Intelligent Failure and the Entrepreneur’s Perspective: Insights from the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Conference

Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Cambridge University’s Judge Business School partnered to host the schools’ annual Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Conference 29–30 June, bringing together leading academics and active entrepreneurs.

One of the largest hubs of high-tech businesses in Europe, Cambridge offered a fitting backdrop for the two-day conference, at which scholars presented their research to peers who offered valuable feedback to improve the impact of future research publications. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference nurtures international collaborations and fertilizes novel ideas across research domains.

The conference chairs, Darden Professor Jeremy Hutchison-Krupat and Judge Professor Stelios Kavadias, invited colleagues from around the world to present on topics ranging from the history of regional innovation clusters to the ability of accelerated entrepreneurship programs to foster economic growth.

Research highlights include:

  • Alex Whalley from the University of California, Merced, presented research showing the historical tendency of innovation to occur in regional clusters (such as Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128) and examining why that trend is increasing rather than decreasing, despite the rising ease of communication.
  • Susan Cohen from the University of Richmond shared evidence that new-venture accelerators are useful for generating business growth through networking effects and by promoting intelligent failures. Accelerators promote clustering and information sharing. Intelligent failures are useful because they generate specific knowledge useful for determining the probability of success for future actions.
  • Jürgen Mihm from INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, investigated the rise of targeted innovation development through prize-granting tournaments similar to the one Netflix hosted to improve its customized recommendation algorithms. He found evidence that innovation accelerates rapidly in tournament settings in which rapid feedback from the organizers is visible to all participants. The organizers benefit greatly from the competition among the innovators, who all have access to the most up-to-date information.

Additionally, the conference chairs invited entrepreneurs to talk about their experiences and inspire scholars to research approaches to improving the startup process.

Seasoned entrepreneur Richard Mason delivered the keynote address, offering insights on his career developing pharmaceutical firms and running the successful drug development company XO1. Mason reflected on an investment in a promising drug compound for which the opportunity costs were simply too high not to try. Though the compound ultimately didn’t work as hoped, he, his research team and investors learned enough from the apparent failure to create new and ultimately successful compounds. Innovation failures and their long-term value constitute an area of research open to more scholarly investigation.

Accelerate Cambridge, a program that mentors new ventures, hosted a panel session with several of its young entrepreneurs. While the ventures span multiple industries and business models, the founders agreed that building and motivating the right team is one of the biggest factors that keep them up at night, and they look for resilience to adversity and old-fashioned grit in their employees. They also seek out mentors who help bypass avoidable mistakes and foster networks of customers, suppliers and investors. Such insights from an entrepreneur’s perspective help scholars hone in on questions that are important to practitioners.

The preceding was prepared by Darden Senior Researcher Andrew King.

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