What is entrepreneurship research saying?
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Earlier this year, we ran a preliminary exercise in scoping out prevalent research themes and subjects of analyses in literature on startups over the last decade. Our goal was quite simple - what pressing questions on startups are being answered by research across the world?
We used the Web of Science Core Collection to access research on startups, published between 2010-2022. Facing a vast multidisciplinary body of work, we used author keywords (1) to identify and visualize key themes (2). We limited our search query to publications tagged under ‘Business, Management and Economics’, and restricted output type to ‘Articles/Book Chapters/Early Access Articles/Books’.
This yielded a list of 50,000+ publications! We sorted the list by prioritizing publications with the highest number of citations and selected the top 10% for further analysis.
This sub-sample of 5000 contained nearly 9000 unique keywords. We ranked these keywords by frequency of occurrence and created visuals of the 30 most frequently occurring author keywords in most cited research on startups published over the last decade.
Top 30 Author Keywords mentioned in most cited research papers -
Cumulative mentions (2010-2021)
Source: CIIE.CO Analysis
Unsurprisingly, we found ‘Entreprenuership’, ‘SMEs’ and ‘Innovation’ to be the top 3 most frequently used author keywords.
We also applied a time layer to develop a more dynamic view of intra-period shifts in the popularity of the keywords. The resulting chart was quite fascinating.
Top 30 Author Keywords mentioned in most cited research papers -
Year-on-year mentions (2010-2021)
Source: CIIE.CO Analysis
Do you see that ‘value creation’ makes it to the top 30 only in 2017? Do you notice the declining popularity of ‘entrepreneurial orientation’ as a topic of research? We can surely see the dramatic rise and fall of Covid-19 in keyword mentions. What other trends can you identify?
We dove into three keywords that caught our attention to unpack their history and future pathways - Gender | Entrepreneurial Finance | Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.
As an author keyword, ‘Gender’ featured 88 times between 2010-2021, making it the 11th most frequently occurring standalone author keyword.
Adding gender to the equation was
the flavour of research in the 1980s and 1990s
‘Gender’ initially became a limited subject of analysis in 1980s, first appearing in research studying processes and outcomes related to entrepreneurial action. These studies analysed ‘gender’ to the extent of testing the effect of the gender of the entrepreneur on various outcomes of interest, subsequently producing thin indicators of outcome differentials attributable to male versus female entrepreneurship (3). This type of analysis typically stopped short of explaining or contextualizing observed differences and is referred to in literature by the ‘GVA’ shorthand.
2000s to Present day - Unpacking ‘Gender’
by concept and intersectionality
A critical response to GVA gained ground by the late 1990s. This grew into a stream of research adding nuance and complexity to the field. GVA critics used a multi-disciplinary (4) approach to argue against a lack of attention to gender constructs and ‘gender-biased measures’ common in GVA.
Work that has and continues to emerge from this contention explores contextual intersectional analyses of female entrepreneurship, and may fall in one of three buckets. These are works that-
(a) study processes through which gender influences entrepreneurial outcomes,
(b) study ‘entrepreneurship’ as a deeply gendered phenomenon (5) that operates through a variety of discursive practices- producing and reinforcing differential outcomes, or
(c) analyse how women channel socio-cognitive responses and negotiate existing socio-cultural patterns in their respective entrepreneurial journeys.
Within these buckets, present-day research covers a wide range of conceptual fields including but not limited to the psychology of entrepreneurs, attitudes to entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial intentions, particulars of the venturing process, and drivers of venture performance. These studies have a wider geographical spread and cover a diverse range of societal conditions, especially in comparison to works from the 1980s-90s which were largely concerned with developed western markets.
Many big questions left to answer
The pursuit of gender-inclusive entrepreneurship remains riddled with gaps in knowledge and evidence. What are the ways to eliminate sector-specific barriers to entry? How do you build institutional frameworks that foster and enable female entrepreneurship? Big questions linger around effective capacity building and mechanics of value creation in women-led businesses. What could be the impact of ‘othering’ of women founders and mechanisms to curtail it? The roadmap to bridging the global gender gaps in entrepreneurship remains a work in progress.
Thus, with much left to uncover, gender and entrepreneurship continues to be a vibrant area of research inquiry and methodological innovation.
2. Entrepreneurial finance
The cluster of 5 keywords linked to entrepreneurial finance - ‘Venture Capital, ’Corporate Venture Capital’, ‘ Crowdfunding’, ‘Entrepreneurial Finance’ and ‘Finance’, featured a total of 109 times between 2010-2021.
IPOs and venture capital funding
piqued research interest in entrepreneurial finance in the 1990s
Entrepreneurial finance emerged as a field of research in the mid-1970s, with publications mainly appearing in journals of management and entrepreneurship. In the 1990s, much of the work in the domain centered on the role of venture capital and IPOs in new venture capitalization. Publications flowed into journals of finance in this period, as studies grappled with questions of matching resource needs of startups with stage-appropriate types of funding. Within this broader circle of inquiry, researchers studied the extent of the startup funding gap, determinants of investment, risks in start-up investment, monitoring and governance roles of investors, and factors connecting investments to successful exits.
Popularity of top Author Keywords related to entrepreneurial financing in highly cited research papers
Source: CIIE.CO Analysis
Scope of research widened as
new types of finance entered the market
Research in the following decade (2000-’10) correlated with significant shifts in the market for entrepreneurial finance - subsequently, widening in scope and reshaping prior notions of lifecycle-stage linking of volume and instruments of capital infusion. The 2000s were marked by the proliferation of a number of new types of finance instruments and providers. While venture capital and IPOs dominated the thinking in the 1990s, the 2000s and beyond saw the growth of private equity, private debt, trade credit, angel finance, and later, grants and crowdfunding. New types of investors including angel investors, incubators and accelerators joined the mix.
Funding over virtual platforms and
dynamics of syndication potentially leading new research directions
By the 2000s, types of finance could no longer be aligned to specific stages of start-up growth, and therefore studied in silos. In fact, following strong market trends towards syndication and co-investing by different types of funders, entrepreneurial finance research moved in the direction of investigating the interplay of different types of investors and accelerators, its impact on investment decision-making, impact on extant funding gaps, company value creation, and exit strategies of investors.
At the moment, entrepreneurial finance is a bustling area of research, with-
(1) frontier work on themes of older vintage e.g. decision-making and evaluation processes of VCs, VC firms, VC syndicates, independent angel investors, and angel groups, and
(2) work on newer financing mechanisms like crowdfunding and accelerator investment.
Concerning the latter, crowdfunding is an especially interesting area of analysis. The term ‘crowdfunding’ has increasingly gained currency in entrepreneurial finance literature from the early 2010s (see above figure). At the time, equity crowdfunding and peer-to-peer funding rapidly opened funding opportunities for start-ups, clearing the glut in access to finance, and enabling start-ups to raise significant amounts of capital at any stage of their development.
However, this also raised important concerns regarding the potential dangers of easy capital coupled with apprehensions over the extent to which crowdfunded capital was flowing into gaps in the startup funding landscape - leading to an escalation of research interest in the subject. Furthermore, the virtual-first nature of crowdfunding has unlocked new themes of inquiry, such as those exploring the peculiar decision-making patterns of a large number of virtually mediated dispersed set of investors, as is the norm in crowdfunding.
Entrepreneurial finance is a complex, fast-evolving field of research that lends itself to theoretical modelling and empirical analysis. Given that access to finance is core to entrepreneurial success, it will be a good idea to maintain a keen eye on developments in this field!
3. Entrepreneurial ecosystems
‘Entrepreneurial ecosystem(s)’ and ‘Ecosystem(s)’ featured a total of 64 times between 2010-2021. _______________________________________________________________
A scholarship in its infancy, research on
‘entrepreneurial ecosystems’ reframes innovation systems literature around entrepreneurship
The concept of an ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ (EE) is rooted in the not-so-radical idea that entrepreneurs need an enabling environment to thrive and innovate. The idea is in fact a staple of regional clusters and innovation systems literature - a relatively mature strain of research that analyzes innovation networks, diffusion and adoption of innovation.
EE scholarship reframes the systemic view and pulls entrepreneurial actors, processes and supporting actors to the center-stage. As a nascent field of study - with foundational publications appearing as late as the mid- 2010s - EE research frameworks are a work in progress.
Entrepreneurial ecosystems, though characterized in different ways, are essentially defined as an interconnected set of entrepreneurial actors, cultures, resources, processes, support institutions, physical infrastructure and policy regulators that ‘coalesce to connect, mediate and govern performance within the local entrepreneurial environment’ or ‘influence the creation, discovery and exploitation of entrepreneurial opportunities’.
Research in the domain is centred on bespoke elements of ‘entrepreneurial ecosystems’, and outcomes and outputs of entrepreneurial ecosystems. For instance, a section of extant EE literature focuses on the ‘entrepreneurial actor’ - classifying entrepreneurs by type, and draws insights on optimal combinations of entrepreneurial actor types within an ecosystem to maximize ecosystem-level success.
A related stream of work isolates the effects of governance, institutions and policies on the sustainability and performance of entrepreneurial ecosystems. A third line of inquiry applies social network and institutional theories to create directional maps of inter-actor relationship networks within entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Current research lacks solid empirical
and theoretical foundations, but has plenty of room to grow
At present, EE literature disproportionately relies on case studies, lacks a ‘sound theoretical foundation’, and has few large sample quantitative studies or panel research testing ‘potential causal relations between elements, context factors, outputs and outcomes of entrepreneurial ecosystems’. While this points to a need for methodological rigour, it also highlights the scope of research opportunities in the domain.
The proliferation of EE publications in the last decade indicates that EE is quickly becoming a highly exciting field of study. As a subject in its infancy, EE research has immense scope to advance into new industries (beyond technology-based), new geographies (US/UK centric at present), and has the opportunity to observe, explain and theorize the evolution and consequences of entrepreneurial ecosystems across diverse economies, geographies and cultural contexts.
Research on startups and entrepreneurship cuts across disciplines, theoretical lineages and empirical conditions. Mapping keywords exposed us to the spread and richness of the field. We were highly intrigued to observe themes and constructs rise up a down in popularity and in some cases, slip out of the leading discourse altogether. We look forward to exploring some of these movements in further detail.
(1) Author keywords are keywords selected by authors of scientific research publications to best reflect the content of a research document. These selections follow a standardized vocabulary, appear in all research publications and offer a quick and easy way to classify research by themes and areas of interest.
(2) Following some trial and error, we ran a search query using the following string (startup OR entrepreneur* OR "new venture" OR "new business" ) to elicit relevant content.
(3) These studies modeled outcome parameters related to different business structures, business perceptions, performance metrics, entrepreneurial thought processes and individual goals.
(4) Drawing from economics, sociology, psychology, organizational behaviour, strategy and feminist theory etc.
(5) The notion that gender is embedded in processes, meanings and experiences of entrepreneurship. And thus, differences or similarities in determinants and/or outcomes of male and female entrepreneurs cannot be explained by individual or gender group characteristics.
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