Legitimacy-building role of incubators: a multiple case study of activities and impacts of business incubators in a developing Chinese city

Ying Cheng*, Yanyan Liu, Adam R. Cross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: Business incubators are advantageous to new venture legitimacy because they provide rich access to entrepreneurial resources, and their incubation networks can offer endorsement to incubatees. However, empirical evidence on this topic is limited, and the existing literature relies predominantly on the Western context. Given that not all developing country incubators have resourceful and reputable external entrepreneurial networks as in the industrialized countries, and that new ventures need to build legitimacy along cognitive and socio-political dimensions that require different actions to influence different stakeholders, this study investigates empirically how business incubators facilitate their incubatees to build legitimacy in a context where resource and reputation conditions are weak. The purpose of this paper is to clarify how business incubators perform legitimacy-building roles effectively. Design/methodology/approach: A multiple case study of business incubators in Chongqing, a second-tier Chinese city, is presented. Using grounded theory, this paper draws its findings from a synthesis of interviews and secondary data of seven incubators and their ten incubatees. Findings: The legitimacy-building role of business incubators is performed well in this research context. Evidence is presented that incubators play different roles in building different dimensions of incubatees’ legitimacy. Government-associated incubators play a salient role in building incubatees’ socio-political legitimacy whilst non-government related incubators shape their incubatees’ cognitive legitimacy. Originality/value: This study contributes to the business incubators literature by revealing how incubators perform the legitimacy-building role when their resource endorsement is weak. The results suggest that incubators need to strengthen their ties with external stakeholders and that new ventures need to take key stakeholders into consideration when they select incubators to enter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)829-850
Number of pages22
JournalChinese Management Studies
Issue number4
Early online date15 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jul 2022


  • Business incubators
  • China
  • Cognitive legitimacy
  • Institutional endorsement
  • New ventures
  • Resource endowment
  • Socio-political legitimacy


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