Research on startup accelerators is new, and its development is important to today’s founding teams.
Prior to Techstars, I worked in research at the Kauffman Foundation. We marveled at the newness of the general academic study of entrepreneurship.
The Beginning of Entrepreneurship Research
There are many theories to the different epochs that developed research in entrepreneurship, but no doubt that it is growing and evolving now more than ever.
In the past couple of decades more and more resources have gone into entrepreneurship research. The development of data on the subject has grown and expanded. Over time, entrepreneurship research has become a rapidly evolving and critical field of study from top universities.
Research and data in entrepreneurship has necessarily grown into a fully interdisciplinary field of study. We need to consider psychology, sociology, anthropology, management, finance, economics, and on and on, in order to get a full understanding as to the individual, team, company, and market factors that affect whether the endeavor will be successful. Each of those disciplines take on a different type of data and methodology for study, together giving a more complete picture of entrepreneurship.
And we took this enigmatic topic, and put infrastructure around it.
Building Infrastructure Around the Phenomenon of Entrepreneurship
College campuses rapidly began embracing entrepreneurship. My friend Arnobio Morelix wrote a terrific timeline on the development of entrepreneurship on college campuses. From 100 formal entrepreneurship programs in 1975, to 500 in 2006, to many schools requiring education in entrepreneurship in 2013. From 250 entrepreneurship courses in 1985 to more than 5,000 in 2008, a strong focus on entrepreneurship is practically an expectation at universities today.
And then, accelerators. The first accelerator, Y Combinator, was started in 2005. A year later, Techstars was founded. And now, somewhere between 300 and 2,000 accelerators exist around the world, according to researchers Susan Cohen and Yael Hochberg. And, we’re getting better at identifying what it takes to qualify as an accelerator. As the researchers explain, programs such as Techstars fall into the category of seed accelerators, or “a fixed-term, cohort-based program, including mentorship and educational components, that culminates in a public pitch event or demo day.”
Accelerators are only 12 years old. That is incredibly young in terms of research. Data is still very early, and there is much debate going on into how to develop and study this field of research. CrunchBase, AngelList, and the accelerators themselves are commonly used data sources for researchers in this area. New methodologies are being developed using techniques like randomized controlled trials to measure certain interventions in entrepreneur’s success.
Improving Conditions by Understanding our Unknown Unknowns
So, why does this matter for entrepreneurs? Simply put, research improves conditions.
In starting up an accelerator program, I’m learning quickly that unknown unknowns naturally arise. (How can accelerators best serve a diverse pool of founders? When is the right time for a company to join an accelerator?)
Research seeks to better understand unknowns. Accelerators seek to better improve outcomes for entrepreneurs. The two go hand in hand.
The more unknowns we face, the harder it is to run a successful program. And, when companies join us, we’re putting emphasis on our beliefs (say, the particulars of building a pricing structure) that we as an accelerator hold as truth for long term success in a company, and we ought to know with certainty and evidence that those things really do matter for founders.
It matters that we get better at collecting data on entrepreneurial outcomes. It matters that researchers are able to conduct studies on the work that we do.
One thing I love about Techstars is that because it was started by engineers who love data, and love making that data public. Transparency and honest data is critical to improving the conditions on something that we are all on the very cutting edge of developing (accelerators).
So, entrepreneurs, with every passing year, we know more about how to make companies more successful who enter our accelerator programs. We know more about how to best serve you. It is an exciting time to be a part of this experiment — creating infrastructure on the phenomenon of entrepreneurship.