Sources of enterprise success in Amish communities

Donald B. Kraybill, Elizabethtown College
Erik J. Wesner, Elizabethtown College


Purpose – This research project aims to investigate Amish small businesses in North America to determine their success rate and the factors that explain their vitality. Amish entrepreneurs have developed some 10,000 small businesses despite taboos on motor vehicles, electricity, computers, the internet, and education. A theoretical model consisting of five types of sociocultural capital (human, cultural, social, religious, and symbolic) was conceptualized to explain and interpret the success of Amish enterprises. The model includes capital deficits that identify the hurdles that successful enterprises must overcome. Design/methodology/approach – The research employed qualitative ethnographic methods that included participant observation, facetoface interviews with business owners in eight states, and document analysis. Findings – The paper finds that Amish businesses have a success rate above 90 percent, which is much higher than that of other American small businesses. Five types of sociocultural capital (human, cultural, social, religious, and symbolic) account for the high success rate of Amish enterprises. Research limitations/implications – The qualitative methods do not permit quantitative analysis or tracking the performance of businesses over an extended period of time. Practical implications Understanding the importance of sociocultural capital assets and deficits for business success is critical for entrepreneurs, consultants, and scholars. Originality/value – The five concepts of sociocultural capital assets and deficits are a significant expansion of traditional social capital theory. These concepts offer a rich resource for understanding small business failure and success and merit inclusion in future research. Religious and symbolic capitals are especially pertinent for understanding enterprise building in religious and ethnic communities. © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited