When do scientists become entrepreneurs? The social structural antecedents of commercial activity in the academic life sciences
Citation: Toby E. Stuart, Waverly W. Ding (2006) When do scientists become entrepreneurs? The social structural antecedents of commercial activity in the academic life sciences. American Journal of Sociology (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1086/502691
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1086/502691
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1086/502691
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): When do scientists become entrepreneurs? The social structural antecedents of commercial activity in the academic life sciences
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) Entrepreneurship (RSS), Science (RSS), Networks (RSS)
Stuart and Ding's paper is a sociological look at the predictors of entrepreneurship among academic scientists. The paper is framed using the basic tension between academic science and commerce (discussed around patents in particular by Fiona Murry in The Oncomouse that roared: Resistance and accommodation to patenting in academic science). The authors essentially present an event history that models the conditions prompting university employed scientists to become entrepreneurs which they define as either founding as a biotechnology company or joining the scientific advisory board of a new biotechnology firm. The authors find that the most prominent scientists joined first with the very most prestigious being among the first but that, over time, the "bar" has been lowered and a wider number and variety of scientists are now engaging in entrepreneurship.
The paper's basic framing is around the idea that entrepreneurship and science used to be seen as incompatible or even counter-productive and bad. In the biosciences, this seem to no longer be the case. The paper aims to look at the changes over time and explain how this transition happened.
The paper looks at four determinants: (1) socialization in graduate school (2) peer influence exerted across a faculties social network (3) the presents of pro-entrepreneurship colleagues in a scientists workplace and (4) differential access to social resources that facilitate entrepreneurship.
Using an impressive dataset built from a from a variety of sources, the findings show taht commercial science began first, and diffused across, the most elite scientists (i.e., most prestigious institutions, most citations. most co-authors, etc) and then, over time, diffused to more.
The authors use an event history to test eight formal hypotheses (each included verbatim below:
- Scientists are more likely to transition to the entrepreneurial role when they are affiliated with institutions that employ other scientists who have participated in commercial science. (Supported)
- The effect of prior local adopters on scientists’ rate of transition to entrepreneurship will have been weaker in medical schools than it was in university science departments. (Supported)
- The effect of prior local adopters on scientists’ rate of transition to commercial science will decline as academic entrepreneurship gains acceptance in the scientific community. (Supported)
- As faculty members in arts and sciences departments come to accept entrepreneurship as a legitimate professional activity, the difference in the rates of transition to academic entrepreneurship between scientists in medical schools and those in departments of arts and sciences will decline. (Supported)
- Scientists are more likely to transition to the entrepreneurial role when they are affiliated with universities that employ high-status scientists who have previously made the transition. (Supported)
- Life scientists who were trained in universities with pro-entrepreneurship faculty members are more likely to transition to commercial science later in their careers. (Not supported)
- Scientists who have previously coauthored research with academic entrepreneurs are more likely to transition to commercial science. (Supported)
- Co-authorship ties with scientists who have high centrality in the commercial sector will have a particularly large effect on the transition rate. (Supported)
There are important remaining questions about why the high-status individuals are first to make the move to entrepreneurship. The authors suggest that is probably a factor of opportunity. Alternatively, there may be a status story in that the high-prestige scientists felt that their positions was less threatened.
Theoretical and Practical Relevance
The paper has been cited more than 100 times in the six year since its publication. These have primarily have been in the entrepreneurship literature.