A hectic start-up environment offers possibilities for continuous learning and fast-track career opportunities to entrepreneurial minds

Teksti | Maria Buchanan , Taina Vuorela

The text highlights some of the results of a Master’s Thesis related research project which explored the opportunities for learning taking place in a start-up context. According to the results, the start-up context does not allow – resource-wise – for similar structures of a learning organisation as big corporations. However, becoming aware of its learning potential can be beneficial for a start-up company and its staff.

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How can businesses meet successfully both the challenges of today and those of the future? Research shows that businesses that embrace some elements of a learning organization are better able to meet the demands of the future and stay competitive (Farrukh & Waheed 2015, 73). The main foci of start-up companies are to expand their activities and grow to generate profits. Hence, they do not have enough resources to manage the types of extensive learning and development programmes that bigger corporations put in place to update the knowledge and expertise of their employees. Research was conducted in a case start-up company originating in Finland, to explore their employees’ opinions about learning in a hectic business environment. The results from the mixed method study conducted in the course of a Master’s Thesis at Laurea University of Applied Sciences suggest that a start-up can have suitable conditions in place for becoming a learning organization (Buchanan 2022). The results revealed that – although no formal learning programme was implemented – learning was already taking place naturally in the case company (Buchanan 2022).

The literature on the theory of organizational learning has interested companies for decades. The concept of the learning organization cannot be easily defined, as it can carry different meanings and connotations (Corley, Gioia & Nag 2011,361), such as low hierarchy, facilitating leadership, fruitful company culture, and active organizational members, who are interested in developing themselves (Farrukh & Waheed 2015, 73-75).  Such members of a learning organization acquire learning, share it, and create new knowledge and practices collaboratively (Hess 2014,14). A leadership style which creates opportunities for learning promotes a trusting environment where members feel cared for (Russ & Yiannis 2011, 344-345). The connection between emotions and learning is an important one: emotions play an important role in motivation, learning and decision-making (Russ & Yiannis,2011,331).

The findings from the present study confirm previous findings about start-ups and learning. According to the results, start-ups need employees with an entrepreneurial mindset (Buchanan 2022), which means that they are diligent, innovative, committed, and hardworking (Hoffman 2021,25). The working days of start-up employees are busy with employees taking care of tasks beyond their title and regular scope of work. Task rotation happens informally which produces learning. It seems that the hectic business environment of a start-up offers fast-tracks career opportunities for diligent employees (Buchanan 2022); an employee can start in a customer service role and quite soon be promoted to a manager position. Thus, a start-up can create an environment that naturally promotes learning though informal learning opportunities (Buchanan 2022). Yet another study exploring technology-based start-ups in Lithuania discovered that small companies rather use behavioural learning in growth stages rather than engage in cognitive learning practices: such an error-based learning approach is integrated into work culture intuitively prior to institutionalizing the benefits of organizational learning in a more systematic way (Baltrunaite & Sekliuckiene, 2020).


Maria Buchanan has completed a Master’s Degree at Laurea’s Degree Programme: Leading Transformational Change

Taina Vuorela, Principal Lecturer, supervised the thesis process and co-wrote the blog text by also adding a viewpoint from the Baltic states.


  • Baltrunaite, V. & Sekliuckiene, J. 2020. The Use of Organisational Learning Practices in Start-Up Growth. Entrepreneurial Business and Economics Review; Krakow Vol. 8, Iss. 1, pp. 71-89. DOI:10.15678/EBER.2020.080104
  • Buchanan, M. 2022. Can a start-up company become a “learning organization”? The employee perception of continuous learning in a start-up business. Master’s Thesis at Laurea UAS.
  • Corley, K., Gioia, D. & Nag, R. 2011.Subtle learning and organizational identity as enablers of strategic change. In: Easterby-Smith & Lyles (eds.) Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management. Hoboken: John Wiley& sons, 349-365.
  • Farrukh, M. & Waheed, A.2015.Learning organization and Competitive advantage- An Integrated Approach. Journal of Asian Business Strategy, 5(4), 73–79. Accessed 24.10.2022.
  • Hoffman, S.2021.Surviving a startup. New York: Harper Collins Leadership.
  • Russ, V. & Yiannis, G. 2011.Organizations, learning, and Emotion. In: Easterby-Smith & Lyles (eds.) Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management. Hoboken: John Wiley& sons,331-348.
URN http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe2023041236110

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