What is the nature of your position at and/or connection with UTC?

I’m currently the UC Foundation assistant professor of entrepreneurship in the department of marketing and entrepreneurship. This is my third year at UTC. I came here from the University of Texas at Austin, where I received my PhD in Corporate Strategy and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship. At UTC, I primarily research issues involving in social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and entrepreneurship in non-traditional contexts (e.g., rural entrepreneurship; entrepreneurship in the arts).   

Who is your community partner?

My community partner is Mike Bradshaw the Executive Director of the Company Lab (aka CO.LAB). CO.LAB is a nonprofit startup accelerator that supports entrepreneurial growth in southeast Tennessee. CO.LAB supports and helps to grow early stage companies.

What idea or need inspired this partnership?

One of the reasons I came to UTC (and to Chattanooga in general) was that Chattanooga’s business community represented an opportunity to study a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in its formative stages. Entrepreneurial ecosystems are communities where there is a high number of new businesses coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit. While living in Texas, I attempted to study Austin’s vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem; however, Austin’s ecosystem has been well-developed for decades and is (largely) a “finished product.” In contrast, Chattanooga’s ecosystem is still growing, adapting, and unfolding – right before our eyes. For a researcher trying to identify the cause-and-effect mechanisms underlying how entrepreneurial ecosystems emerge and evolve, Chattanooga is a perfect “petry dish” for observing the phenomena I study.

Before I moved to Chattanooga, Mike had contacted me about my research; so we had formed a connection even before I arrived. However, soon after I officially joined the faculty at UTC, we began exchanging ideas and developing theories about how Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial ecosystem operates.

What will (does) the partnership do?

Mike and I were eventually exchanging ideas with such frequency and in such volumes that we decided we needed to put pen to paper and begin writing a manuscript that outlined our theories explaining how entrepreneurial ecosystems emerge and evolve. Although there is a growing amount of academic research on entrepreneurial ecosystems, there has yet to be a unified theory to guide researchers’ efforts. We aimed to solve that problem.

Since writing the initial paper, which is currently under final review at one of the top academic journals in the field of entrepreneurship (Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal), the ideas Mike and I have generated have led to several additional research papers (one recently published in the Journal of Entrepreneurship). Mike and I have also presented our ideas at national conferences (e.g., most recently at the U.S. Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) conference in San Diego and at the Southern Management Association Annual Conference in Charlotte).

Along the way we’ve had other faculty, graduate students, and community partners join us on the project and/or provide feedback (e.g., Dr. Bev Brockman (Dept. Head of Marketing and Entrepreneurship); Peyton Miller (UTC MBA Student), and Yaz Motoyama (Research Director at the Kauffman Foundation).

What are some of your hopes/goals/projects of this partnership?

The goal of the project is to understand what makes entrepreneurial ecosystems tick. We believe that the theory we’ve developed helps to explain how vibrant startup communities form and grow. Perhaps more importantly, we hope we have shed light on how entrepreneurial ecosystems influence the “health” of the communities in which they are located.

Our next goal/project is to test our theory, which was derived mostly from the study of Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, to see how much is idiosyncratic to our city and how much can be applied to other cities trying to improve their local economies through the creation of entrepreneurial ecosystems. As a first step in doing this, I’m in the process of a detailed study of Youngstown, Ohio’s nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem. Youngstown and Chattanooga share many similarities. Although both cities have experienced rough times, they are turning to entrepreneurial ecosystems as a way to revitalize their economies.

What have you learned from the partnership?

As business academics it is very rare for us to co-author with so-called “practitioners.” We tend to be more comfortable working with other academics. However, I now realize that this represents a massive untapped opportunity. In the case of my partnership with Mike, he did much more than simply give me access to data and “keep me honest” and grounded in the real world; he was a true co-author and collaborator. He came to me with novel ideas and new theoretical angles – many of which were far more sophisticated than anything I would have come up with! – and throughout the process of completing our research we constantly bounced ideas off one another.

Not only will I continue to consult with Mike as I begin to study other entrepreneurial ecosystems, but I will almost certainly involve individuals from those entrepreneurial communities in my research.

Any other relevant details/information that you would like highlighted. Essentially, what would you want the broader community (both UTC and Chattanooga) to be aware of?

I think there is a misconception – both outside of academia and even within some segments of universities – that research is something that is separate from the “real world” and an activity that is only relevant in the “ivory tower” of academia. However, I believe our community partnership demonstrates that research need not be a “pie in the sky” endeavor. With the right partnership, research can, and often does, have very tangible and important applications.

 

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