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Impact of Entrepreneurship Database Program: An Interview with Sean Peters

Gathering Data on the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Sean Peters to discuss his involvement in, and the development of, the Impact of Entrepreneurship Database Program. This program aims to improve both the quantity and quality of data collected by accelerator programs, including socially oriented accelerators. This will help to inform research, programs, and investment decisions related to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The rationale for creating this program, as Sean notes, is that “a lot of dollars are going into stimulating entrepreneurial growth both on the social side and non-social side, but [there is] not a lot of measurement as to how well [accelerators] are actually doing that”. In particular, Sean noted that there was a lack of information about the future performance of the businesses supported by accelerators. This issue was also highlighted in a recent report, “Bridging the ‘Pioneer Gap’: The Role of Accelerators in Launching High – Impact Enterprises”. An additional barrier to performing analyses on the entrepreneurial landscape is that when data is collected by accelerators, it is generally not compatible with the data from other accelerators. Hence it is not possible to aggregate the data or make comparisons across programs.

To help close these gaps and gather data on entrepreneurs that apply, or are accepted, to accelerator programs, Sean, along with Dr. Peter Roberts from Emory University, began this database program. The program works directly with accelerators to gather data on the program applicants and those selected to participate in the accelerators’ program. This is achieved by embedding standardized questions into the accelerators’ application forms, thereby ensuring that all applicants complete the required survey. Embedding the questions into the current framework and using the questionnaire for both intake assessment and for the database is important, because, as Sean explains, “entrepreneurs are time strapped, often cash strapped as well, they’re trying to grow their businesses, and are not going to fill out hour long surveys on who they are and what they’re doing”. While the questions are embedded in the initial application, applicants can decide whether they want their data to be used in the academic project by opting in at the end of the questionnaire.

Once the data is captured, it is then analyzed and an overall summary is prepared for the accelerator. To assess change over time, follow up surveys are issued six months after entry (it is hoped that this will be repeated at 12, 18 and 24 month intervals) to both the successful applicants and those who were not accepted to the program. The follow up survey with those not selected is a defining feature of the program because currently, as Sean notes, “nobody tracks entrepreneurs who don’t make into the cohort, so even those that have data don’t have data to compare as a baseline for the impact they have on the entrepreneurs”. By assessing the outcomes and comparing the two groups, an analysis regarding the impact of the accelerator can be performed.

A pilot was launched during the summer of the 2012 and in 2013 the Impact of Entrepreneurship Database Program worked with four partners: Village Capital, Points of Light Civic Accelerator, Accelerating Appalachia and Agora Partnerships. Through June 2013, more than 300 entrepreneurs/ventures had completed surveys. While this represents a sizeable dataset, there are expectations to add 10-15 new programs over 2014 and to collect data from 3,000 – 5,000 new entrepreneurs each year. This would be a remarkable achievement and would provide researchers with a rich database to assess the characteristics and performance of entrepreneurs, including social entrepreneurs. Given that the benefits to the partnering accelerators are significant (including: access to a tested and reviewed data collection tool, analysis of the demographics and characteristics of applicants and successful candidates, and follow up analysis on performance of venture supported) and the costs are minimal (it’s free to enrol!) there is a great opportunity for the Impact of Entrepreneurship Database Program to expand.

Its expansion would be of significant value to the entrepreneurial landscape, including the subsection of social entrepreneurship. While this program does not focus solely on social entrepreneurs, it does capture data on whether the organizations have a social mission and whether they measure social benefits. With this in mind, I’m particularly interested in seeing how social ventures compare to their purely for-profit counterparts. For example: How do their funding structures vary? Which type can more easily access funding? How do returns vary?

These, along with a wide range of other questions, could be examined as this program develops. This presents a significant opportunity for researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, and accelerators to better understand the entrepreneurial landscape and make better, more informed decisions, about how to operate within the start-up world.

Note: The Impact of Entrepreneurship Database Program is always looking for new partner accelerators. If interested, please contact Sean Peters at: srhpeters@gmail.com.

 

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