Entrepreneurship is often thought of strictly in terms of new venture creation. But as the half-life of technologies, products and business models becomes ever shorter, established companies are finding that their existing bases of competitive advantage are decaying and becoming obsolete at a faster rate. And these established companies are facing competition on two fronts: from new ventures that emerge and seek to push them aside, and from existing companies that are transforming themselves through internal entrepreneurial efforts.
Even large companies such as Wal-Mart have little choice but to constantly retain an entrepreneurial drive. For example, today, the company is in the early stages of creating a new division for smaller convenience stores, which would have a business model very different from the Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart discount store model. The company is also creating a bank within Wal-Mart Inc. to provide retail banking services.
Organizations at every level of development must be entrepreneurial in their efforts to stay competitive with rivals. That’s why entrepreneurship research has become an increasingly important endeavor. The Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship supports research that interprets or defines entrepreneurship broadly, focusing on both creating and growing new ventures and developing entrepreneurial ventures within larger, established companies. J. Robert Baum, associate professor of management and organization, is the center’s research director.
“The Dingman Center offers a wide variety of support for entrepreneurship research and teaching,” says Baum. “We have an awards program that offers prizes to PhD students and seasoned faculty for research proposals, working papers and published research. The contest standards are aligned with standards of top journals to encourage successful publication. Nascent research is supported through monthly brown-bag lunch sessions with Dingman Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, so that practitioners can guide development of research questions and help identify data sources. The center also maintains a database of entrepreneurs who are interested in speaking to entrepreneurship classes and offers an archive of sources of research financing, including foundation and government grants.”
Entrepreneurship research at Smith is conducted in a variety of departments and is often cross-disciplinary in scope. The school has one of the five largest faculties in the world pursuing research projects rooted in entrepreneurship, and they come from strategy, organizational behavior, finance, as well as other domains.
Because Smith has such a large number of researchers who are passionate about entrepreneurship, there are people studying it from very different disciplines, addressing a wide range of issues and publishing in very different top journals. Baum publishes in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Brent Goldfarb, assistant professor of management and organization, is an economist who publishes in the Journal of Financial Economics. David Kirsch, associate professor of management and organization, is a historian who publishes in a variety of journals including Business History Review. Ralph J. Tyser Professor of Strategy and Organization Anil Gupta, whose expertise is in strategy and globalization, publishes in the Academy of Management Journal.
“There are two types of approaches to research on entrepreneurship,” says Gupta. “Until the 1990s, most research on entrepreneurship was largely a-theoretical and based on inductive generalizations from field studies. Smith faculty are among the pioneers who come at entrepreneurship research somewhat differently–combining strong discipline-based theory with hard data about ground-level reality. When you combine this approach to research with our large number of researchers, we stand out as one of the best entrepreneurship research groups in the country.”
Smith faculty leverage not only the financial resources of the Dingman Center but also its rich network of relationships within the entrepreneurial and venture capital community. Doctoral student Antoaneta Petkova’s thesis on how young ventures build credibility and reputation conducted field interviews with entrepreneurs gleaned from Dingman contacts, and then conducted a large database study.
The school held its fourth Annual Smith Entrepreneurship Research Conference in April 2008. The conference featured presentations on the founder effect, entrepreneurial cognition, firms and networks, and creation of and entry into new markets. The Dingman Center provided partial funding for the conference as part of its research and outreach efforts.
The center was started by then-dean Rudy Lamone in 1986 with a gift from Michael Dingman, founder of Signal Corporation (later Allied Signal). It was one of the first entrepreneurship centers in the nation and served as one of the models for other regional entrepreneurship groups. In 1988 the Dingman Center, with representatives from the University of Indiana and the University of Southern California, established the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers, a collection of university entrepreneurship centers which now has more than 250 members. The center now focuses on incubating student-formed companies, and has been instrumental in the launch of North Star Games, Hook & Ladder Brewing Company, SHOP DC, and Arcxis Biotechnologies—all enterprises started by Smith students.
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