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How CIIE is Leveraging Research to Create a Disproportionate Impact in the Startup Ecosystem

Supriya Sharma, VP — Research, CIIE

In order to find out how CIIE is leveraging research to create a disproportionate impact in the startup ecosystem, we caught up with Supriya Sharma, VP, Research at CIIE.

Why research at CIIE?

We are pursing research to influence the innovation and entrepreneurship discourse in the country, and thereby positively impact the outcomes of the entrepreneurial activity in India.

CIIE has been an active participant in India’s innovation and entrepreneurship story for about a decade. We have witnessed development of impactful innovations and business models, success and failures of startups, inclinations, choices and decisions of entrepreneurs, investors and other stakeholders in the ecosystem. Particularly, we interface with, invest in, and mentor startups in their formative years. This is a nebulous stage for the startups, characterized by intense iterations, fluid decisions and an overwhelming risk of failure. Often, there are repeated patterns in decisions, choices, success and mistakes of startups. We believe that knowledge based inputs could potentially obviate reinventing the wheel and facilitate more informed choices. Research at CIIE aims to build such knowledge. While India has seen heightened entrepreneurship activity in the last 5–6 years, we believe that such knowledge inputs are critical for sustainably impacting entrepreneurial activity in the country.

We believe that there is merit in integrating the academic thought and practice of entrepreneurship in India. As a part of India’s topmost management school, CIIE is positioned at the intersection of academia and practice. We aim to facilitate integration between them through our research efforts.

To conclude, research is a part of our foundation as an organization. CIIE was conceptualized “to synergistically combine activities related to incubation, research and teaching”. Our vision is “To deliver disproportionate impact to entrepreneurship in India by leveraging and enhancing IIM Ahmedabad’s leadership in research, education, and practice.” So, in a way, we are just doing our job!

What does research include?

Our research efforts comprise focused conceptual inquiries, sector deep dives, and resources for entrepreneurship training.

We pursue focused inquiries into various aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship. We collaborate with professors and researchers across various disciplines to identify research questions, conduct studies and share our findings with diverse audiences.

The second component of the research triad is sector deep dives. While this is an ongoing activity, it got additional thrust last year with SAP Innovation Fellowship at CIIE. We engaged five innovation fellows, who worked closely with in-house experts, to analyze emerging sectors — FinTech, IoT, CleanTech, healthcare and agriculture. They accessed data from multiple sources and engaged with various stakeholders to develop sharp insights into gaps, challenges, trends and potential opportunity spaces in the respective sectors.

Our third area of focus is collaboration with faculty to develop resources for entrepreneurship training. We are writing case studies highlighting varied dilemma and issues experienced by entrepreneurs and startups. We frequently collaborate with faculty to develop course modules on entrepreneurship and related areas. Inspired by the pedagogical approach of IIM Ahmedabad, we do our bit about bringing the field to class.

What research studies are you currently working on? What are some of your findings?

One of the first studies that we undertook was to understand how startups design themselves in their formative years. This is important because a startup needs to be nimble to be able to respond to a dynamic environment. However, too much flexibility could make the operations inefficient, therefore adding to the resource crunch. We find that structures and hierarchies evolve over three phases. The third phase is characterized by appointment of middle management and creation of sub-teams in the organization. This event i.e. entry of the middle management is usually an emotionally intense change, often leading to a churn in the team. While these are preliminary findings, we are now analyzing data from about 50 high innovation startups to gain deeper insights.

Women and entrepreneurship is another broad area of interest to us. Extant research affirms that low participation of women in entrepreneurship is largely attributable to the gendered norm. In other words, the characteristics associated with a typical entrepreneur are masculine. A ‘woman entrepreneur’ would, therefore, be required to portray both, masculine and feminine, characteristics. Failure in portraying either could entail undesirable outcomes for her. We are interviewing women to understand if and how do they address these contradictory norms. We find that their responses to such situations range from denying to defying. Recognition of gender bias, experiencing guilt, and hesitation to ‘call-it-out’ characterizes the movement between the two ends of the continuum i.e. denial and defiance. Between the two extremes, women balance the contradictory masculine and feminine expectations through masking their identity, adopting integrative metaphors, negotiating cultural norms, and/or justifying non-conformism.

We are also trying to understand the configuration of a good pitch through an analysis of pitches from our flagship national level entrepreneurship contest. Preliminary findings reveal application of three persuasive strategies — ethos, pathos, and logos — in diverse ways. We find that startups are rated most favorably when they showcase their teams to make an ethos (or credibility of the founders/team) based persuasive appeal.

We are also examining whether an entrepreneur’s approach or logic influences the startup’s funding outcomes. We find that while entrepreneurs are expected to be agile, nimble and iterative, the opposite i.e. causal, definitive approach significantly improves the chances of receiving funding.

In addition to these, we are also pursuing a few other questions. How are social enterprises different from commercial ones? Why do budding entrepreneurs abandon a startup opportunity? How are entrepreneurs’ personalities different from those of managers? What are the dimensions of the relationship between incubators and startups?

In addition to these, we have also analyzed the impact of MeitY’s TIDE scheme and proposed a revised structure so that the scheme can make a pointed as well as far reaching impact in its next version.

What are the case studies about?

Our cases deal with a variety of dilemma and issues. ‘Memorable Shaadi’ details the problems of working with the informal sector and the classic dilemma of an entrepreneur i.e. startup or not. Another case details the handling of an intense crisis situation. Two of our cases detail the choices available to startups for growth in a hypercompetitive market. Another one elaborates an IIMAverick trying to implement a large-scale change in his family business. We are also writing a three-part case that details the personalities and attitudes of entrepreneurs, dilemma around building the founding team, and developing a dual market business model. Except for ‘Memorable Shaadi’, we are yet to obtain release rights from the case protagonists, so I cannot reveal their names now. We co-author all our cases with faculty at IIMA Ahmedabad.

Tell us something about yourself and the research team?

We are a four-member team — Snehil Basoya, Valerie Mendonca, Rajesh Jain and I.

Snehil, an IIM Ahmedabad PGP graduate and an avid theater enthusiast, has worked with social enterprises, and curated and published an anthology of modern poetry. As part of the research team, he focuses on cases and developing teaching material.

Valerie has been an academic associate at IIM Ahmedabad. She has assisted professors and pursued her research actively. Along with her focus on qualitative research and cases, Valerie takes keen interest in reviewing latest books on entrepreneurship. She has published one review and is writing another one now.

Rajesh left behind a senior management position to answer his research calling. He joined us to prepare for his PhD and a career in research. At CIIE, Rajesh primarily works on econometric models and quantitative analysis.

I completed my doctoral course from IIM Ahmedabad, with my dissertation focusing on the identity-image contradictions in startups. I find deep meaning in research and find joy in its process. In addition to entrepreneurship and startups, I actively pursue research in organizational identities and gender studies. In my past life, I have worked in a variety of roles including channel management, executive assistantship, academia, and burnt my fingers with entrepreneurship too.

I believe we are pursuing interesting research, along with exploring meaningful collaborations and leveraging existing data in novel ways. A variety of audiences including entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, academia, regulators, as well as our contemporaries from India and other countries continue to affirm their interest in our work. Their encouragement keeps us motivated on this journey.

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