As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I’m working on a project with the Dingman Center at University of Maryland to bring academic research to entrepreneurs.
The thesis is pretty simple:
- There exists academic research (on business strategy, entrepreneurship, governance, management) which is of potential use to entrepreneurs
- Frequently this research is in a form where entrepreneurs can’t use it. It’s “academic”, as we say, which means it’s a) couched in jargon b) written in that inimitable academic style c) geared toward research objectives such as gaining prestige or getting tenure rather than business objectives such as improving decision-making.
- This information is also hidden from entrepreneurs. It is published in peer-review journals which are vital for researchers but way off the beaten track for entrepreneurs.
So the thesis of the project is that if we can 1) identify useful research and 2) translate/transform it into a form where it is business-useful and 3) find a channel which entrepreneurs trust to make this information available, then we can do a service for entrepreneurs and do a service for the research community.
Like most ideas, this is not an utterly new one, and sometimes parades under the rubric of “evidence-based entrepreneurship”. So I’ve taken to calling this the “EBE Project.”
Of the various problems to be solved in the EBE Project, 1) seems the least problematic. There is a good volume of research that is interesting and potentially applicable to entrepreneurs and their organizations. Hardly a surprise: researchers are attracted to interesting problems by and large, despite the corrosive effect of scholarly timidity and conservatism. I’ve sat in on a number of research-in-progress seminars at the Smith School during the fall, and there are more topics than we can easily deal with now or even soon.
The second problem, transforming the material into a form useful for entrepreneurs, is more vexing. My few conversations with entrepreneurs about potentially-useful academic research have produced glazed eyes and what one might call “protective distraction”, where a difficult thought causes the listener to tune out rather than try to grapple with something that might be difficult.
The sad thing about this is not that entrepreneurs are skeptical about useful stuff from the Academy, but that it’s going to be hard to recruit any entrepreneurs to be “customer discovery” resources for helping the Project to understand how best to speak to them.
The third problem, finding “trusted channels” that will help entrepreneurs to filter the useful material from the chaff, is not as vexatious as #2 but still not simple. My thesis is that most entrepreneurs have a circle of trusted advisers, and that getting these advisers — attorneys, financial professionals, investors — to recommend the EBE Project materials will go a long ways toward assuring at least a reading/viewing of the materials.
I’ve spoken with a couple of startup-oriented attorneys in DC and I’m teeing up conversations with incubator execs and investors over the next couple of months. These will tell me a lot about which of these trusted advisers will be most useful.
More on these topics in coming days.