Decisions without data can misguide even the best of intentions. That's why researchers and entrepreneurs need to work together to inform data-driven decisions that support robust homegrown economies.
Entrepreneurial ecosystem builders, city leaders, and researchers are working together to identify ways to better measure entrepreneurial progress and barriers to inform policy and create lessons for other cities and regions. Figuring out the specific data cities need, and how to get it, allows for data-driven decisions to influence programs and policies that can accelerate progress for robust homegrown economies – an economic development model that allows entrepreneurship to thrive.
"We need to connect research with practice to give researchers access to the real-life problems cities face," said Sameeksha Desai, director of knowledge creation and research at the Kauffman Foundation. "Decision makers need relevant information to make good decisions that lead to solutions and interventions."
Decisions without data can misguide even the best of intentions. As a community and economic development leader, Garland Doyle, who has served in many government roles in both Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan, has seen the value of relevant research first-hand. Detroit used to broadly, and evenly, distribute block grants to everyone, but then research showed targeting certain areas of need would have a greater impact. "We changed the strategy because it was more important to be effective than fair," Garland said.
"If you don’t have the data, policy and program decisions get made based on the opinions of others or influential relationships," Doyle said. "The problem is much of the academic research available is not relevant to what we need to know. We can help researchers understand what questions to ask."
Desai and her team at the Kauffman Foundation are working to create a research infrastructure for cities wanting to build, maintain, or grow their entrepreneurial ecosystem to customize to their own needs.
LEARN MORE: The Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Research strategies >
"Academics measure the impact of entrepreneurship on broader economies; cities want to know what’s happening on a smaller scale, such as the effectiveness of an entrepreneurship program or policy," said A.J. Herrmann, Kauffman Foundation senior program officer in Entrepreneurship. "Cities define what constitutes progress and researchers create the models that can inform decision makers on how to get there."
Kauffman is expanding the net of researchers who address these questions to include experts and scholars in a range of fields to bring diverse perspectives to measuring entrepreneurial activity at the local level. Recently, Kauffman hosted a Research Bootcamp at the Foundation that included researchers who represent sociology, social work, geography, fashion design and merchandising, political science, learning sciences, economics, philosophy, and business. While their backgrounds are diverse, their focus is the same: identifying the research and data that will best help cities accelerate progress in growing local economies through entrepreneurship.
Determining where barriers arise for entrepreneurs, and at what stage of the business life cycle, are important measures for cities and ecosystem builders. But sociologist and Wayne State University researcher Marijo Upshaw is interested in less-common measures of entrepreneurial success. Instead of revenue growth or the number of new startups, for instance, Upshaw wants to measure holistic outcomes of how entrepreneurship impacts the family unit, especially those of marginalized people.
"We need new measures for the complexities of entrepreneurship," Upshaw said. "These should be determined by how entrepreneurs themselves measure success, which could be around family goals rather than sales, such as the ability to put their kids through college."
Other questions Upshaw would like to see studied are how we use entrepreneurship to solve social problems, such as reducing poverty, closing the wealth gap for marginalized communities, and increasing access to healthcare.