Research Profile: Cristiano Bellavitis
Cristiano Bellavitis arrived at the Whitman School in the middle of a global pandemic to a sparsely populated campus. But over the past year, the assistant professor of entrepreneurship—a native of Rome, Italy, who has taught in Russia, Belgium, and China and came to the United States from his most recent job as a senior lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship in Auckland, New Zealand—has found Syracuse and his department to be a comfortable new home base.
With a fascination for entrepreneurship that reaches far back to youthful business ventures such as a video rental store and an electric vehicle showroom, and continues with two companies of his own (Integer Investments and Datasurge.ai), Bellavitis was drawn to Whitman by the caliber of his colleagues and the School’s commitment to the field. “It’s a unique situation to have a department only for entrepreneurship,” he explains. “It felt like a good fit for my research.”
Bellavitis specializes in entrepreneurial finance, looking at both traditional and innovative investment methods and publishing in such journals as Organization Science, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, British Journal of Management, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal and Journal of Business Venturing Insights. In the more established arena of business angels or venture capital, a recent paper, for example, examines the impact of COVID-19 on entrepreneurial finance markets globally, exploring what types of companies received investments and what types of investors changed their investment behavior due to COVID-19. For another project, he and his collaborators are combing through thousands of job postings and communications between employers and employees to learn more about hiring practices in technology companies.
In 2017, a novel way for startups to attract investments piqued Bellavitis’ interest. “Bitcoin was coming into the mainstream, and ICOs (initial coin offerings) were becoming an important source of finance,” he recalls. “Companies were raising billions of dollars that way, so I got curious.” ICOs are an innovative form of decentralized fundraising during which companies issue “tokens” (quantities of cryptocurrency) to sell to potential investors across the globe. Ever since, Bellavitis has worked with a variety of international collaborators to shine a light on ICOs from different angles, and he has become sought after by media outlets such as NBC News for commentary on the topic.
What makes ICOs attractive, Bellavitis and a colleague summarized in a 2019 paper, is that avoiding traditional financial institutions reduces transaction costs and friction and promotes greater inclusiveness, transparency and innovativeness. “At the beginning, there was a lot of excitement,” he says. But ICOs were also plagued by fraud, volatility and regulatory uncertainty. Then came regulatory changes that provided fodder for Bellavitis’ next several articles. He is particularly proud of a paper that appeared in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. “We studied how regulation influenced the ICO market,” he says. “Although the question might seem simple, it is not.” Because cryptocurrencies are somewhat anonymous and not physically located in a country that could impose laws, they are very hard to regulate. Countries such as China and Korea have outright banned ICOs, and the issuance of cryptocurrency declined in these markets. “But we also found an indirect impact, a regulatory spillover,” Bellavitis explains. “The bans changed the sentiment around the world, and the number of ICOs declined everywhere, but the quality of these ICOs increased. That was an interesting finding.”
Overall, Bellavitis says, the industry has lost steam and power over the past few years. But with several of his current studies still focused on ICOs—for example, investigating what signals investors look to in deciding whether to invest—he is confident that cryptocurrencies still have much to offer. “There will be more innovation in this area,” he says. As Bellavitis keeps his finger on the pulse of ICOs and other blockchain technologies, current events also inform his other research, such as ongoing studies on COVID-19’s impact on remote work. “My research topics will probably remain constant for at least 10 more years,” Bellavitis says. “But I’ll frame my questions in a way that is related and relevant to what happens in the world and try to provide some insights into how these things change.”
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