Underdog entrepreneurs are individuals who are unable to get formal employment due to economic, societal, cognitive, and physical / emotional challenges that they cannot readily avoid and change. They exhibit distinctive entrepreneurial background, motivation, behavior and performance. Based on 241 articles obtained from Web of Science, this paper firstly defines the nature of underdog entrepreneurs, and then employs CiteSpace software to create a knowledge map. In conjunction with an in-depth qualitative analysis, it refines the research framework and key themes of underdog entrepreneurship, as well as outlines future research directions.
The findings are as follows: First, fragility and peculiarity are two key traits of underdog entrepreneurs. Fragility puts them at a disadvantage, while peculiarity drives the underdog effect and leads to unexpected success. Second, the disadvantaged background of entrepreneurs has a two-fold effect. On the one hand, it generates multiple obstacles, and has a negative impact on entrepreneurial entry, resource acquisition and entrepreneurial performance. On the other hand, it helps disadvantaged group identify unique business opportunities and develop work discipline, risk tolerance, creativity, resilience, frugality, and other characteristics that help them become effective entrepreneurs. Third, underdog entrepreneurs employ a variety of strategies to overcome disadvantages, including network embedding, resource bricolage, identity and legitimacy construction, external empowerment, and so on. Individual characteristics like resilience, desire, and self-efficacy, as well as external factors like familial support, labor market climate, and entrepreneurial ecosystem, play an important role in underdog entrepreneurship.
Future research directions include the following aspects: First, improve the underdog entrepreneurship theory by expanding from decentralized research to concept-oriented focused research. Second, focus on the peculiarity of underdog entrepreneurs instead of fragility, and investigate the process that causes the underdog effect. Third, dig into the social entrepreneurship practice of underdog entrepreneurs, moving away from seeing them as objects of aid and toward seeing them as subjects of action. Fourth, widen the scope of research to include non-economic elements in understanding the diverse motivations and benefits of underdog entrepreneurship. Fifth, develop the theory and empirical evidence of underdog entrepreneurship in the context of rural revitalization and common prosperity in China.By clarifying the nature of underdog entrepreneurship, as well as the research framework and future research directions, this paper contributes to the theoretical construction derived from the underdog entrepreneurship phenomenon. By calling attention to the peculiarity of underdog entrepreneurship, it also contributes to the development of underdog entrepreneurship theory.