Does poverty hinder or encourage market creativity? Businesses that offer novel, creative products have greater growth potential than businesses that conform to market norms. Yet the literature offers conflicting views on the relationship between poverty and market creativity. Some research suggests poverty restricts entrepreneurs' capacity to offer novel products, whereas other work suggests poverty facilitates creativity in the marketplace. This paper addresses that tension by examining the shifting relationship between poverty and market creativity across stages of business development. Drawing on survey and interview data from Panama, this paper shows how entrepreneurs are both catalyzed and constrained by conditions of poverty. Poor individuals actively generate novel venture concepts in the early stages of business development. In later stages, however, they struggle to sustain novel businesses. Ultimately, poverty limits entrepreneurs' capacity to profit from the creativity they bring to the marketplace. This paper elucidates the dual relationship between poverty and creativity, and helps explain why economic mobility via self-employment proves elusive for the poor.
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