The role of individual characteristics in shaping digital entrepreneurial intention among university students: Evidence from Saudi Arabia (2023)


Currently, digitalisation has substantially changed the world, where advanced and innovative digital technologies cause massive implications in every aspect of human life. This digital revolution can be considered as an opportunity or threat to all organisations in all industries and sectors via radically reshaping their traditional processes, products and services, and strategies (Beliaevaetal., 2019; Eliaetal., 2020; Jafari-Sadeghietal., 2021; Karimi & Walter,2021; Ladeiraetal., 2019; Schulte-Holthaus & Kuckertz,2020). Thus, it is not surprising that the dissemination of digital technologies has created a promising context for entrepreneurship and significantly motivated entrepreneurs to exploit these technologies in creating new businesses or in conducting their business operations (Beliaevaetal., 2019; Eliaetal., 2020; Nambisan,2017; Nambisan & Baron,2021; Rusu & Roman,2020).

Digitalisation provides entrepreneurs with numerous opportunities to integrate digital technologies in all the entrepreneurial activities allowing them to develop new products, services, processes, and business models, reveal new markets and opportunities, minimise costs, and better engage with stakeholders (Beliaevaetal., 2019; Eliaetal., 2020; Kollmannetal., 2021; Krausetal., 2019; Ladeiraetal., 2019; Rusu & Roman,2020; Sahutetal., 2021). As stated by Nambisan(2017), “digital technologies herald a new era in entrepreneurship, one in which the traditional ways and forms of pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities are increasingly questioned and refashioned.” Consequently, because of the convergence of entrepreneurial activities and digital technologies, a new subcategory of traditional entrepreneurship has emerged, namely digital entrepreneurship (Hulletal., 2007; Karimi & Walter,2021; Krausetal., 2019; Nambisan,2017; Recker & vonBriel,2020).

According to Fernandesetal.(2022) and Baigetal.(2022), there is little agreement or clarity regarding the purpose, characteristics, and definition of digital entrepreneurship. For example, digital entrepreneurship can be defined as “a subcategory of entrepreneurship in which some or all of what would be physical in a traditional organisation has been digitised” (Hulletal., 2007). For Davidson and Vaast(2010), digital entrepreneurship can be considered as “the practice of pursuing new venture opportunities presented by new media and internet technologies”. Therefore, it is possible to consider digital entrepreneurship as the fusion of traditional entrepreneurship and the utilisation of modern digital technologies available in the digital era to carry out all or some parties of business activities (Gabrielssonetal., 2022; Krausetal., 2019). Generally, digital entrepreneurship can be viewed as a type of entrepreneurship that based on the utilisation of digital technologies to manage the business and to convert products, services, or a significant portion of the business digitally (Hairetal., 2012; Krausetal., 2019; Permatasari & Anggadwita,2019).

In the past few years, digital entrepreneurship has been considered a rapidly growing field of research and has received the attention of many scholars, practitioners, and policymakers (Beliaevaetal., 2019; Jafari-Sadeghietal., 2021; Krausetal., 2019). However, despite the increasing acknowledges of digital entrepreneurship's significance, this concept is so far in its early stages in entrepreneurship research, and little is known about its determinants (Beliaevaetal., 2019; Darmanto etal., 2022; Faranietal., 2017; Jafari-Sadeghietal., 2021; Miretal., 2022; Nambisan,2017). Additionally, the factors that motivate individuals to become digital entrepreneurs and influence their digital entrepreneurial intentions, as well as the requirements for the successful digital entrepreneur are not fully known (Darmanto etal., 2022; Duttaetal., 2015; Faranietal., 2017; Krausetal., 2019; Miretal., 2022).

Prior researchers have demonstrated that entrepreneurial intention is a powerful predictor of entrepreneurial behaviour and a prerequisite for engaging in a business venture (Changetal., 2020; Huangetal., 2022; Yehetal., 2020). Therefore, developing entrepreneurial intention is the first step in the entrepreneurial process since it reflects an individual's willingness and commitment to create a new business, and any more entrepreneurial moves would be impossible without it (Elnadi & Gheith,2021; Salhieh & Al-Abdallat,2022). According to Thompson(2009), entrepreneurial intention refers to “self-acknowledged conviction by a person that they intend to set up a new business venture and consciously plan to do so at some point in the future”. The higher a person's intention, the more likely he or she is to become an entrepreneur (Koeetal., 2021). Since digital entrepreneurship is considered a branch of conventional entrepreneurship, and the two have a lot in common (Younisetal., 2020), digital entrepreneurial intention can be described as the propensity of an individual to engage in a new technology-based venture (Changetal., 2020; Huangetal., 2022; Wangetal., 2016). Digital entrepreneurial intention indicates an individual's mental state and behavioural characteristics that reflect his or her willingness and determination to utilise digital technologies to start his or her new technology-based business at some point in the future (Dutot & VanHorne,2015; Salhieh & Al-Abdallat,2022).

While appraising literature, factors impacting digital entrepreneurial intention have received substantial consideration from many researchers. Several studies have provided ample evidence that personality traits play a significant role in developing digital entrepreneurial intention. Some of these studies (e.g., Shimolietal., 2020; Wangetal., 2016; Yehetal., 2020) have applied the five-factor model of personality. According to this model, entrepreneurial intention can be predicted by five general (broad) personality traits, namely extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience (Costa & McCrae,1992). However, some scholars (e.g., Çeliketal., 2021; Laouitietal., 2022; Leutneretal., 2014; Postigoetal., 2021) have argued that predicting entrepreneurial intention using only five general personality traits is not sufficient since other personality traits may have a significant impact on entrepreneurial intention. Therefore, several previous studies have advocated dividing the main five general personality traits into specific (narrow) traits to better predict entrepreneurial intention. Some of the specific (narrow) personality traits that have been examined in digital entrepreneurship previous studies are need for achievement, risk-taking, locus of control, innovativeness, creativity, proactiveness, self-efficacy, self-esteem, positive thinking.

However, there is limited evidence on how other narrow personal characteristics such as entrepreneurial alertness, innovativeness, passion, curiosity, and digital competency can impact digital entrepreneurial intention. Within entrepreneurship literature, it has been reported by many researchers (e.g., Akhteretal., 2022; Anwar & Saleem,2019; Ayed,2020; Bhattietal., 2021; Bueckmann-Diegolietal., 2020; Dinisetal., 2013; Huetal., 2018; Hu & Ye,2017; Lietal., 2020; Lietal., 2015; Lu & Wang,2018; Nasipetal., 2017; Neneh,2019; Obschonkaetal., 2018; Salhieh & Al-Abdallat,2022; Urban,2020; Wathanakometal., 2020) that innovativeness and entrepreneurial alertness are significantly associated with entrepreneurial intention in various research contexts. Additionally, entrepreneurial passion and entrepreneurial curiosity are among the personal traits that have been recognised as important traits for a successful entrepreneur, nevertheless their role in shaping entrepreneurial intention is still underexplored in previous studies in general (Biraglia & Kadile,2017; Jeraj & Antoncic,2013; Jeraj & Marič, 2013; Karimi,2020; Montiel-Campos,2018; Peljkoetal., 2016; Syedetal., 2020), and particularly in digital entrepreneurship. Furthermore, in today's digital era, digital competence has emerged in the field of entrepreneurship and has been acknowledged as a critical factor for a successful digital entrepreneur (Oggeroetal., 2020; Reisetal., 2020). It is also worth noting that only a limited number of studies have investigated the role of entrepreneurial alertness, innovativeness, passion, curiosity, and digital competency in developing digital entrepreneurial intention among university students in Saudi Arabia.

Thus, the primary research aim of this study is to contribute to closing these gaps, investigating the impact of individual characteristics such as digital innovativeness, alertness, passion, curiosity, and digital competence in shaping digital entrepreneurial intention among undergraduate university students in Saudi Arabia. The proposed model explores the direct effect of digital innovativeness and entrepreneurial alertness on digital entrepreneurial intention. Moreover, it investigates how entrepreneurial passion, curiosity, and digital competence can stimulate students’ digital innovativeness and entrepreneurial alertness. Finally, the proposed model examines the mediation role that entrepreneurial alertness and innovativeness play in the relationship between entrepreneurial passion, entrepreneurial curiosity, and digital competence on one side and digital entrepreneurial intention on the other.

In this way, this study attempts to provide digital entrepreneurship existing literature with the following contributions. First, the study provides a review of digital entrepreneurship's previous studies by analysing and identifying the significant determinants of digital entrepreneurship intention. Second, the study explores the impact of narrow personal characteristics such as innovativeness, alertness, passion, curiosity, and digital competency on digital entrepreneurial intention. These factors have been neglected in previous studies and rarely collectively investigated in a single model. Third, thepresent study is the first to explore the mediation role that entrepreneurial alertness and innovativeness play in the relationship between entrepreneurial passion, entrepreneurial curiosity, and digital competence on one side and digital entrepreneurial intention on the other. Finally, despite the popularity of digital entrepreneurship, little is known about personal characteristics that trigger digital entrepreneurial intentions among undergraduate university students in Saudi Arabia. Hence, exploring how to develop digital entrepreneurial intentions among undergraduate university students in a developing country such as Saudi Arabia is an important contribution of this study.

Saudi Arabia, is a developing country with the most prosperous economy among Middle Eastern and North African countries and its economy is one of the world's top 20 economies (Elnadi & Gheith,2021; McAdametal., 2019, 2020). Recently, the Saudi Arabia government is attempting to restructure the country's economy by reducing its reliance on oil revenues, accelerating the share of SMEs to GDP, as well as decreasing the unemployment rate and these targets were highlighted in Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan (Choukiretal., 2019; Elnadietal., 2020; Mahmud,2020; McAdametal., 2019, 2020). Therefore, the government acknowledged the significance of entrepreneurship in shaping the economy.

One of the key goals of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan is to stimulate entrepreneurship growth in general and particularly digital entrepreneurship among Saudis. The CEO of Saudi Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Lab stated that “the government has injected US$19.2 billion stimulus package to boost the private sector, an enormous part of which was allocated to different programs and initiatives supporting the SME sector” (Elnadietal., 2020). Regarding digital entrepreneurship, the Saudi government has developed a strong information and communication infrastructure and has created numerous strategies that promote digital start-ups and foster their success, including educational programs, business incubators, training institutions (Almani,2019; Mahmud,2020).

To achieve the aim of the study, this paper is structured as follows. In the next section, previous studies related to digital entrepreneurial intention are presented. In Section3, the research hypotheses are discussed. Then, the research methodology and data analysis are demonstrated in Section4 and Section5, respectively. Then, a discussion of the research findings is presented in Section6, followed by the theoretical and practical implications in Section7. Finally, the conclusion and research limitations are highlighted in Section8.

Section snippets

Literature review

Prior researchers have devoted considerable attention to exploring the factors affecting an individual's decision to engage in a technology-based venture. Previous studies have considered digital entrepreneurial intention a crucial element since it is the strongest predictor of entrepreneurial behaviour and reflects an individual's willingness to engage in entrepreneurial activities. Digital entrepreneurial intention demonstrates an individual's mental state and behavioural characteristics that

Digital innovativeness

Entrepreneurship is strongly connected with innovation and creativity (Syedetal., 2020; Wathanakometal., 2020). Both creativity and innovation are critical to entrepreneurship and are considered among the significant traits of successful entrepreneurs (Bell,2019; Dinisetal., 2013; Lian & Yen,2017).

While in certain researches, the terms “creativity” and “innovativeness” are used synonymously (Scott & Bruce,1994), creativity is considered a key component of innovativeness and the initial

Sample and procedure

To empirically test and validate the developed hypotheses and the research model with less sample bias, we developed an online questionnaire using QuestionPro (an online survey platform) that included existing measurement scales from previous studies to ensure valid and reliable measurement. This study directed to a homogeneous sample consisting of undergraduate business students during the academic year 2020–2021 who had completed their entrepreneurship course and are close to graduation at

Data analysis

The proposed model and hypotheses have been examined using the partial least squares structural equation modelling (PLS-SEM). Compared with the covariance-based structural equation modelling (CB-SEM), PLS is more suitable for small sample size and complex models and normally distributed data is not a basic requirement for the analysis (Hairetal., 2019). Moreover, PLS-SEM is more appropriate for this study as the objective is to explain the causal relationships among the variables rather than


The aim of this paper is to enhance our understanding of how individual characteristics, such as entrepreneurial digital innovativeness, entrepreneurial alertness, entrepreneurial passion, entrepreneurial curiosity, and digital competence, can stimulate digital entrepreneurial intention among undergraduate students in Saudi Arabia. These variables have all been regarded as relevant in entrepreneurship previous studies separately, but they have never been addressed together in a single model.

Theoretical implications

Based on the findings obtained from the data analysis, this study provides some academic implications that contribute to the existing digital entrepreneurship literature on the role of individual characteristics in developing digital entrepreneurial intentions among university students.

In this study, a review of the literature was conducted to analyse and identify the various theoretical models that have been used to investigate digital entrepreneurship intentions, as well as the significant

Conclusion and research limitations

In conclusion, this study aims to explore how individual characteristics can trigger students’ intention to engage in a technology-based venture. To achieve this aim, this study developed a model including the five constructs of entrepreneurial alertness, digital innovativeness, passion, curiosity, and digital competency. Based on data collected online from 219 undergraduate business administration students in Saudi Arabia, the results indicate that entrepreneurial alertness and digital


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

CRediT authorship contribution statement

Moustafa Elnadi: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Resources, Data curation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing, Visualization. Mohamed Hani Gheith: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Writing – review & editing.

Declaration of Competing Interest

The authors state that they have no conflict of interest to declare.

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