Disruption, interrupted: Startups and social challenges in a government accelerator
This article investigates how the dual demands of finance and social impact affect the relationships of founders to disruption, as a rhetorical function, material goal and relational context. Building on recent studies of innovation and entrepreneurship such as Bardinelli (2019), Irani (2019) and Lindtner (2020), the article offers a nuanced view of disruption that complicates unidimensional narratives of financialization as a singular force and accounts for the complexity of reconciling financial and social interests. Based on data gathered at a startup participating in a government-funded accelerator program in Melbourne, Australia, we analyse how the logics of finance impact entrepreneurial experience in an early-stage social enterprise startup. Our data suggests that, in their attempts to attract the attention and funding of financial investors, founders of early-stage startups focus more on proving the value of their disruption in a rhetorical sense than on refining the materially disruptive potential of their products to ensure real world social impact. By analysing disruption through a relational lens, we identify four layers of disruption (product innovation; social value; financial return; and labour relations) to which early-stage startups are aligned, and through which their products and personal lives are transformed.
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