Entrepreneurship doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That’s the idea fueling the work of Maria Minniti, Louis A. Bantle Chair in Entrepreneurship and Public Policy, and her team at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management’s Institute for an Entrepreneurial Society (IES).
IES was founded in 2016 with the mission to support high quality evidence-based research investigating how the volume, value, nature and direction of entrepreneurial innovation are shaped by laws and regulations, and how the resulting business environment influences economic growth and job creation.
“Entrepreneurship is an inclusive, bottom up phenomenon embedded in the global economy,” said Minniti. “The goal of my team is to reveal the mechanisms whereby alternative laws and regulations foster or hinder productive entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Indeed, the team at IES investigates the making of a society where everybody is empowered to realize the opportunities that may be in front of them. A society where everybody, be they individual, corporate or public entrepreneurs can contribute to change and growth.
“Entrepreneurs are the engine of growth,” said Minniti. “Thus our starting point is that entrepreneurship is a human universal. Each of us is fundamentally the same. Our different positions in life produce individual differences, but we are all cut from the same cloth. Those individual differences make us learn different things and in different ways. But learning is a human universal. The entrepreneur is the person, any person, who can transform their learning into something new.”
The work is global and applicable to many different industries. For example, in the wake of the devastating effects of wild fires in the western United States, a doctoral student working with Minniti is examining how alternative types of regulation and government contracts might affect fire prevention and extinction services.
“Traditionally, state agencies respond to wild fires, such as the ones we’ve seen in California,” said Minniti. “But, these fires are often so large, that those agencies need to contract part of these services out to private companies. How these public-private partnerships are organized matters a great deal for the resulting outcomes.”
Another example of how alternative regulatory and legal settings affect the growth of an industry is the case of non-military drones, which is being also investigated by a Ph.D. student at the Whitman School.
“Drones have the potential to transform many other industries, such as communication, safety and distribution,” said Professor Minniti. “Yet, regulatory uncertainty, holdups and interfering lobbying activities are making it difficult for companies to innovate and invest.” These problems usually affect entrepreneurial companies unproportionally since established ones tend to have a larger resource base on which to fall back.
IES’ work applies to grand societal challenges as well. For example, despite billions of dollars in yearly Federal funding to support homeless shelters, the U.S. homeless population is still not decreasing. Significant public resources and goodwill are being ushered to address homelessness. Yet, there seems to be a clear disconnect between the efforts made and the results obtained. Detailed work conducted by David Lucas, a post-doc IES fellow, on data from all U.S. homeless shelters, reveals the existence of an information misalignment between funding sources at the federal level and the intensity and characteristics of local homeless problems. This results in a paradox where, in spite of all parties’ good intentions, more funding results in the adoption of best practices that may not fit local needs.
Lucas was recently called to testify before the U.S. Congress on matters related to homelessness. This shows that the research efforts at IES are paying off, garnering important attention beyond their impact on academic circles.
Overall, according to Minniti, the increasingly important entanglement between regulations, law, entrepreneurship and innovation is an area where business schools have the capacity and opportunity to provide significant insight and research leadership. Her international recognition, and the public engagements of her team, attest to the Whitman School’s position as a thought leader in this area.
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