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Are “Better” Ideas More Likely to Succeed? An Empirical Analysis of Startup Evaluation

Author

Listed:
  • Erin L. Scott

    (National University of Singapore Business School)

  • Pian Shu

    (Harvard Business School, Technology and Operations Management Unit)

  • Roman M. Lubynsky

    (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Abstract

Entrepreneurs face high uncertainty, and often make costly investments in new business ideas without knowing the expected payoff. This paper empirically examines whether ex-ante assessment of early-stage startup ideas can predict their subsequent commercialization. We leverage an entrepreneurship program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in which early-stage venture ideas, presented in the form of succinct standardized summaries, elicit subjective evaluations from a large set of experienced entrepreneurs and executives. Using data on 652 ventures in multiple industry sectors, evaluated over an 8-year period, we find that ideas that elicit more positive evaluations are significantly more likely to ultimately reach commercialization. We further show that these results are driven by venture ideas with documented intellectual capital in research-and-development-intensive sectors, such as life sciences and medical devices. We find no evidence, by contrast, that experts can effectively assess the commercial potential of venture ideas in non-R&D-intensive sectors such as consumer web and enterprise software. Finally, we find that industry-specific and scientific expertise is not critical to experts' collective ability to predict ventures' commercial viability.

Suggested Citation

  • Erin L. Scott & Pian Shu & Roman M. Lubynsky, 2015. "Are “Better” Ideas More Likely to Succeed? An Empirical Analysis of Startup Evaluation," Harvard Business School Working Papers 16-013, Harvard Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:16-013
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    2. McKenzie, David J. & Sansone, Dario, 2017. "Man vs. Machine in Predicting Successful Entrepreneurs: Evidence from a Business Plan Competition in Nigeria," CEPR Discussion Papers 12523, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship
    • M13 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - New Firms; Startups
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill

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