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Engineering entrepreneurial success in emerging economies

Through a King Center student program, undergrads Arianna Togelang and Alexander Ke worked alongside Faculty Affiliate Professor Charles Eesley.
Business, Entrepreneurship, and Work

Arianna Togelang, ’22, spent the summer of 2019 in Thailand helping Stanford Management Science and Engineering Professor Charles Eesley conduct research on entrepreneurship.

After returning, Togelang continued working as a research assistant on the project, where she analyzed the data collected to see what variables play a role in a start-up’s success or failure.

Charles Eesley
Charles Eesley

As part of the ongoing research, would-be entrepreneurs enrolled in a 12-week training program facilitated by Eesley and his team, including postdoctoral researcher Zhuoxuan Li. Togelang tested whether the timeliness of someone’s participation in the program—whether they turned in assignments as they were due or instead waited to complete them all at once before the course ended—had any correlation with their ability to secure investors.

“I realized that when we were watching the pitches, a lot of the people that didn’t do so well had backlogged all of their assignments,” she explains. “So I decided to perform another regression.”

Arianna Togelang
Arianna Togeland

In fact, timeliness was correlated with better pitching outcomes, which suggests that providing hard—rather than recommended—deadlines each week might be more beneficial for participants who would otherwise be inclined to procrastinate.

“She took the initiative to do that additional data analysis,” Eesley says of Togelang. “She was tremendously helpful on multiple fronts.”

Eesley, whose research focuses on the role of the institutional and university environment in high-growth, technology entrepreneurship, has a series of projects studying entrepreneurial outcomes in emerging economies, including in Thailand and China. Togelang and other undergraduate students have taken part in his research through both the King Center’s summer and academic year research assistant programs, which supports students for their work with King Center-affiliated faculty on projects that have real-world impact.

Togelang, a student majoring in economics and human rights, was already interested in entrepreneurship when she signed on to work with Eesley, but she says the research “definitely pointed me more toward that direction.”

“I cannot speak more highly of the entire King Center program and working with Chuck,” she says. “It was such an incredible learning opportunity.”

Another of Eesley’s projects examined the impact of Silicon Valley-based start-up accelerators on nearly 2,000 companies between 2005 and 2018. Accelerators are on the rise around the world, offering entrepreneurs a sense of community, usually facilitated through a co-working space, access to funding, educational offerings, and mentorship. As part of the center’s Academic Year Research Assistant Program, Alexander Ke, BS ’21, MS ’22, worked closely with PhD candidate Tyler Whittle, who is part of Eesley’s research team, to see how the composition of accelerator cohorts—the diversity of the founders (their role and gender), the types of industries represented, and the geographic locations of the businesses—affected start-up performance.

Ultimately, Ke, Whittle, and other researchers discovered in the data that industry and geographic diversity have a negative impact on performance, perhaps because the founders weren’t able to meet in person (pre-COVID-19) to discuss ideas and didn’t know enough about each other’s businesses to offer meaningful feedback. On the question of gender, the data showed that start-ups with women leaders benefit from having other women in the cohort.

Alexander Ke
Alexander Ke

The team studied Silicon Valley accelerators because they have been around long enough to produce meaningful results, but the findings will be helpful in developing countries as well. Before beginning the research, Whittle traveled to Bangkok with Eesley to study innovation there.

“The accelerator model pioneered in Silicon Valley is almost identical in developing countries,” Whittle says. “We believe the findings we generate on cohort composition will extend well to developing countries.”

For Ke, who is studying computer science and statistics, the experience was a unique opportunity to apply his data skills to a social science arena.

“It got me interested in the analytical part of social science,” he says.

Eesley’s work, which includes studying blockchain start-ups in China and how entrepreneurship might benefit refugee communities around the world, aligns with the King Center’s goal of stimulating research on development in low- and middle-income countries.

“Entrepreneurship is a key driver of economic growth and job creation, but resources for entrepreneurial skill development tend to be less available in emerging economic environments,” Eesley says. “That’s where these projects come in.”  

For Eesley, a former entrepreneur himself, the goal is to expand access to the skills that make entrepreneurship possible—that’s what drove him to study and teach entrepreneurship in the first place.

“I realized that a lot of the knowledge about how to be an entrepreneur and successfully go through that process was locked up in a small group of people largely in Silicon Valley and other entrepreneurial hot spots,” he explains. “I wanted to extend that knowledge to a broader group of people.”