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Portuguese scientist wins international award for best PhD thesis in entrepreneurship

The Heizer Doctoral Dissertation Award in New Enterprise Development, of the Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management, recognises outstanding PhD research that deals with the founding, management, growth, and development of high potential new ventures, with venture capital, or with corporate entrepreneurship. In the 2015 edition, Sérgio Costa, researcher at INESC Technology and Science – INESC TEC, was selected as the winner, out of three finalists. His PhD thesis entitled “Business Model Change in Early-Stage University Spin-offs”, from the University of Strathclyde (United Kingdom) thus became the best in the field of entrepreneurship and management, in 2015.

The award-winning research looked into changes in business models of early-stage university spin-off companies over time: how this process of change unfolds; how changes are linked to performance; and how individual elements of a business model interact over time. Sergio’s findings have important practical implications for entrepreneurs, but also for universities, policy-makers, business model educators and trainers, as well as for business development managers and corporate executives looking to bring new products and services to markets.

The approach taken in this research was itself novel. Rather than the traditional snap-shot approach, Sergio carried out an in-depth longitudinal study of eight University of Strathclyde spin-offs. He followed these spin-offs for a year, collecting data from documents and interviews, to understand the mechanisms underlying changes in business models and how these affect the companies’ performance.

His conclusions suggest that spin-offs with founding teams showing greater knowledge of the markets, of management and of entrepreneurship go through fewer changes in their business models, and show better performance. Those companies that focus on narrower business and technology scopes also show fewer changes in business models and higher performance.

Furthermore, higher performing companies interact earlier (even before being set up) and more intensively with stakeholders to test planned business models. These companies also tend to establish more partnerships with a wider range of private and public partners, which may account for fewer constraints on resources.

Sergio Costa recently joined the University of Bath (UK), as a Lecturer at the School of Management, while maintaining his position of Visiting Researcher at the University of Gent (Belgium) and his collaboration with INESC TEC. He intends to develop this research further, “We would like to test some of the propositions the thesis has brought up on a larger sample of spin-offs, covering several universities and cities. Towards that end, INESC TEC is developing a database of all Portuguese university spin-offs, in collaboration with the existing databases in Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom”.

Sergio Costa submitted his thesis in November 2014, under the supervision of Jonathan Levie (University of Strathclyde) and Marina Biniari (University of Alto, Finland). He was partly funded by FCT for three years of his PhD, and fully in the fourth and final year. INESC TEC was awarded the grade “Excellent” in the last FCT review of R&D Units.

(Image credits. Sergio Costa)