Articulating Problems and Markets: A Translation Analysis of Entrepreneurs’ Emergent Value Propositions

In this qualitative study, the authors apply Callon’s sociology of translation to examine how new technology entrepreneurs enact material arguments that involve the first two moments of translation—problematization (defining a market problem) and interessement (defining a market and the firm’s relationship to it) – which in turn are represented in a claim, the value proposition. That emergent claim can then be represented and further changed during pitches. If accepted, it can then lead to the second two moments of translation: enrollment and mobilization. Drawing on written materials, observations, and interviews, we trace how these value propositions were iterated along three paths to better problematize and interesse, articulating a problem and market on which a business could plausibly be built. We conclude by discussing implications for understanding value propositions in entrepreneurship and, more broadly, using the sociology of translation to analyze emergent, material, consequential arguments. The study is based on data collected at the Austin Technology Incubator’s Student Entrepreneur Acceleration and Launch program (ATI SEAL) at The University of Texas at Austin.