Valentina A. Assenova

Valentina A. Assenova
  • Edward B. and Shirley R. Shils Endowed Term Assistant Professor of Management
  • Govil Family Faculty Scholar, 2020-2021

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    3202 SH-DH
    3620 Locust Walk
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: Entrepreneurship; Social Entrepreneurship; Startups; MSMEs; Accelerators; Incubators; Emerging Economies

Links: Google Scholar

Overview

Valentina A. Assenova is the Edward B. and Shirley R. Shils Endowed Term Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where she is a Govil Family Faculty Scholar, Mack Institute Research Fellow, and faculty affiliate of the Penn Development Research Initiative. Her research and teaching interests center on entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. Dr. Assenova holds a Ph.D., M.A., and M.Phil. from Yale University, an M.B.A. with first-class honors in International Management from the University of Cambridge, and a B.Sc. in Economics with honors from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow and a Joseph Wharton Research Scholar.

At Wharton, she has developed and taught courses and seminars at the undergraduate, M.B.A., and Ph.D. levels, and has published award-winning research on issues related to early-stage startup formation, funding, and growth in leading disciplinary and interdisciplinary journals. Beyond Wharton, she has collaborated with organizations working to support founders and their enterprises including FINCA International, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, and Google for Startups on projects and initiatives that advance the quality and impact of entrepreneurship around the world. Her research has been covered by various funding agencies, think tanks, and media outlets, including the U.S. National Science Foundation, The New York Times, Fast Company, Marginal Revolution, Wharton Business Daily, and The Brookings Institution.

Her scholarly pursuits center on three core themes: (1) the role of accelerators and incubators as tools for entrepreneurial learning and new enterprise development, (2) mechanisms to support economic development and inclusion through entrepreneurship in emerging economies, and (3) the role of formal and informal institutions in explaining variation in entrepreneurship across countries and regions. By merging theory with praxis, her research aims to bridge the gap between scholarly insights and practical applications. Her interdisciplinary approach provides a comprehensive view of the challenges and opportunities encountered by early-stage startups and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in varied institutional contexts and offers actionable strategies for promoting new enterprise creation, development, and growth.

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Research

  • Valentina Assenova and Raffi Amit (2024), Poised For Growth: Exploring the Relationship Between Accelerator Program Design and Startup Performance, Strategic Management Journal, 45 (6), pp. 1029-1060. https://doi.org/10.1002/smj.3581

    Abstract: Accelerator programs provide valuable market feedback and education to participants that may improve startup performance. However, it is unclear whether the average effect of accelerator participation on startup performance post acceleration is positive, and if so, how this effect varies with accelerator program design. We analyze data from 8,580 startups that made it past the initial selection stage at 408 accelerators in 176 countries between 2013 and 2019. We compare accelerated and non-accelerated startups and find a positive average effect of accelerator participation on startup performance post acceleration. Moreover, we find that this effect varies substantially with program design, and depends on venture stage, industry, and founder expertise. Our findings highlight the impact of program design on the benefits that startups derive from accelerator participation.  

    Description: The purpose of this study is to determine whether participation in startup accelerator programs generally leads to improved startup performance post acceleration and how the benefits of participation might vary with the design of these programs. We analyze data from 8,580 startups that applied to and passed the initial selection phase at 408 accelerators in 176 countries over multiple cohorts between 2013 and 2019. Our results indicate that on average, startups that participate in accelerators perform better than those that are also selected but not accelerated. Furthermore, we find that the benefits that startups gain from being accelerated vary with the design of the program. Our findings highlight the importance of accelerator program design in influencing the extent of improvement in startup performance post acceleration.

  • Valentina Assenova and Sophie Bacq (Working), Scaling for Good: Do Social Impact Accelerators Propel Social Venture Growth and Development?.

    Abstract: The rise of social impact accelerators (SIAs), such as climate and sustainability accelerators, has prompted inquiries about their value to social ventures – entrepreneurial endeavors that employ innovative business models and sustainable business practices to tackle societal grand challenges, such as climate change or systemic poverty. This study evaluates the role of SIAs in scaling social ventures using a large-scale database of 18,680 social ventures and their founding teams that applied to 404 accelerator programs, of which 43 percent had an explicit social impact focus. Using an inverse probability of treatment weights design, we find that accelerated social ventures in both generalist accelerators and SIAs scaled faster than similar non-accelerated ventures that applied to these programs. However, social ventures accelerated through SIAs scaled faster than those accelerated through generalist programs: they raised more philanthropic funding, were more likely to raise venture capital and raised more capital, had higher planned fundraising, and were more likely to scale their full-time employment. Social ventures accelerated through SIAs also experienced greater scaling of philanthropic funding and revenue when more peers in their cohort adopted formal impact evaluation metrics, such as GIIRS. These findings highlight the nuanced ways that SIAs support social venture scaling and development.

  • Aparajita Agarwal and Valentina Assenova (2023), Mobile Money as a Stepping Stone to Financial Inclusion: How Digital Multisided Platforms Fill Institutional Voids, Organization Science. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2022.16562

    Abstract: The literature on institutional voids examines how intermediaries, such as business groups and business incubators, address such voids in emerging economies. However, it remains unclear whether and how digital multisided platforms fill these voids given their unique features. This study focuses on mobile money platforms, which allow users without bank accounts or credit cards to perform financial transactions. We propose that these platforms !ll institutional voids in three ways by (i) enabling data-based certification, (ii) providing unified access to distributed services, and (iii) scaling through network effects to reach previously excluded market participants. We argue that these novel mechanisms enable mobile money platforms to expand credit access to end users from formal financial institutions and thereby act as stepping stones to financial inclusion. Our analysis is based on a difference-in-difference design that leverages regulatory changes that allowed nonbanks to operate as mobile money operators and data from a representative random sample of 151,771 individuals in 78 countries. We supplement our quantitative analysis with rich, hand-collected qualitative evidence to illustrate the mechanisms underlying our findings.

  • Ethan J. Poskanzer and Valentina Assenova (Working), The Long-Term Impact of Entrepreneurial Training on Technology Entrepreneurship and Employment.

    Abstract: We investigate the long-term impact of entrepreneurial training on technology entrepreneurship and employment. We argue that training enhances trainees’ domain-specific knowledge, skills, and abilities to establish technology ventures and secure employment in technology-sector roles. This effect is particularly pronounced for trainees with limited prior education and work experience in the technology sector and limited entrepreneurship experience. Analyzing data from 1,673 applicants to a year-long, pan-African entrepreneurship training program from 2018 to 2020, we find that training significantly boosts entry into technology entrepreneurship and employment over five years post training, with the greatest benefits observed for trainees without prior technical knowledge and entrepreneurial experience. Our study sheds light on ways to support technology sector entrepreneurship and employment, especially among individuals with limited pre-entry knowledge and experience.

  • Valentina Assenova and Sandy Yu (Under Review), Which Benefits of Startup Accelerators do Founders Prioritize, and Why?.

    Abstract: Startup accelerators offer many potential benefits for new venture development. While the literature has focused on accelerator selection criteria, the nuances of applicants’ benefit preferences remain largely unexplored. We analyze the preferences of 21,541 founding teams that applied to 407 accelerator programs in 177 countries, and find that: (1) applicants chiefly value network development, investor access, and mentorship, clustering preferences into three distinct groupings: capabilities, credibility, and cohort; (2) venture attributes account for 84-98% of the benefit preference variance, dwarfing program and industry effects; and (3) founder backgrounds shape these preferences, with under-represented founders seeking capabilities and credibility, whereas other founders favor capital and connections. Our research underscores the need for tailored accelerator programming, spotlighting avenues to optimize program design based on founders’ varied backgrounds.

  • Valentina Assenova, Martin Gonzalez, Ndubuisi Ugwuanyi (Working), Do leadership capabilities shape the performance trajectories of early-stage startups?.

    Abstract: Grounded in the startup accelerators literature, we evaluate whether the leadership capabilities of founders and C-suite executives as assessed by co-founders, employees, investors, and advisory board members during their time in the accelerator predict startups’ future performance trajectories. Analyzing data on 430 technology-focused startups that participated in the Google for Startups accelerators and their 966 founders and C-suite executives, we find that startups with more effective leaders as evaluated by affiliates achieved higher revenue, innovation, funding, scaling, and longevity post acceleration. We examine leaders’ multi-rater feedback evaluations by their 7,371 affiliates using a validated 33-item scale to understand what behaviors distinguish leaders who achieve superior ratings by affiliates. Our findings underscore the critical importance of leadership capabilities in startups’ future performance trajectories.

  • Valentina Assenova and Melody Chang (Under Review), Founders’ Human Capital and Startup Performance: Treatment or Selection Effects?.

    Abstract: Prior research consistently shows a positive correlation between founders’ education and experience and startup performance. However, this relationship may be driven by either treatment effects, whereby more educated and experienced founders attain superior performance, or selection effects, whereby these founders are more likely to secure resources, resulting in a positive correlation with startup performance. We investigate the role of these treatment versus selection effects in the context of startup accelerators, early filters for investment. Using an abductive approach, we find that founders’ education and experience are not predictive of accelerators’ initial acceptance, but increase a founder’s likelihood of participation, conditional on acceptance. Our findings suggest that the observed positive correlation between founder human capital and startup performance is driven by selection, rather than treatment, effects.

  • Valentina Assenova and Raffi Amit (Under Revision), Why are Some Nations More Entrepreneurial than Others? Unraveling the Link Between Cultural Tightness-Looseness and New Firm Creation.

    Abstract: Grounded in cultural systems theory, we evaluate the role of cultural variation along the tightness-looseness continuum as a potential explanation for cross-national differences in the propensity to engage in entrepreneurship. Employing a novel research design that instruments for cultural tightness-looseness, we investigate whether greater cultural looseness explains higher rates of new firm creation using global data on entrepreneurship rates from national business registries. Our results reveal that the construct of cultural tightness-looseness explains 40 percent of the variation in new firm creation rates per 1000 people in the working age population in a sample of 57 nations. Nations with higher cultural looseness also exhibit stronger cultural support for entrepreneurship, greater entrepreneurial opportunity perception, and greater entrepreneurial aspirations, on average, than those with lower cultural looseness.

    Description: Revision invited, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal

  • Valentina Assenova, Emilie Feldman, Lori Rosenkopf (Working), A Strategic Multiplexity Perspective on Innovation Diffusion.

    Abstract: We apply a strategic multiplexity perspective to analyze how the simultaneous consideration of multiple types of ties in a network can sharpen our understanding of innovation diffusion in that network. While prior research suggests that multiplex ties increase information flow and thereby facilitate innovation uptake in networks, this prediction may not hold when conflicts exist among some of these ties. Accordingly, we evaluate how conflicts among actors’ multiplex ties may reduce innovation uptake in the context of a field experiment where privately informed agents were asked to share microfinance information with their contacts. We find that microfinance uptake is lower when agents also had financial lending ties to non-relatives that could be compromised by sharing information about a new microfinance opportunity.

  • Valentina Assenova and Aparajita Agarwal, Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Africa. In The Handbook of Sociology of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, edited by Olav Sorenson and Patricia H. Thornton, (De Gruyter, 2023)

    Abstract: Entrepreneurship and innovation are pivotal for Africa’s economic progress. However, the continent faces a dearth of investment, with the existing venture capital (VC) majorly channeled towards fintech, sidelining other sectors. Despite the growing VC interest, African entrepreneurs grapple with barriers such as high startup costs, restrictive capital requirements, limited access to financing, regulatory issues, and concerns about bribery of government officials and low trust in governance. Institutional hindrances, the prevalence of informal businesses, management quality issues, and concentrated firm ownership further exacerbate the innovation deficit. Conversely, Africa shows promise with expanding VC investments, budding fintech sectors that can bolster financial inclusion, such as mobile-money platforms, and a surge in female entrepreneurship. Moreover, the continent is becoming a center for financial technology innovations and boasts a rising presence of startup accelerators and incubators, which offer pivotal support to early-stage ventures. This chapter offers a comprehensive look at these facets, intertwining entrepreneurship and innovation in Africa, addressing challenges, and highlighting opportunities and policy-related questions for future exploration.

    Description: Forthcoming in the De Gruyter Handbook of Sociology of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Olav Sorenson and Patricia H. Thornton, Editors

Teaching

All Courses

  • MGMT2120 - Social Entrepreneurship

    This is a course on creating a business to attack a social problem and thereby accomplish both social impact and financial sustainability. For this course, social entrepreneurship is defined as entrepreneurship used to profitably confront social problems. This definition therefore views social entrepreneurship as a distinct alternative to public sector initiatives. The basic thesis is that many social problems, if looked at through an entrepreneurial lens, create opportunity for someone to launch a venture that generates profits by alleviating that social problem. This sets in motion a virtuous cycle - the entrepreneur is incented to generate more profits and in so doing, the more the profits made, the more the problem is alleviated. Even if it is not possible to eventually create a profit-making enterprise, the process of striving to do so can lead to a resource-lean not-for-profit entity. Creating a profitable social entrepreneurship venture is by no means a simple challenge. Cross-listed with MGMT 812.

  • MGMT2300 - Entrepreneurship

    How do you take a good idea and turn it into a successful venture? Whether you plan to become a founder, investor, mentor, partner, or early employee of a startup company, this course will take you through the entire journey of new venture creation and development. MGMT 230 is a project-based survey course designed to provide an overview of the entrepreneurial process and give you practical hands-on experience with new venture development. You and a team will have the chance to ideate, test, and develop a pitch for an early-stage startup by incorporating material from class lectures, simulations, labs, and class discussions. By the end of the course, you will have a better understanding of what it takes to create a successful startup, as well as proven techniques for identifying and testing new market opportunities, acquiring resources, bringing new products and services to market, scaling, and exiting new ventures.

  • MGMT8120 - Social Entrepreneurship

    This is a course on creating a business to attack a social problem and thereby accomplish both social impact and financial sustainability. For this course, social entrepreneurship is defined as entrepreneurship used to profitably confront social problems. This definition therefore views social entrepreneurship as a distinct alternative to public sector initiatives. The basic thesis is that many social problems, if looked at through an entrepreneurial lens, create opportunity for someone to launch a venture that generates profits by alleviating that social problem. This sets in motion a virtuous cycle - the entrepreneur is incented to generate more profits and in so doing, the more the profits made, the more the problem is alleviated. Even if it is not possible to eventually create a profit-making enterprise, the process of striving to do so can lead to a resource-lean not-for-profit entity. Creating a profitable social entrepreneurship venture is by no means a simple challenge. Cross-listed with MGMT 212.

  • MGMT9380 - Seminar in Social Entrep

    This half-semester course examines how social enterprise organizations emerge, attract resources, and affect society. The course will bridge micro and macro theoretical perspectives to provide insight into the unique challenges faced by social enterprises, while also showing how the study of such organizations can help to advance mainstream entrepreneurship research. Individual sessions will focus on defining social entrepreneurship, the tensions and tradeoffs that emerge in organizations that pursue social and financial goals, impact investing and other sources of finance, and the role of incubators/accelerators in supporting the development of these organizations. This is a seminar-based course with active discussion and analysis.

Awards and Honors

  • Representative-at-Large, Research Methods Community, Strategic Management Society, 2023
  • Editorial Board, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 2023
  • Representative-at-Large, Competitive Strategy Interest Group, Strategic Management Society, 2023
  • Best Paper Award, Entrepreneurship Division, Academy of Management, 2022
  • Carolyn B. Dexter All-Academy Best International Paper Award Nominee, Entrepreneurship Division, Academy of Management, 2021
  • William H. Newman All-Academy Best Dissertation Award Nominee, Entrepreneurship Division, Academy of Management, 2019
  • Editorial Board, California Management Review, 2017
  • Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Summer Institute on Organizations and their Effectiveness, Stanford University, 2017
  • Doctoral Fellowship, Yale University, 2012-2017
  • Doctoral Consortium, Organization and Management Theory, Academy of Management, 2016
  • Consortium for Competitiveness and Cooperation, Bocconi University, 2016
  • Best Graduate Student Paper Honorable Mention, Rationality and Society Section, American Sociological Association, 2016
  • Conference Travel Fellowship, Yale University, 2015-2016
  • Best International Paper, Organization and Management Theory, 2015
  • Finalist, Carolyn Dexter Award, Academy of Management, 2015
  • First Class Honors, University of Cambridge, 2012
  • Director’s Award, University of Cambridge, 2012
  • Robert & Rosalie Cort Scholarship, University of Pennsylvania, 2004-2008
  • Wharton Research Scholarship, University of Pennsylvania, 2006-2007
  • Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania, 2005-2006

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