15 years with more than new ventures – February Edition

Written by - 28.02.2018 - kl. 19.09

In this second presentation of master’s theses from NTNU School of Entrepreneurship, we span over the last ten years and have found three theses that have had a close connection to the faculty’s research. Two of them include topics that have interested and been researched by the faculty, and the last where one student later became part of NSE’s faculty and continued his work. In addition, all of these theses have proved to be timely and interesting outside NSE, where researchers at other universities have shown great interest in the work.

We hope you get inspired and enjoy the reading! If you want to read more about our students’ prior theses, you can find January’s three theses HERE.

– The faculty of NSE

In 2018, NSE celebrates its fifteenth anniversary and as a part of the celebration, the faculty has gathered fifteen theses from prior NSE students, and intend to present three of these theses through the first semester of 2018. The theses presented will be a variety of academic prodigies, timely written investigations and theses not necessarily meaningful to the majority of the world, but with topics of profound importance to NSE’s students. Some will carry limited empirical foundation, nevertheless with impressive results. Others have a data collection that would cause professors to become envy, but where the students still handled the data in an impressive manner. Moreover, all of the above show the impressive span in the students’ theses.

In this series of presentations, we intend to provide you with an overview of what NSE students focus on, what outcomes the Master’s theses could give, and what the students themselves think of their theses – some of which written more than a decade ago! You will therefore find abstracts and interviews with the authors of the presented theses. If some of the works are of interest to you, the majority of the theses are available at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s library. If they are not available, we assume the authors would be happy to share some of their knowledge.

Opening the «Black Box» of Learning in Action-Based Entrepreneurship Education

By Amalie Hellborg and Kaja Skovborg-Hansen 

The fourth thesis we present in this series is an example of a study that was timely, and that investigated an important topic – ourselves, or action-based entrepreneurship education and venture creation programs. One of the thesis’ findings is the importance of a community of practice for the learning situation, and through NSE faculty’s continued research on our alumni, we now experience that the community of practice is of much greater importance – it even spans beyond learning. As the interest within entrepreneurship education has bloomed in the past five years, their thesis from 2016 fits well into the stream of research, and international researchers applauded their work in entrepreneurship education forums. We took a call to the authors to hear their view of the work and to tell them they reached the top fifteen theses.

– Wow, that is a very nice call to receive! Thank you! As we were both students at NSE, and since NSE is reckoned to be one of the most prominent entrepreneurship educations, we wanted to understand if there were any factors that were key for such educations’ success, Amalie says, before Kaja adds:

– We also identified a gap in the literature regarding action-based educations, and therefore wanted to look into this.

The two authors tell us that they also wanted to write a thesis that could be of interest and value for NSE’s faculty, and that they ‘didn’t want the thesis to collect dust in a drawer.’ However, the topic entailed that the two studied ‘themselves’ which made the work a bit demanding, as the road to quick conclusions could be tempting and obvious, but they also stress the value of their enrolment.

– Without the insights in entrepreneurship education, we would not be able to extract the essence from the literature we read and from our interviewees at NTNU, Chalmers and in Lund. It was therefore rather beneficial and gave us a deeper understanding of the topic. However, with this interest, a small craving to include more in the thesis also followed, but we later figured out that a narrow focus is often better! Hence, we started with a too broad focus, and used a lot of time on finding the right view.

The two authors also tell us that reading the literature was important, as the development of a theoretical model, which was central in their work, would never occurred if they had not been well-read in the topic. Regarding their findings, the two state that the most important finding is the importance of the community of practice, where student-to-student learning was an important outcome. However, faculty’s role is also important as Amalie explains:

– We also saw that the faculty should be viewed as facilitators, where they offer a pedagogical framework that the students should act within, but in addition, we also identified the importance of trust and expectations among students and faculty.

– What would be the topic for your thesis if you wrote it today?

– We would have continued our work in entrepreneurship education, and perhaps explored how an entrepreneurship education influences the students’ future, both if they become entrepreneurs but also if they enter into paid employment.

Abstract

There exists an agreement among scholars that entrepreneurship can be taught, and the action-based approach is claimed as an appropriate teaching method to let students gain entrepreneurial competences within an academic context. The literature review in this thesis demonstrates the lack of empirical in-depth studies of how learning transpires within action-based entrepreneurship education, and few articles have empirically accounted for how a learning environment enhances entrepreneurial learning. This underlines a need for more empirical research examining entrepreneurial learning through social relationships. The purpose of this thesis is to open up the “black box” of learning within action-based entrepreneurship education programs to gain insights in how a learning environment stimulates entrepreneurial learning. Three research questions have been designed to fulfil the purpose of this thesis, where the authors have investigated how action-based entrepreneurship education is delivered by faculty, how students practice action-based entrepreneurial learning, and how learning materializes through interaction within a community of practice.

In order to answer the research questions, secondary data through a literature review and primary data through qualitative research have been obtained and combined. Since the authors have studied a contemporary phenomenon in real-life context, a case study design has enabled a possibility to investigate how action-based entrepreneurial learning occurs, and how a learning environment stimulates the students ́ learning. Based on a literature review, a conceptual model of action-based entrepreneurial learning has been developed. This conceptual model has been further developed based on insights from in-depth case studies. The authors selected three university programs; Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, NTNU School of Entrepreneurship and Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship. All three have extensive experience with action-based learning, which ensured relevant empirical data. All the programs provide new venture creation as a part of the educational curriculum. Empirical data has been acquired through individual interviews with the faculty and focus group interviews with students of the program. The empirical findings have been analyzed and discussed with the aim of understanding the interaction between the individual student, co-students and faculty.

The authors found that proactive behavior, the level of motivation, educational background and the level of effort are all important characteristics of the students attending action-based entrepreneurship education programs. The empirical findings underline that action-based entrepreneurship education programs requires the faculty to operate as facilitators, where they provide an educational framework that the students can operate within. Further, it was found that faculty should have confidence in the students taking responsibility for their learning at the same time as the students need to take responsibility in obtaining entrepreneurial competencies. The empirical findings also emphasize a need for guidance in where the students focus their actions and in their process of reflection. Summarized, the faculty should support and challenge their students, rather than being controllers of learning. By investigating the involvement of students and faculty within a learning environment, the authors have identified how students enhance each other’s learning through share of knowledge, engagement and support. It has become evident that learning materializes through collective learning between co-students, and the culture that is created within action-based entrepreneurship education programs is seen as essential for how students learn. This underlines how entrepreneurial learning should be understood as a social phenomenon, rather than purely individual.

The main contribution of this thesis is how entrepreneurial learning is stimulated by the interaction between students within a community of practice, termed student-to-student learning. Based on theoretical perspectives and in-depth case studies, a conceptual model has been developed to obtain an overall understanding of the research scope. This can provide higher educational institutions that want to establish or further develop their action-based entrepreneurship education programs, with a deeper understanding of how entrepreneurial learning takes place within such programs. This thesis further provides students with a deeper understanding of their requirements and responsibility of learning. When the students recognize their role within action-based entrepreneurship education, they are able to adjust their expectations to the educational program and act accordingly. You cannot judge a book by its cover, and the same can be applied for action-based entrepreneurship education, where the “black box” of learning has to be opened up to grasp the meaning of entrepreneurial learning as student-to-student learning.

Strengthening Start-Up Innovation: Exploring Acquisition of Innovation Competences in University Spin-Off Companies

By Marius Tuft Mathisen and Stian Remåd

The fifth thesis in this series is one where the work and interest later resulted in a PhD in 2017 for one of the authors, Marius. Thus, the question on what topic they would focus on if they were to write their thesis today is perhaps superfluous, but this also shows that their thesis was important and timely. In addition, they are both working in start-ups that commercialise new technology, and it is safe to say that their interest in entrepreneurship has not weakened after their graduation in 2007. When telling them they made the list, shouts of joy meets us in the phone, but they shiver a bit when realising it is more than ten years ago since they wrote their thesis, consisting of one conceptual and one empirical paper.

– It is a long time ago but we still remember that we worked quite organised. We chose the topic ourselves, and did so based on the experiences and challenges that we met in our own start-ups, Marius tells us.

– We also wrote separate project theses the semester before; thus, we were reading a lot of literature in the beginning of our work. However, we were two in the team, and that helped us a lot! The entire thesis was written through discussions about theory and our empirical data, so that is our most important learning – to be two working together.

Nevertheless, going from a technological education, where the answer often is quite clear, to social science, is something the authors experienced as a bit challenging. When being enrolled in their engineering educations, they used to plan their projects from the beginning in a linear matter; now they had to work in a more iterative matter. Stian remembers they struggled a bit with this issue:

– We had to evaluate our hypotheses and our models constantly, as these were changing when we discovered new knowledge. Even though this demanded a lot of time, it helped us ensure that we both worked towards a common goal and objective. The answers often occurred when exploring data and reflecting upon the theory, and thus was it quite hard to know where we would end in the beginning.

When it comes to their findings, they stress that commercialising new technology is demanding and complex, and that a team needs complementary competences to be able to succeed. They also found that tacit knowledge is important to implement and involve in these projects, as this knowledge is hard to transfer to other members. More interesting, perhaps, for students and faculty at NSE, is that the authors also identified the importance of students in these new ventures. Marius explains for us:

– We identified that students could play an important role in such projects, as they hold a very important resource that others in such projects might not hold: time and work capacity. Experience and technological expertise is important, but it occurs that these projects become stationary due to lack of time or work capacity.

Abstract (conceptual article)

Commercializing university research through spin-off companies has proven to be a source of significant wealth creation. However, suffering from a lack of competence in distinct areas, founders of university spin-off companies struggle to bring their inventions to market. In this conceptual study the authors developed a typology based on the experiential and educational background of three types of entrepreneurs commercializing university intellectual property. Through creating a conceptual framework consisting of resource-base theory and social capital theory, and discussing their perspective on entrepreneurial activities, this study proposes a general positioning of the entrepreneurs, and advice on how to develop the initial resource-base of the firm. More specifically, we argue that academic and so-called surrogate entrepreneurs possess different sets of resources, and must thus develop their resource-bases in different directions in order to increase the probability of venture success. The study aims to provide researchers with a theoretical basis for further investigations using empirical samples.

Abstract (empirical article)

University spin-off companies have proven to be a wealth-creating strategy in commercializing intellectual property from research. However, suffering from a lack of competence in distinct areas, founders of university spin-off companies struggle to bring their inventions to market. This study has tested the conceptual typology created by Mathisen and Remåd (2007), which differentiates three types of entrepreneurs’ competence-base when commercializing university intellectual property. Through a qualitative investigation of 14 new ventures we investigated the competence-base of academic, surrogate and student entrepreneurs, their gaps, and their methods for closing them in order to reach the stage of having a marketable product. We found support for the conceptual typology, but also aspects which were found to require further investigation. Moreover, we propose a set of implications which may help entrepreneurs in assessing potential intellectual property, and to help them acquire the right type and quality of competence.

Venture Capital Trade Sale Exits

By Erik Aasprong Engløkk, Alexander Østebø Høiby and Robert Jansen Haarstad

February’s last thesis is an extensive work, where the final deliverable consisted of four papers. The authors show a deep gratitude when we tell them about including them in our top fifteen, and the work is one that fits well in our list. The topic of venture capital trade sale exits was an under-researched field when this thesis was written in 2011, and the field is in many ways still under-researched today. However, while the gap led them into the field, their interest in the topic also motivated them to write the thesis, Alexander recalls:

– We chose to work on venture capital because we shared the interest of the investor-entrepreneur relation in building successful ventures, where exit is an unavoidable topic and outcome. A successful VC investment means a trade sale the majority of the time, but the topic of trade sale exits was under-researched, so trying to contribute to new knowledge was also a motivation for us.

When it comes to the findings from their work, the most interesting insight was that the relationship between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, which often is pictured as a conflictual relationship, appeared to be the opposite.

– The relation was mutually beneficial and the topic of exits was usually well aligned already early after an investment by the venture capitalist was made, Robert explains.

However, investigations of a new or under-investigated topic often demands a qualitative approach, and the authors decided to interview investors and entrepreneurs, not only in Norway, but also in the US. Through their network in both countries, the authors arranged meetings to obtain the necessary insight in the field – a work that gave more than only academic results:

– With limited data on this topic before, we chose to base our study on qualitative research. That meant interviewing investors and entrepreneurs in Norway and the US about their experiences on specific exits they had participated in – a very rewarding experience both academically and personally, Alexander says.

– One of the most striking characteristics of the process that led to the thesis was the unanimous willingness among respondents to participate, and share their experiences with such detail. It just goes to show that if you’re open to input and have a question, most people will set aside time to help you. All you need to do is ask. We were and are very grateful for that, Erik adds.

– If you had to write a new thesis today, what would the topic be?

– With our sample being based on ventures that was successfully sold, it would have been interesting to see if there are similar aspects that characterizes investments that are less successful, or to analyse the similar research questions in light of a statistically broader sample.

Abstract

Even though venture capital trade sale exits are the most common and successful exit vehicle, historically most academic attention has been given to IPO exits. This thesis takes the first steps towards opening the black box that is trade sale exits. The thesis is paper-based, and the main academic contributions belong to the four papers appended. This document opens with an introduction to the field of study as well as overall reflections in order to offer the reader a contextual background. Paper one is based on a literature review, while paper two through four are based on an inductive multiple-case study covering 19 venture capital trade sale exits from Norway and the U.S.

Paper one conducts an extensive literature review of venture capital exits in general, leading up to the development of a model denoted The Road to Venture Capital Exit . This model identifies the variables that influence the exit process in the different phases, and describes how these variables influence the exit process.

Paper two explores the relation between pre-planned exit strategies and value-adding, and suggests the existence of two different venture capitalist mindsets; the Tailor and the Architect. The Tailor uses exit possibilities as an addition to traditional deal evaluation criteria, has a pre-planned exit strategy, and adds value with exit in mind. The Architect does not use exit possibilities as an evaluation criteria, and adds value in a more general manner.

Paper three examines the relationship between the venture capitalist and the entrepreneur during the trade sale exit process, finding that this relationship is characterized more by consensus and cooperation than by conflict and defection. Further, it is found that four factors influence the relationship during the exit process, and are determining for the conflict level. These factors are: pre-investment alignment, strategic hurdles and personal motives faced by the entrepreneur, the reputation and connectedness of the venture capitalist, and the probability for entrepreneurial recycling.

Paper four explores the role of financial advisors in trade sale exits, by looking closer at why advisors are utilized, as well as by examining the factors determining the choice of a specific advisor. It is found that advisors are considered especially useful in bargaining situations, through playing the role of bad cops, and also by letting venture capitalists and entrepreneurs focus on their primary tasks. With regards to selection criteria, venture capitalists emphasize industry experience, prior relations and the size of the advisory firm. Finally, the findings are integrated in a framework explaining the role of financial advisors in venture capital trade sale exits.