Extending Entrepreneurship Research into New Frontiers

“We are asking the relevant and challenging questions that people don’t even know they should be asking. We’re driving the bus in discussions on a number of important topics,” said Alexander McKelvie, professor and chair of the entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises (EEE) department at the Syracuse University‘s Martin J. Whitman School of Management.

The EEE faculty has already garnered international attention for their work in the areas of new venture growth, founders’ exit from their businesses, and levels of entrepreneurship across the world in different countries based on their public policies. However, the EEE research team has recently leaped into new, uncharted territory.

Johan Wiklund, Al Berg Chair of Entrepreneurship, is now focusing on entrepreneurship, mental health and learning differences, expanding his influence on discussions globally. The topic of learning differences – such as entrepreneurs having ADHD – is not usually one associated with entrepreneurship and can be viewed as sensitive and personal to many entrepreneurs, according to McKelvie.

“Johan has taken what’s often seen as a negative and flipped it into having others think about it as a positive,” said McKelvie. “He’s calling into question well-espoused myths or misconceptions and showing that they’re not really the truth!”

For example, Wiklund’s work finds that having ADHD is not a hurdle or a negative, but rather a positive, when it comes to being an entrepreneur. Wiklund is heavily engaged in data collection in search of further evidence and has achieved global recognition for his work, including a Distinguished Fulbright Scholar appointment in Australia, as well as placement in leading media, such as Inc. and Fast Company magazines.

Another stream of EEE research focuses on military veterans and the challenges they face as they transition back to civilian life. Important topics in this body of work include issues such as managing work-life balance, sleep and health, and self-identity as an entrepreneur. Research in this area has contributed to the growth of new programs and services supporting veterans and their transition, and educational opportunities and resources useful to help veterans obtain what they need to run successful businesses.

Some of the research done by the EEE team is showing that entrepreneurs are not always the people we think they are, according to McKelvie. Maria Minniti, Bantle Chair in Entrepreneurship and Public Policy, found that starting a successful new business is not a young person’s game, as is commonly thought. Older generations are starting new ventures at an increasing rate, and they are often better at it then their younger counterparts. This, again, challenges the norms and leads to new discussions in society and training in support of that.

The EEE research team also has a lot of high-impact work in earlier stages of development. Many of these studies are not yet published. These projects include those that focus on the intersection of policy and entrepreneurship in new industries such as drones, refugee resettlement and its impact on starting new businesses, homelessness and the challenges presented by restricted government funding, and the dysfunctional aspects of angel investor networks.

Part of what makes the EEE research team successful is its commitment to its doctoral students, all of whom serve as co-authors on papers and not only research assistants.

“Our Ph.D. students often take the lead on research projects. After all, research is a craft and you only get better by doing and practicing it,” said McKelvie. “Our goal is to create independent scholars so we have them play important roles at the beginning of their research journey. Students pick their own research topics and are given the autonomy and engine to develop their conclusions. We are investing in them for the long game.”

Many of the current doctoral students are participating in career development consortia and attending leading conferences, presenting their work around the world. Relatively recent graduates of the Ph.D. program are achieving their goals in academia, including earning tenured positions at high quality universities, all due largely to the research activity in which they engaged at the Whitman School.

“Our research team are taking on projects that have a real impact,” said McKelvie. “By engaging people in a different way and connecting seemingly disparate topics, we are starting new fields of work, leading to new innovations, influencing policy and contributing to the body of knowledge about entrepreneurship in society.”