Research Interests: Entrepreneurship; Social Entrepreneurship; Emerging Economies; Economic Development
Links: Google Scholar
Valentina A. Assenova is an Assistant Professor in the Management Department at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Her research centers on the formation, growth, and funding of early-stage firms, with a focus on emerging and developing economies. She has collaborated with organizations such as FINCA International and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation on projects and initiatives that advance entrepreneurship and economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. She holds a Ph.D., M.Phil., and M.A. from Yale University, an M.B.A. from the University of Cambridge, and a B.Sc. in Economics from the Wharton School.
Abstract: Socially and educationally disadvantaged entrepreneurs often lack the knowledge and prior experience to develop and scale their businesses. Owing to limited educational and employment opportunities, poverty, and discrimination, these entrepreneurs frequently experience low business growth and performance. What factors influence the effectiveness of early-stage venture incubation and mentoring for promoting learning, scaling, and profitability among these entrepreneurs? Two studies in a business incubator serving low-income, underprivileged entrepreneurs in South Africa evaluate this question. Study 1 uses a matched, two-period case-control design to investigate the effects of incubation on business growth by comparing selected and incubated companies to similar also-selected but not incubated ones. The findings show that incubated companies grew 22% more in revenue and 15% more in employment than not incubated companies over the six months between applying to and graduating from the incubator. Study 2 uses instrumental-variable models to evaluate the role that mentoring played in improving business performance by analyzing data from seven cohorts of participants in the incubator randomly assigned to mentors. The findings show that participants assigned to high-ability (versus low-ability) mentors had 3.2% higher revenue and 3.5% higher profits one year after incubation. Further, the benefits of being mentored were more significant for businesses whose entrepreneurs had less pre-entry knowledge and experience, suggesting that mentoring supplemented gaps in human capital. These findings have implications for ways to support disadvantaged entrepreneurs and their businesses through mentoring and early-stage venture incubation.
Valentina Assenova (2020), Institutional Change and Early-Stage Startup Selection: Evidence from Applicants to Venture Accelerators, Organization Science.
Abstract: Complex innovations– ideas, practices, and technologies that hold uncertain benefits for potential adopters—often vary in their ability to diffuse in different communities over time. To explain why, I develop a model of innovation adoption in which agents engage in naïve (DeGroot) learning about the value of an innovation within their social networks. Using simulations on Bernoulli random graphs, I examine how adoption varies with network properties and with the distribution of initial opinions and adoption thresholds. The results show that: (i) low-density and high-asymmetry networks produce polarization in influence to adopt an innovation over time, (ii) increasing network density and asymmetry promote adoption under a variety of opinion and threshold distributions, and (iii) the optimal levels of density and asymmetry in networks depend on the distribution of thresholds: networks with high density (>0.25) and high asymmetry (>0.50) are optimal for maximizing diffusion when adoption thresholds are right-skewed (i.e., barriers to adoption are low), but networks with low density (<0.01) and low asymmetry (<0.25) are optimal when thresholds are left-skewed. I draw on data from a diffusion field experiment to predict adoption over time and compare the results to observed outcomes.
Abstract: Entrepreneurs in many emerging economies start their firms informally, without registering with the state. We examine how informality at the time of founding affected the performance of 12,146 firms in 18 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Our findings indicate that entrepreneurs who registered their firms at founding enjoyed greater success in terms of sales and employment. But these benefits varied widely across countries. Consistent with the idea that legitimation processes account for these benefits, countries in which people trust their government more had larger advantages associated with being formal.
Valentina Assenova and Matthew Regele (2017), Revisiting the Effect of Colonial Institutions on Comparative Economic Development, PLOS ONE, 12 (5).
Abstract: European settler mortality has been proposed as an instrument to predict the causal effect of colonial institutions on differences in economic development. We examine the relationship between mortality, temperature, and economic development in former European colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We find that (i) European settler mortality rates increased with regional temperatures and (ii) economic output decreased with regional temperatures. Conditioning on the continent of settlement and accounting for colonies that were not independent as of 1900 undermines the causal effect of colonial institutions on comparative economic development. Our findings run counter to the institutions hypothesis of economic development, showing instead that geography affected both historic mortality rates and present-day economic output.
Olav Sorenson, Valentina Assenova, Guan-Cheng Li, Jason Boada, Lee Fleming (2016), Expanding innovation finance via crowdfunding: Crowdfunding attracts capital to new regions, Science, 354 (6319), pp. 1526-1528.
Abstract: Crowdfunding (CF) platforms, such as Kickstarter (KS), offer a means of funding innovation, connecting inventors and entrepreneurs with a multitude of supporters, who each provide a small fraction of the amount required to fund the project. Although considerable funding for innovation has historically come from venture capitalists (VCs), the entrepreneurs funded by VCs often mirror the investors in terms of their educational, social, and professional characteristics and end up concentrated in a small number of regions (1–4). Policy-makers have thus hailed CF platforms, hoping that they will expand access to entrepreneurial finance, including among women and minority innovators, and that the innovations funded will create jobs and spur economic growth (5). But if particular regions, or certain sorts of individuals, routinely produce better ideas (6), and VC concentrates on them, then CF might simply compete with professional investors to fund the same ideas. We find, however, that CF has been funding innovators in a large number of places that have typically been excluded from VC, and has also been expanding the geographic reach of VC itself.
Valentina Assenova, Jason Best, Mike Cagney, Douglas Ellenoff, Kate Karas, Jay Moon, Sherwood Neiss, Ron Suber, Olav Sorenson (2016), The Present and Future of Crowdfunding, California Management Review, 58 (2), pp. 125-135.
Valentina Assenova and Emily Erikson, “New Forms of Organization and the Coordination of Political and Commercial Actors”. In Chartering Capitalism: Organizing Markets, States, and Publics (Political Power and Social Theory, Volume 29, edited by Emily Erikson, (2015), pp. 1-13
Peter Aronow, Cyrus Samii, Valentina Assenova (2015), Cluster Robust Variance Estimation for Dyadic Data, Political Analysis, 24 (4), pp. 564-577.
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.
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.
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.