Episode 13 The Science Behind Becoming an Entrepreneur & the Role of Free Access to Knowledge for Innovation

About the Episode

Elijah Eilert is talking to Matt Clancy about what makes people become entrepreneurs and how the accessibility of information fosters innovation. The episode is guided by some of Matt’s publications that he summarizes for us before discussing the findings further.

The first main topic of discussion is about the “idea” of being an entrepreneur and how entrepreneurship is contagious. The findings from various studies show that people are more likely to start a business if they have been around entrepreneurs or have entrepreneurial role models close to them. However, being around former entrepreneurs doesn’t necessarily make it more likely to start a successful business. The second main topic is about the effect of access to knowledge on innovation. The discussion is based on three different papers that explore the relationship between knowledge access and innovation. The findings suggest that access to knowledge boosts innovation.

About the Guest

Matt Clancy is an economist specializing in science and innovation. For the last few years, he has been writing a popular living literature review on these topics at the website and newsletter New Things Under the Sun. Matt is currently a research fellow at Open Philanthropy, where he works on this and related projects. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute for Progress, and formerly an assistant teaching professor of economics at Iowa State University.

Topics and Insights 

  • (01:00) Introducing Matt Clancy
  • (01:30) Explaining this episode’s format that is guided by Matt’s articles/publications. Matt will summarise a finding before Elijah asks questions and discusses the content.
  • (02:00) Main Topic #1 The “idea” of being an entrepreneur & Entrepreneurship is contagious
    • These interlinked articles discuss where the motivation and drive for entrepreneurship come from. Some of the discussed findings from these articles are:
      • Entrepreneurs are found in social clusters
        • Scientists who make similar discoveries at similar times behave differently. One group decides to pursue commercialisation and another doesn’t. What makes these groups different is that the scientist who commercialises an idea has previously been working with (serial) entrepreneurs.
    • Studies at workplaces found that after working with people who previously found businesses it is more likely to start a business themselves.
    • On a community level, the same effect can be found.
    • Random or accidental exposure to entrepreneurship appears to increase the probability people go on to become entrepreneurs
      • In an experiment, students have been paired with entrepreneurial and non-entrepreneurial mentors. Those who had an entrepreneurial mentor are more likely to join a startup.
      • During post-doctoral research, if paired with a mentor that has patents, the likelihood for the postdoc to develop a patent is high.
      • A study on Swedish adoptees, as well as biological parents found people, are more likely to be entrepreneurs themselves if their parents are.
    • The effect of exposure to entrepreneurship seems to be stronger if the entrepreneur is “like you.”
    • The effect of exposure to entrepreneurship is weaker for people likely to already have the “idea” of being an entrepreneur
      • A study on Harvard business school students has shown the opposite effect. Being around former entrepreneurs makes it less likely to start a business. But those that went ahead with finding a business it makes them more likely to succeed.
    • When asking entrepreneurs what motivated them, they pointed out important role models close to them.
  • (15:00) Discussing what the findings could mean for companies, policymakers and ecosystem builders. Including the moral aspect behind fostering entrepreneurship. “It may be good for the community but not always for the individual.”
  • (19:00) On skill transfer/teaching entrepreneurial skills. Why foster entrepreneurship in the first place, who should be supported and what to look out for?

“There is a lot of evidence, that being around entrepreneurs makes it more likely that you start a business. There is not much evidence that being around other entrepreneurs makes you more likely to start a successful business.”

Show Transcript

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