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From academia to impact

Cambridge Judge-Darden conference explores how to make innovation and entrepreneurship happen

Darden conferenceAround 60 cross-discipline academics from 20 nationalities convened at Cambridge Judge Business School over two days to discuss, debate and learn from each other about the underlying factors that drive more effective innovation and influence entrepreneurial success.

The fifth Research Conference in Innovation and Entrepreneurship was organised jointly by the Cambridge Judge Business School and the Darden Business School. Stylianos Kavadias, Cambridge Judge Director of Research and Margaret Thatcher Professor of Enterprise Studies in Innovation and Growth, reflects on the discussions:

Innovation has been widely acclaimed as a key capability for the formation of a sustainable competitive advantage – no news there. Entrepreneurship is viewed as a key driver of economic growth; another piece of obvious news! Yet, it is often the case that academic research on these two topics has been primarily done within the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines. Or, to put it another way, academics hold “strategic”, “operational” and “organisational” views on innovation effectiveness, which means they approach and analyse the phenomenon at hand through specialised lenses that identify with specific theoretical heritages.

While this is an understandable approach from a specialisation standpoint (experts carry the responsibility to prove their arguments through stringent tests of methodological rigor), it presents a unique challenge from an outcome and impact standpoint: management phenomena are not collections of viewpoints but represent outcomes of complex systems where marketing decisions interact with financial or operational decisions and dynamically change over time. This means that studying isolated perspectives misses a major factor: the interdependence among them. Therein lies the value proposition of the Darden-Cambridge Judge conference: mingling the isolated specialised perspectives to enable a broader discussion around innovation effectiveness.

In that respect, this year’s conference brought together academics from the disciplines of marketing, operations, strategic management, organisational behaviour, economics and finance. This allowed a deeper engagement with the challenges faced by entrepreneurs – particularly during an interactive session with four young high-tech company founders who are currently members of Accelerate Cambridge, the in-house accelerator of CJBS.

The discussions gave rise to a few recurrent themes that seem to reflect current innovation and entrepreneurial challenges. Here are a few of them:

  • The ongoing rise of open innovation platforms and marketplaces that seem to work, but still remain unclear as to their limitations. Are open innovation platforms a panacea for all problems? How should the best ideas be selected during open innovation efforts?
  • The need to further explore and understand the “softer” aspects of innovative and entrepreneurial success: are successful entrepreneurs more confident or more competent? Are top designers the product of top mentors (the same question could be applied to entrepreneurs)? Are the motives of startup employees different from those of larger corporations?
  • The value of digging deeper into the behavioural realm of the investment mindset. Are there different venture capital investment behaviours in different global locations? Do exit decisions by entrepreneurs follow rational thought procedures or do they exhibit behaviourally driven patterns?

These are open ended questions that echo realities often encountered in startup and even larger, established companies. In the spirit of deep engagement with relevant and important management challenges, the Darden-Cambridge Judge Conference took a step in the direction of resolving them.

Image credit: Jay Williams Photography