Firm dynamics are commonly explained through learning processes by evolutionary economics and resource-based theories of the firm. The literature, however, also highlights the methodological difficulty to unpack learning. With the support of cognitive-behavioural theories of learning and the use of a multi-method approach, this study investigates the evolution of business start- ups and interactions between markets, institutions and learning strategies. In retrospective interviews, entrepreneurs-founders of 43 Brazilian start-ups reconstructed the storyline of the first three to five years of their firms, focussing on critical learning episodes. Analyses of the narratives resulted in 207 critical learning episodes, based on the analytical framework, empirical content, expert evaluation and the literature. These episodes were clustered in five categories. Quantitative descriptive analysis showed the cross-cutting dynamics of these episodes. Then, relationships between episodes were investigated through grounded theory principles. Results showed that the key linking factor between episodes is the resource-base of each episode, which generated five typical pathways. The final step identified the properties of these pathways. It is argued that the iteration between qualitative and quantitative methods was crucial to unpack the relationships described. This study provides a viable methodology and a comprehensive framework to investigate the evolution of business start-ups, contributing to the literature on organizational learning, entrepreneurship, and theory of the firm.

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Keywords mixed methods, resource-based theory of the firm, evolution of business start-ups, theory building
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Series ISS Working Papers - General Series
Journal ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
Note CIRI working paper no. 2
Corradi, A.A. (2014). The building blocks of a resource-based theory of business start-ups. ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 582, pp. 1–30). Retrieved from