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Portuguese researcher wins award for best PhD dissertation in the world

A Portuguese researcher has won the award for the best PhD dissertation in the world in the area of entrepreneurship. Sérgio Costa, researcher at the Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC), assistant professor at the Faculty of Science of the University of Porto (FCUP), and invited researcher at the University of Gent (Belgium), won the award on 10 August, in Vancouver (Canada), during the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management.

The Heizer Best Dissertation Award of the Academy of Management’s Entrepreneurship Division is considered the most important international award in the area of entrepreneurship. There were three finalists in the competition, but it was the Portuguese researcher who took the award home with his thesis, titled Business Model Change in Early-Stage University Spin-offs, which he concluded at the University of Strathclyde (United Kingdom).

Concluded in November 2014, the work was supervised by Jonathan Levie (University of Strathclyde, UK) and Marina Biniari (Aalto University, Finland).

In his dissertation, Sérgio Costa addresses the evolution of the business models in university spin-offs. For that, he used an inductive and longitudinal methodology where he collected data in real time at these companies’ early stages of development, something that is unheard of in the field of management.

In this exploratory study, the researcher followed eight spinoffs from the University of Strathclyde, performing about 98 interviews over 12 months, in order to understand the mechanisms used to change the business model, and how these mechanisms affect the company’s performance.

“My goal was to promote the discussion and generate some propositions on how business models change. My thesis suggests that, generally speaking, the companies whose founding teams are highly specialised in management, market and entrepreneurship tend change their business models less frequently, and they perform better”, states Sérgio Costa.

For the first time in this area, the researcher has introduced the relations between the frequency with which the business model changes and certain variables, such as the degree of involvement of entrepreneurs, market and management knowledge, and launching of new companies.

Sérgio Costa also suggests that high performance companies tend to intensively interact sooner, even before they are created, with various stakeholders to iterate their business models. Additionally, these companies tend to establish more partnerships, with a broader spectrum of actors (private and public), in order to be given access to more resources.

The propositions developed in this study can also have implications on other companies besides spinoffs, as long as they are in a context of high technological and market uncertainty.

In the future, Sérgio Costa wants to continue furthering this study.

“Now we want to test some of the propositions  using larger samples of spin-offs from different universities and locations. For that purpose, INESC TEC is developing a database with all Portuguese university spinoffs, combined with the databases from universities in Italy, Norway and United Kingdom”, the researcher concludes.

Porto, 12 August 2015

Sofia Pereira Sá

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