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Hoping to Win, Expected to Lose: Theory and Lessons on Micro Enterprise Development

  • Karlan, Dean

    (Yale University)

  • Knight, Ryan

    (Yale University)

  • Udry, Christopher

    (Yale University)

Many basic economic theories with perfectly functioning markets do not predict the existence of the vast number of microenterprises readily observed across the world. We put forward a model that illuminates why financial and managerial capital constraints may impede experimentation, and thus limit learning about the profitability of alternative firm sizes. The model shows how lack of information about one's own type, but willingness to experiment to learn one's type, may lead to short-run negative expected returns to investments on average, with some outliers succeeding. To test the model we put forward first a motivating experiment from Ghana, and second a small meta-analysis of other experiments. In the Ghana experiment, we provide inputs to microenterprises, specifically financial capital (a cash grant) and managerial capital (consulting services), to catalyze adoption of investments and practices aimed towards enterprise growth. We find that entrepreneurs invest the cash, and take the advice, but both lead to lower profits on average. In the long run, they revert back to their prior scale of operations. The small meta analysis includes results from 18 other experiments in which either capital or managerial capital were relaxed, and find mixed support for this theory.

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Paper provided by Yale University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 105.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:yaleco:105
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  1. Suresh de Mel & David McKenzie & Christopher Woodruff, 2008. "Returns to Capital in Microenterprises: Evidence from a Field Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(4), pages 1329-1372, November.
  2. Nicholas Bloom & David McKenzie, 2010. "Does Management Matter? Evidence From India," Discussion Papers 10-014, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  3. Christopher Udry & Santosh Anagol, 2006. "The Return to Capital in Ghana," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 388-393, May.
  4. Esther Duflo & Michael Kremer & Jonathan Robinson, 2009. "Nudging Farmers to Use Fertilizer: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Kenya," NBER Working Papers 15131, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Dean Karlan & Martin Valdivia, 2011. "Teaching Entrepreneurship: Impact of Business Training on Microfinance Clients and Institutions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 510-527, May.
  6. Bruhn, Miriam & Karlan, Dean S. & Schoar, Antoinette S, 2012. "The Impact of Consulting Services on Small and Medium Enterprises: Evidence from a Randomized Trial in Mexico," CEPR Discussion Papers 8887, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Karlan, Dean & Osei-Akoto, Isaac & Osei, Robert Darko & Udry, Christopher, 2012. "Agricultural Decisions after Relaxing Credit and Risk Constraints," Working Papers 110, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  8. Orazio Attanasio & Britta Augsburg & Ralph De Haas & Emla Fitzsimons & Heike Harmgart, 2011. "Group lending or individual lending? Evidence from a randomised field experiment in Mongolia," Working Papers 136, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Office of the Chief Economist.
  9. Gabriela Calderon & Jesse M. Cunha & Giacomo De Giorgi, 2013. "Business Literacy and Development: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Rural Mexico," NBER Working Papers 19740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Marcel Fafchamps & David McKenzie & Simon R. Quinn & Christopher Woodruff, 2011. "When is capital enough to get female microenterprises growing? Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana," NBER Working Papers 17207, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Tetsushi Sonobe & Aya Suzuki & Keijiro Otsuka & Vu Hoang Nam, 2012. "KAIZEN for Managerial Skills Improvement in Small and Medium Enterprises: An Impact Evaluation Study in a knitwear cluster in Vietnam," Working Papers 29, Development and Policies Research Center (DEPOCEN), Vietnam.
  12. Augsburg, Britta & de Haas, Ralph & Harmgart, Heike & Meghir, Costas, 2014. "Microfinance at the margin: Experimental evidence from Bosnia and Herzegovina," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2014-304, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  13. Mano, Yukichi & Iddrisu, Alhassan & Yoshino, Yutaka & Sonobe, Tetsushi, 2012. "How Can Micro and Small Enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa Become More Productive? The Impacts of Experimental Basic Managerial Training," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 458-468.
  14. Marcel Fafchamps & Simon Quinn & David McKenzie and Christopher Woodruff, 2011. "When is capital enough to get female microenterprises growing? Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana," Economics Series Working Papers WPS/2011-11, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  15. Christopher Udry & Santosh Anagol, 2006. "The Return to Capital in Ghana," Working Papers 932, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  16. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David J. & Woodruff, Christopher, 2009. "Measuring microenterprise profits: Must we ask how the sausage is made?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1), pages 19-31, January.
  17. Bruhn, Miriam & Zia, Bilal, 2011. "Stimulating managerial capital in emerging markets : the impact of business and financial literacy for young entrepreneurs," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5642, The World Bank.
  18. Shawn Cole & Thomas Sampson & Bilal Zia, 2011. "Prices or Knowledge? What Drives Demand for Financial Services in Emerging Markets?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 66(6), pages 1933-1967, December.
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