Abstract: Are Immigrant Entrepreneurs Different? Questions and Concepts of a New Research Initiative

Hartmut Berghoff

Abstract

This paper will first take a look at theoretical models of immigrant entrepreneurship and the results of some of the most important empirical research so far. It will ask for sources of comparative advantages and disadvantages, skill and knowledge transfer, and socio-cultural networks and for processes of assimilation. In its second part, the paper will introduce a new research initiative of the German Historical Institute in Washington D.C., which will focus on the history of German immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States from 1720 to the present time. This major research initiative addresses two central themes in the history of the United States, immigration and entrepreneurship. The topics are closely interrelated, since the U.S. developed a strong culture of entrepreneurship as it became the quintessential receiving country in the nineteenth century. One aim of the project is to reappraise the <i>Economist</i>'s statement that "no other country refreshes itself in quite the same way by continuous waves of immigration." The project will also challenge sociological studies on the composition of the American business elite, which claim that it was "disproportionally derived from Protestant, Anglo-Saxon, native-born, well-to-do families." This thesis of a relatively homogeneous, socially exclusive group must certainly be reviewed. The project aims at new empirical data as well as at a contribution to the discussion on the nature of entrepreneurship.