The Role of Organizational Sponsorship in Pioneering New Technology

Jacqueline Kirtley, Management, The Wharton School

Abstract: Organizational sponsors foster young entrepreneurial firms by providing resources to increase survival rates. Sponsorship can be financial as with tax incentive structures, public and private grant programs, or early stage private investment. Incubators, science parks, accelerators, and private or corporate investors offer another type of sponsorship with work space, technologies, industry and business expertise, network connections, and other non-capital resources and services. While entrepreneurial firms are theorized to benefit from this support, the process by which organizational sponsors affect technology firms’ ability to develop new technologies and create value is not well understood. Organizational sponsors provide resources and support but can also place constraints and expectations that may or may not be aligned with entrepreneurs’. Prior research has focused primarily on the configurations of sponsorship programs and their relationship to firm survival, but cannot explain how sponsors improve or inhibit young firms.

This longitudinal field study follows four firms from one cohort at a federally funded incubator focused on sponsoring entrepreneurial firms developing hard science and engineering products and manufacturing processes. The incubator is the first of its kind (more have since begun) to partner with government lab and science facilities to “bridge the science-to-product gap in hard energy technologies” by bringing innovative entrepreneurs developing cutting edge science together with financial and technical resources and partners.

Through observation and interviews, I will capture how these entrepreneurial firms develop novel technology and commercialization strategies over the course of their two-year tenure in this technology focused incubator. With this data, I will examine the processes by which organizational sponsors influence, aid, and constrain the strategies and technology development at these firms.

Michelle Eckert is Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Mack Institute, where she works to engage students, researchers, and corporate partners in opportunities for collaboration. Michelle received her B.A. in Art from Valparaiso University in 2007. Her background includes two AmeriCorps terms of service working to teach mathematics, computer literacy, and job readiness skills to out-of-school youth in Philadelphia, focusing particularly on promoting access to post-secondary education.