as outlined by Habbershon, Nordqvist, and Zellweger could well be the key to their sustained growth and longevity. This paradigm offers a valuable framework for creating a legacy of innovation and resilience that can benefit both the family and the broader community across generations.


Habbershon, T.G., Nordqvist, M. and Zellweger, T.M., 2010. Transgenerational entrepreneurship. In Transgenerational entrepreneurship. Edward Elgar Publishing.