West Coast Research Symposium straddles line between stealth mode research and open discovery

West Coast Research Symposium attendees

The 14th Annual West Coast Research Symposium on Technology Entrepreneurship attracted 87 doctoral students and faculty to the University of Washington.

In between all the data-gathering and calculations, faculty attending the West Coast Research Symposium at the University of Washington must have found some time to watch television.

HBO’s “Silicon Valley” was referenced in at least one presentation and why not? It has elevated entrepreneurship to pop culture status and given new weight to such words as “pivot,” “uptick” and “networks.” Some of the researchers also mirrored the decisions of the characters and their early-stage tech startup by presenting findings that were still in stealth mode.

“This is like stress-testing a paper’s results,” said Cheng Gao from the Harvard Business School.  “Entrepreneurs don’t have time to study a topic for six years, (but) we can add unique value with our findings.”

Gao and his Harvard research partner, Rory McDonald, delivered their paper, “Pivoting Isn’t Enough: Strategic Reorientation and Identity Management in New Ventures” to a room eager for their insight.

“There are five or six real tech hubs in the United States,” McDonald noted. “When you come to this conference, you get the influence of Boston, New York, Silicon Valley, Texas, and Seattle. If there is an element (to your research) you’ve been missing, this group is going to bring that to the surface.”

The yearly conference attracted 87 doctoral students and faculty, including INSEAD professor Henrich Greve, author of more than 60 articles in academic journals. Greve, who attended WCRS for the first time, said West Coast has been important “since the beginning.” He understands that this group is hungry to answer questions that delve into the convergence between what is known about business, about innovation and creating a successful startup, and what is unknown about changes to industry, to funding, and the performance of new ventures.

“This is like stress-testing a paper’s results,” said Cheng Gao from the Harvard Business School.  “Entrepreneurs don’t have time to study a topic for six years, (but) we can add unique value with our findings.”

“I saw good solid theory and good empirical context,” Greve said of the 21 research papers. “It supported the idea that markets are really what drive most of the action.”

On the final day of the conference, Pai-Ling Yin from the University of Southern California and Benjamin Hallen of the UW Foster School of Business presented their paper, “When Do High-Growth Ventures Remain Network Isolates? The Drivers of Entrepreneurial Bootstrapping in the Mobile App Ecosystem.”  They examined startups that built their businesses in a digital space without engaging outside sources of funding.

“In 2008, the world was going through a recession and the one growth area was mobile apps,” said Yin. “Innovation can really take off in the digital market.”

UW professor Benjamin Hallen presents research at WCRS

Benjamin Hallen of the UW Foster School of Business presents research on bootstrapping in the mobile app ecosystem

Yin, Hallen, and their INSEAD research partner Jason Davis, dug into five years of data, more than a gigabyte a day, to lay the groundwork for their findings. It’s a grind that each researcher at the symposium is familiar with.  They know the amount of evidence they find will be in proportion to the passion with which they seek it.

“The sweat and the blood doesn’t end here,” said Yin. “The research is not finished. It’s a process.”

WCRS also offered the opportunity for in-person networking at events like the Doctoral Consortium funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which was held before the main conference. Half of the students who attended are on the job market, and, like their soon-to-be peers, are eager to meet potential research partners.

“These are your peeps,” Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, told the group during her welcome. “Get together, network, and connect! That is what this conference is so good at.”

The West Coast Research Symposium will return for its 15th year in September 2017 at the University of Alberta in Canada. The conference is hosted by the University of Washington’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business, as well as Stanford Technology Ventures, the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business, the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business, and the Technology Commercialization Centre at the Alberta School of Business.