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The Small Firm Effect and the Entrepreneurial Spawning of Scientists and Engineers

Author

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  • Daniel W. Elfenbein

    () (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130)

  • Barton H. Hamilton

    () (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130)

  • Todd R. Zenger

    () (Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130)

Abstract

Scientists and engineers in small firms are far more likely than their large firm counterparts to enter entrepreneurship. We label this phenomenon the small firm effect and explore its origins. In particular, we identify four classes of explanations for the small firm effect--preference sorting, ability sorting, opportunity cost, and the possibility that workers in small firms develop entrepreneurial human capital--and examine the empirical evidence for each. We find that preference sorting does play a role in generating the small firm effect: small firms attract those with prior preferences for autonomy who are similarly drawn into entrepreneurship. Similarly, ability sorting plays a role: those who ultimately become entrepreneurs may be drawn first to small firms because they offer tighter pay-for-performance links and can subsequently improve their expected earnings by becoming entrepreneurs, or because the skills required for success in small firms are also valuable in entrepreneurship. Evidence suggests that although those with the very least to lose do enter entrepreneurship with greater frequency, opportunity cost has at best a modest role to play in explaining the small firm effect. Finally, we interpret evidence that prior experience in small firms predicts positive performance outcomes in the early stages of entrepreneurship as suggesting that workers in small firms may develop entrepreneurial human capital that makes them better entrepreneurs. This effect may be largest among those of high ability.

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel W. Elfenbein & Barton H. Hamilton & Todd R. Zenger, 2010. "The Small Firm Effect and the Entrepreneurial Spawning of Scientists and Engineers," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(4), pages 659-681, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:56:y:2010:i:4:p:659-681
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1090.1130
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    References listed on IDEAS

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