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The Burden of the Nondiversifiable Risk of Entrepreneurship

  • Robert E. Hall
  • Susan E. Woodward

Entrepreneurship is risky. We study the risk facing a well-documented and important class of entrepreneurs, those backed by venture capital. Using a dynamic program, we calculate the certainty-equivalent of the difference between the cash rewards that entrepreneurs actually received over the past 20 years and the cash that entrepreneurs would have received from a risk-free salaried job. The payoff to a venture-backed entrepreneur comprises a below-market salary and a share of the equity value of the company when it goes public or is acquired. We find that the typical venture-backed entrepreneur received an average of $5.8 million in exit cash. Almost three-quarters of entrepreneurs receive nothing at exit and a few receive over a billion dollars. Because of the extreme dispersion of payoffs, an entrepreneur with a coefficient of relative risk aversion of two places a certainty equivalent value only slightly greater than zero on the distribution of outcomes she faces at the time of her company's launch. (JEL G24, G32, L26, M13)

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.100.3.1163
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 100 (2010)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 1163-94

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:100:y:2010:i:3:p:1163-94
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.100.3.1163
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  1. Repullo, R. & Suarez, J., 1998. "Venture Capital Finance: a Security Design Approach," Papers 9804, Centro de Estudios Monetarios Y Financieros-.
  2. Klaus Schmidt, 1999. "Convertible Securities and Venture Capital Finance," CESifo Working Paper Series 217, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Admati, Anat R & Pfleiderer, Paul, 1994. " Robust Financial Contracting and the Role of Venture Capitalists," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 49(2), pages 371-402, June.
  4. Robert E. Hall & Susan E. Woodward, 2007. "The Incentives to Start New Companies: Evidence from Venture Capital," NBER Working Papers 13056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Catherine Casamatta, 2003. "Financing and Advising: Optimal Financial Contracts with Venture Capitalists," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 58(5), pages 2059-2086, October.
  6. Gompers, Paul & Kovner, Anna & Lerner, Josh & Scharfstein, David, 2010. "Performance persistence in entrepreneurship," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(1), pages 18-32, April.
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