Skip to content

Announcing the 32 inaugural Knowledge Challenge grantees

Kauffman Knowledge Challenge: Insight to Impact
Kauffman Knowledge Challenge: Insight to Impact

The Knowledge Challenge grants seek to provide more specific answers for what works for entrepreneurs.

Access to entrepreneurship for the formerly incarcerated.

The role culture takes in cultivating a social entrepreneurship venture.

The use of artificial intelligence in prosthetic limb design.

The Kauffman Foundation launched the Knowledge Challenge: Insight to Impact last spring, seeking varied, innovative approaches like these, to address the biggest problems facing entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. In response to the Knowledge Challenge, the Foundation received a gratifying number of submissions and ultimately chose to fund 32 projects, with more than 70 researchers participating.

Researchers will focus their projects in four topic areas:

  • New Nature of Entrepreneurship projects will explore how new markets are emerging and test new program designs.
  • Barriers to Entrepreneurship projects will seek to understand the barriers to entrepreneurship and where they come from.
  • Program Design and Policy Intervention and Implementation projects will show how policy outcomes affect entrepreneurs.
  • Ecosystem and External Environment for Entrepreneurship projects will look at how ecosystems operate.

“The Knowledge Challenge allows us to prioritize our grantmaking to answer specific problems for entrepreneurs and the organizations or institutions supporting them,” said Sameeksha Desai, director of knowledge creation and research in Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, noting that some of the grants include partnerships between researchers and practitioners.

The Foundation rolled previous Dissertation and Junior Faculty Fellowship programs into the Knowledge Challenge umbrella. Among the grantees in the Knowledge Challenge are students who Desai said are focused on forward-looking, practical questions, such as how entrepreneurs learn within new technologies, and how exposure to innovation as a child can shape future innovative activity.

“It’s exciting to see what the students are doing and what they’re thinking about,” Desai said. “The problem-focused orientation among student submissions was really impressive.”

To make research more available to the public, each grant will have a translational paper – something that can be more easily read by people who aren’t researchers – and a methods paper that will make the research easy to reproduce and the findings accessible to others in the field.

“Those are two important additions that we have, because they make the research more robust and meaningful,” said Derek Ozkal, senior program officer in Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.

The need for clarity around what is happening in the field of entrepreneurship drives the pursuit for answers. Ozkal said the research obtained through the Knowledge Challenge will help better answer questions.

Ozkal said the Kauffman Foundation plans on directly assisting with the projects in the years following the awards, which range from 25 to 60 months, with some preliminary findings expected in late 2019 and some others following in 2020. Workshops and collaboration opportunities for those doing similar research will also be provided.

“Our interest is in making whatever we can public from a data and methods perspective,” Desai said. “We want the data sets to be shared, we want scalable research projects and replication, and we want, where possible, the information to be made public at the level that is allowable.”

Here are the institutions and individuals leading the Knowledge Challenge projects, as well as a partial list of collaborators:

New Nature of Entrepreneurship: Identify and delineate how the future of work and markets is emerging and test possible program and policy responses to barriers and opportunities.

  • University of California – Berkeley: Support to study opportunities and risks of new technologies for entrepreneurs, the implications for sectors and for firms, and emerging and future policy considerations. The collaboration includes John Zysman, Laura Tyson, Martin Kenney, Ken Goldberg, Costas Spanos, Jennifer Granholm, Mark Nitzberg, Kenji Kushida, and Sue Helper.
  • Boston University: Support for research on the effect of information technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), on the performance of startups compared with established firms, and small firms compared with large firms. James Bessen will collaborate with Kristina McElheran, Michael Meurer, and Rob Seamans.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Support for research on the use of new technologies like cloud computing and machine learning in new firms, using data from the Annual Business Survey, led by Kristina McElheran and Erik Brynjolfsson.
  • Duke University: Support for a research project by Ronnie Chatterji and Sharique Hasan to build and test a machine learning tool that provides entrepreneurs with immediate feedback on their ideas.
  • Mercy College: Support for Alexandrea Ravenelle’s research on the effect of loss/closure of a gig economy platform on future entrepreneurship among high-skill workers.
  • Seojin Kim: Support for research on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by entrepreneurs in product design in bionic technologies.

Barriers to Entrepreneurship: Generate knowledge about barriers to entrepreneurship, the origins of those barriers and their effects on entrepreneurial starts and successes.

  • University of Michigan: Support for a nationally representative survey of adults in U.S. households, to better understand trends and barriers unique to entrepreneurship among older adults. The team includes Felichism Kabo, Stewart Thornhill, and Elizabeth Isele.
  • University of Maryland: Support for Rajshree Agarwal-Tronetti to conduct research on factors shaping entrepreneurship for immigrants in science and engineering careers, with a team including Martin Ganco and Joe Raffiee.
  • Syracuse University: Support to survey veteran and military-connected entrepreneurs, to better understand their motivations, business activities, and outcomes and barriers. The team includes Rosalina Vasquez Maury, J. Michael Haynie, and Nicholas Armstrong.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Support for research led by Antoinette Schoar and Jonathan Parker on how entrepreneurs manage cash flows and the interaction between business accounts and personal accounts, in collaboration with JP Morgan Chase Institute.
  • St. Louis University: Support for a research study on the role of financial capabilities for low-income entrepreneurs and on the impact of financial capability interventions on their businesses. The team includes Jin Huang, Baorong Guo, and Margaret Sherraden.
  • University of Maryland: Support for experimental research to identify how former entrepreneurs fare in the wage labor market, by Waverly Ding and Debra Shapiro.
  • University of Kansas Medical Center Research Institute: Support for research on career decisions of women with strong potential to contribute to growth-oriented ventures. The team includes Tami Gurely-Calvez, Joanna Veazey Brooks, and Jessica Allia Williams.
  • Lehigh University: Support for a team including Qianqian Yu, Michael Imerman, and Thomas Chemmanur to conduct research on financing patterns in FinTech (financial technology) companies and their success in the product market.
  • Kylie Hwang: Support for a study on how the formerly incarcerated access entrepreneurship and outcomes of their activities.

Program Design and Policy Intervention and Implementation: Test how specific changes or conditions in a program or policy will affect outcomes for entrepreneurs and/or their firms.

  • Start Small Think Big (SSTB): Support to test two tools – financial feasibility analysis and business model audit – on firm performance, with a team including Jennifer DaSilva, Christine Coakley, and Ryan Summerville, in collaboration with Stout Risius Ross, LLC.
  • Marcus Crews: Support to study the experience of entrepreneurial failure and the implications of failure for future entrepreneurship.
  • Travis Howell: Support for firm-level research on key milestones, growth, and survival outcomes of firms participating in coworking spaces.
  • Emily Medley: Support for research on the role of regional culture and networks in how and where social entrepreneurship takes place.
  • Boston University: Support for Esther Leibel to study the role of language and local ecosystem values in venture funding.
  • Sophie Calder-Wang: Support for research on how entrepreneurs engage within a two-sided technology platform.
  • Jiayi Bao: Support for research on the effect of different types of employee time-off arrangements on new firm activities.
  • Chuan Chen: Support to study how two accelerators program activities – assistance with early stage financing and improvement of managerial capital – affect firm performance.

Ecosystem and External Environment for Entrepreneurship: Generate knowledge about the conditions and structure of the ecosystem in which entrepreneurs operate.

  • North Carolina State University: Support to develop of indices for social network engagement and embeddedness in entrepreneurship ecosystems. The team includes Jeff Pollack, Jon Carr, Tim Michaelis, and Lewis Sheats, in collaboration with partners including Malartu.
  • University of California – Berkeley: Support for a study on the nature, trend, and change in independent contracting over time, with Annette Bernhardt, Jesse Rothstein, and Evan White in collaboration with Allen Prohofsky.
  • Living Cities, Inc. (Beyond Jobs): Support for a research project organized by Wingham Rowan to test an open-source platform for micro-entrepreneurs in a community, and to collect corresponding new data on characteristics, supply and demand, pricing, and other trends of micro-entrepreneurs.
  • Wake Forest University: Award for Mark Curtis to study the effect of policy changes in entrepreneurship. Ryan Decker will also collaborate on this project.
  • Carnegie Mellon University: Support for Matthew Denes to study the effects of industry concentration on entrepreneurship.
  • Sama (formerly known as Samasource, Inc.): Support for a research project to track low- and moderate-income trainees in an individual work readiness program, led by Samaschool, with input from advisors including Emergent Research and Annette Bernhardt.
  • Zhao Jin: Support to study the effect of large companies on entrepreneurship in an industry.
  • Alexander Bell: Support for a research project testing the effect of exposure to innovation in childhood on future innovative activity as an adult.