Sheila Hanson, PhD, University of North Dakota; Sharon Danes, PhD, University of Minnesota

1. The study purpose is to examine individual and relational contributions to an entrepreneur’s perception of their spouse’s commitment to a new business venture and relationship quality one year after its creation. Hobfoll’s Conservation of Resources theory of stress was the theoretical grounding for the study of 73 entrepreneurs and their spouses. 2a. Entrepreneur’s global affect at Time 2, spousal expectation that the new venture will positively impact the couple’s relationship at Time 1, and 2b. spousal involvement in the business before the launch with influence entrepreneur’s perception of spousal commitment at Time 2.

Starting a business venture can be a demanding time for entrepreneurs and their spouses due to the intense investment of financial, mental and psychological resources to the newly created venture (Danes, Haberman, & McTavish, 2005; Danes & Olson, 2003 ). Balancing these demands with available resources is critical in managing work/family conflict, especially in couples who create a business together (Olson, Zuiker, Danes, Stafford, Heck, & Duncan, 2003; Danes & Morgan, 2004; Danes, Stafford, & Loy, 2007). The literature suggests that relational resources of couples such as spousal communication, support and commitment can be considered as significant contributors to the new venture’s success (Aldrich & Cliff, 2003; Chrisman, Chua, & Steier, 2002; Van Auken & Werbel, 2006). In addition, that literature indicates that entrepreneurs’ individual characteristics such as positive outlook in life and less perceived stress serve as resources during the high-demand period when creating a new business venture. Previous studies have investigated either the relational or individual factors contributing to the resources or strains within the context of developing a new business venture (Davidson & Honig, 2003; Matzek, Gudmunson & Danes, 2006; Gatewood, Shaver & Gartner, 1995). However, there is a lack of literature exploring the combination of individual and relational domains that play a role in creating a new venture as copreneurial couples. Copreneurs are defined as |married couples who own and/or operate a business together” (Barnett & Barnett, 1988). The term referred to couples having joint “ownership, commitment and responsibility” in a business. Muske et al. (2009) later contributed to the definition by including family and couple aspects that copreneurs bring to their work such as family values, family and couple relationships, support and intimacy, and human concerns. Over the course of time, as women’s roles have changed in society, they have become more and more involved in participating in the workforce. These societal changes have also led the way to consideration of a copreneurship structure where both spouses engage in establishing a new venture and sharing responsibility for decisions related to venture creation.

In copreneurial couples, certain relational dimensions gain importance in the process of creating a new venture more so than for couples that do not own a business together. Spousal commitment to a new venture is one of the major relational factors that contribute to couple-owned business success (De Carolis & Saparito, 2006). Therefore, in this paper, we will focus on understanding and identifying individual and relational influences of perceived spousal commitment in new venture creation. This study addresses four major gaps in the literature. First, the majority of the venture creation studies focus on either individual or relational determinants of spousal commitment, while this study explores the antecedents of perceived spousal commitment to the business at both levels. Second, there is lack of research in the area of new venture creation about copreneurial couples. Third, it is a unique study by its longitudinal nature through utilizing data from three time points (before the business launched, during the launching period and one year after business launch). Furthermore, data was collected from both the entrepreneur and the spouse-an unusual occurrence. Finally, this research contributes to the clinical practice of marriage and family therapists. By studying relationship issues couples face when creating a new business venture, research-informed questions are identified that therapists might ask of copreneurs who seek therapy.

Sampling Procedures and Description

The study sample comes from collaborative research of two Midwestern University researchers and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in their respective states. The co-investigators partnering with SBDC directors identified newly created ventures to obtain a sample of recently started copreneurial businesses. The sample for this study was selected from clients of SBDC clients who received five or more hours of counseling before launching their new venture. Due to client confidentiality, questionnaires were distributed and collected by the SBDCs. Entrepreneurs and their spouses were sent questionnaires in two consecutive years. Two approaches were used to increase the participation and return rate of the questionnaires: 1) Four weeks after initial questionnaires were sent, a second set of surveys were mailed to increase participation; and 2) per SBDC?s agreement with counseling clients before their first session, clients agreed to complete questionnaires sent to them.

The researchers utilized two inclusion criteria to select the eligible copreneurial couples early on in the questionnaires; 1) to assess the new business ventures, the business needed to be operating less than 12 months; and 2) to select copreneur couples, the entrepreneur needed to have a spouse. Of the 500 questionnaires that were sent, 40% were returned. There were 109 new venture cases were both the entrepreneur and spouse completed the questionnaires in Time 1. The second set of follow up questionnaires was sent one year after the initial questionnaires were completed. The follow up study only included copreneurs who completed the questionnaires (n=73).

In the sample for Time 1, over half of the entrepreneurs were male (52%) and 48% were female. Age ranges for entrepreneurs were from 23 to 70 with a mean of 42 years. Twelve percent had a high school degree or less, 45% had some college, 25% had an undergraduate degree, and 18% had a graduate degree. The majority of the businesses were home-based (62%). There was a wide distribution in the years of work experience among the sample of entrepreneurs (from less than a year to 52 years) and in the work experience in the industry of the start-up venture (from less than a year to 50 years). 51Fifty-one percent of the spouses worked in the newly created business venture.

Male and female entrepreneurs differed in terms of industries in which they started their business. Male entrepreuners operated firms in the construction, professional/scientific, and administration industries mostly while female entrepreneurs operated firms in the agricultural, wholesale/retail, health care, and accomodation/food service industries areas more than men. The entrepreneurs worked, on average, about 46 hours a week in the new business venture.


Dependent variable. The dependent variable in this study is entrepreneur’s perception of spousal level of commitment to the business one year after business launch. Entrepreneurs were asked to respond to 4 items consisting of their experiences of their spouse’s commitment to new business goals one year after the business launch: “Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statement regarding your spouse’s feelings about the business”. The spousal commitment scale included four items: (1) my spouse is dedicated to the goals of this business; (2) my spouse feels it is her/his duty to support the goals of this business; (3) in public, my spouse would like to think of his/herself as an owner of this business; (4) my spouse feels it would be his/her personal responsibility to help this business achieve its goals. The 5-point Likert scale ranged from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. The scores were summed to create a composite index of entrepreneur’s perception of spouse’s commitment to the new venture one year after business launch (Time 2). The mean was 15.72 (SD = 3.87) and Cronbach’s alpha was 0.88.

Independent variables. Spousal involvement prior to launch . Spousal involvement in the business was conceptually defined as the shared information between the copreneurial couple regarding the business. Six items ( = .84) were asked of spouses’ involvement with the business prior to its launch: 1) My spouse asked me for ideas about the family business; 2) I knew about the risks of the family business; 3) I am familiar with the business plan; 4) I told my spouse the new business was a good idea; 5) I was happy to co-sign a loan to the business; and 6) I consider that the business will be good for the family. The items were scored on a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree) and summed with a mean of 24.22 (SD = 4.90). Higher scores indicated higher levels of spousal involvement prior to launching the new business venture.

Spousal Expectation of Business’ Positive Impact on Relationship. Spouse’s expectation of how the new business venture would impact the copreneurial couple’s relationship over the following year was measured by the item: “business will have a positive impact on my relationship with my spouse” at Time 1 (when the new venture was launched). The item was assessed on a five-point scale (1 = to a very little extend and 5 = to a very great extend) with a mean of 3.60 (SD = 1.09).

Global Affect of the Entrepreneur at Time 2. Global affect was conceptually defined as the affective approach to life including specific feelings and affection states which impacts one’s view of the world (Quinn & Staines, 1979). The entrepreneurs were asked about their global affect at Time 2: “Here are some words and phrases which we would like you to use to describe how you feel about your present life”. The questions were asked in a semantic differential format where each end of the question was an opposite response from the other. Items include “boring / interesting”, “enjoyable / miserable”, “useless / worthwhile”, “friendly / lonely”, “full/ empty”, “discouraging / hopeful”, “disappointing / rewarding”, “brings out the best in me / doesn’t give me much of a chance” and “good at my job / not good at my job”. Five items were reverse coded: “enjoyable / miserable”, “friendly / lonely”, “full / empty”, “brings out the best in me / doesn’t give me much of a chance” and “good at my job / not good at my job”. The responses ranged from 1 (most like the first word) to 7 (most like the second word). The items (? = .90) were summed and a total global affect score was obtained with a mean of 52.25 (SD = 8.23). A higher mean indicates a closer orientation to a positive global affect.

The analyses indicated that independent variables in the model significantly predicted the dependent variable F(3, 70) = 10.35, p < .05. Approximately 31% of the variance of the perceived spousal commitment to the business at Time 2 was accounted for by the combination of spousal involvement to in the business prior to launch, spousal expectations of business? positive impact on the couple’s relationship at Time 1 as well as entrepreneur’s global affect at Time 2. Among the predictors, spousal involvement prior to the business launch (β = .308) had the highest effect on the dependent variable, followed by spousal expectation from the business with regard to the relationship (β  = .251) and global affect of entrepreneur at Time 2 (β  = .216).

Business success was examined as a moderator of the relationship between relationship quality and marital satisfaction. A deep sharing relationship (particularly at higher levels of relationship quality) predicted marital satisfaction whether or not the business is successful. When business success is low and relationship quality is low, marital satisfaction is high. When business success is low if relationship quality is high, marital satisfaction is high. Thus, relationship quality serves a buffer during business startup.

Creating a new business venture has consequences for a copreneurial couples’ relationship during and after business launch. As the COR theory suggests (Hobfoll, 1989), at times of elevated stress, the individual or relational resources may buffer against the adverse effects of stressors. The regression analyses results highlighted the, existence of three individual and relational resources that significantly predicted an entreprenuer’s perception of spousal commitment to the business one year after the business launch: positive outlook of enterpreneurs, spousal expectation of the business on the couple relationship and spousal involvement in the business prior to launch.

Starting from the 1980?s, a body of literature focusing on family businesses began to emerge (Barnett & Barnett, 1988; Jaffe, 1990; Marshack, 1998). However, there is are very few theoretical and empirical articles that have examined the copreneurial couple relationships during the new business venture creation (Aldrich & Cliff, 2003; Danes, Matzek, & Werbel, 2010; Danes et al., 2013; Van Auken & Werbel, 2006); and or that have utilized the research findings to inform the clinical practice of marriage and family therapists who work with copreneurial couples (Benningfield, & Davis, 2005; Cole, & Johnson, 2012; Danes & Morgan, 2004; Danes et al., 2013; Distelberg, & Castanos, 2012). This paper provides therapists with a guideline for the potentially relevant individual and relational resources copreneurial couples may experience before, during and after they launch a new business venture, based on the quantitative analyses of individual and relational predictors of spousal commitment to the business. The paper integrates the research findings on the predictors of spousal commitment to the business into a case study to demonstrate how research in this field can be directly applicable to the clinical practice of marriage and family therapists by advancing their therapy modality and interventions. Future studies might further explore the individual, relational and social dynamics that play a role in maintaining relationship quality in copreneurial couples.

Tags: Applied research, Comprehensive Approaches to Healthy Work Design and Well-Being, Interpersonal Relationships and Caregiving, Psychological and Biological Effects of Job Stress, Traumatic Stress and Resilience, Work - Life - Family, Work Organization and Stress, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery